The Handshake

Zachary - Summerfield, Ohio
Entered on April 30, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
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Eighteen years old. The age of manhood, isn’t it? Of responsibility and self-reliance, adulthood looming in proximity? After a particularly hard track workout last spring, I traipsed over to the softball field to observe some softball and take in the beautiful weather. An entirely random setting for a fateful meeting.

I have always imagined that being struck by a vehicle would be unpleasant, surprising, and accompanied by the stomach-curdling sound of your own bones colliding with something much more dense, and losing the fight. The nearest I have ever been to this occurred when I saw my father sitting on a bench, dwarfing it, actually, and watching the game before him.

Sitting on that pine bench was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Immediately following our brief and overdue introduction, I was encouraged by a hot surge of tears to flee to my car. I wailed and screamed like a dying person the entire drive home. His hand was swollen and meaty, heavy and callused thickly from the manual labor we share a passionate disgust for. I, however, was interested in his eyes. Intensely focused, clear and fraught with a nameless emotion, they had paralyzed me upon contact. Everything about the facial muscles conforming to frame a look of complete surprise coupled with an ancient recognition held me riveted. Radii reaching out from the pupils, the same infirmary cotton blue color of the eyes in my head. Depth in the black middle, sadness, confusion, hurt, regret.

When I had relinquished my grip on a swimming, sweaty handshake, I knew I was peering into the face of my biological father. “Do you know who I am?” I managed to inquire queasily.

The words “sorry” and “second chance” are thrown around carelessly, contributing to a weakening sense of the strength these words bear. My dad has never apologized for leaving me to an abusive adopted father. He has never apologized for walking out, for not giving me a chance. He has never verbally apologized for his abrupt selfishness. He has never apologized because that day on the bench by the softball field with girls chanting in the dugouts and the May sun pulsing life to the awakened Earth, I forgave him. Forgiveness spewed forth from me as his lips parted. “Don’t apologize. You don’t owe me anything, and I don’t want anything from you, except to know.”

That day, the strangest day of my life, I forgave my father with a handshake, and nipped his rambling, premeditated apologies in the bud. Now, I visit my family often, and feel welcomed and natural amongst them. You might call my past difficult and tragic. I like to call it interesting, and motivational. I believe in cause and effect, karma, and “everything happens for a reason,” as dilapidated as that phrase is. I believe in forgiveness.