Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)
TITLE: Thirteenth Birthday
By Betsy Markman
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
The peonies, one pink and one white, seem to agree. They and their milky-white vase fit perfectly in that corner of the kitchen window, where I can look at them while I scrub the dishes. They make the job a little happier.
I set to work on a particularly nasty pan, grateful for the cool evening breeze that makes our gingham-bordered curtains billow toward me.
Outside, my father is putting the finishing touches on his farm work. He’s having to rush to get some things done today, because of the way he spent two hours this afternoon.
The next pan bears the traces of my birthday cake, and I grab a clean spoon to scrape some of it into my mouth before submerging the pan. I let it soak while I wash the last of the cake off of the thirteen candles and put them away for next year. Throwing them away would be unthinkable. We have to save every penny we can.
My father comes in, dirty and smelly like he always is after a day’s work. I don’t care about that. I love everything that’s a part of him, part of this life he’s built for the two of us.
“Thanks for my party, Daddy. It was great, and I know it was hard for you to take that much time off during planting season.”
Some of the old sadness leaps into his eyes. “It wasn’t hard, sweetie. It was a pleasure.” He reaches to tuck my hair behind my ear. “I wish I could have done more.”
“I didn’t need anything more,” I protest. “I had all my friends, and you cooked burgers, and I got cake and ice cream and presents. That’s all I could possibly want.” I didn’t mean to let my voice falter when I said that last part, but I did, and he heard it. I turn my face away so we won’t see each other’s pain.
He pulls me into his arms, and I can’t help crying just a little, even though I had promised myself that I really didn’t care if she called or not.
He strokes my hair, and his voice is soft. “You deserve so much more. I wish I could change things so you’d have a mother.”
I start to cry harder. “All it would have taken her was a quick phone call. Just a couple of minutes to let me know I matter...”
After a few moments Daddy guides me over to the couch. “It’s time we talked about this.” He looks thoughtful as we seat ourselves, and I’m sure he’s praying about what to say.
“Honey,” he begins, “I’ve never wanted to say anything bad to you about your mother. I still don’t want to. But some things just need to be said, so you’ll understand better.”
“You know how beautiful your mother looks. That’s what drew me to her, I’m afraid. I saw the ugliness on the inside, but I thought that I could love it out of her. And she could be nice when she wanted to. But...she only loves being beautiful. She’s not able to love anything else, not even us.”
“Why does she resent me?” I ask.
He sighs deeply. “It’s not your fault. It’s her shallowness. She hated that being pregnant spoiled her figure. She hated that people would say how pretty you were, because she only wanted to hear how beautiful she was. And then when he came along...he offered her beautiful things that I could never afford...” Daddy’s voice trails off.
I see in his eyes that he feels like a failure, and I cannot bear it. I take his face in my hands. “She didn’t know what she had. I wouldn’t trade you for all the riches in the world.”
His eyes fill, and he hugs me. “I don’t know what I would do without you. And soon you’ll be all grown...” He stops himself, but I can see his heart, and for the first time I realize that the coming years which will make me a woman, five years which seem an eternity to me, seem like only days to him.
I find myself praying silently. “Lord, someday please send me a man just like him. And please bring him a wife like he deserves.”
From the side table comes a noise that makes us both jump.
The phone is ringing.
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