I was feeling a bit sluggish on Saturday morning. I had 10 solo miles on tap from the Train Like a Mother Half-Marathon: Finish It plan, and although Colorado isn't Arctic anymore, it's not exactly toasty at 7 a.m., which is when I had to go. Basketball game, cookie baking, life chores awaited.
"Where are you going to run?" Grant asked me as I was tying my shoes in our bedroom.
"Right here," I said, laying back on our bed, "I think I'll just lie here and visualize the run."
I somehow got my badass out the door, and turned on the Fresh Air interview with Delia Ephron, who was talking about the closeness and complexity of sisterhood. I have two sisters, so I couldn't resist. As Delia talked about her older sister Nora, who was her writing partner and died last June, she had a handful of insights about family that I shook my head in agreement with.
My parents divorced when I was 11, and I went to a school—and lived in a town—where it felt like nobody else had divorced parents. I'm sure that wasn't the truth, but that was how I created my reality. And I took out my embarrassment on my dad, who also didn't fit the suit-every-day, work-long-hours paternal mold that I was positive all my friends had. Although he was quick with praise and a smile, I couldn't see that. I just saw him as a failure.
As I progressed through my teenage years and twenties, our relationship didn't improve much. It wasn't for him lack of trying; although I cringe to write this, the harder he pushed, the more firmly I shut down. "I wouldn't pick him as a friend, so I'm not going to foster the relationship as a child," I justfied my snotty behavior to myself. If I were to have categorized our relationship, I would've filed it under "chore."
He died, in his mid-fifties, from a combination of cardiac issues and Lou Gerig's disease. (Thankfully, his heart took him before most of his muscles shut down.) He was physically withering and flailing around in other parts of his life, and I, at 26 years old, was self-absorbed and intolerant. His death predictably zapped me, but in the years since, I've reverted to a closed-door mentality whenever our relationship flashes through my head. Just done with him and done with it.
And then I ran 10 miles on Saturday. The Fresh Air interview put me in a nostalgic state of mind. When it was over, music from the Broadway show Matilda came on. (My daugher Amelia and I just saw it, and she was using my phone before I ran.) My dad loved Broadway shows and their music; I can still see the covers of the cassette tapes from "My Fair Lady" and "42nd" Street on the floor of his Suburban. Within a minute or two of listening to "When I Grow Up," I was just flooded—and floored—with such love for my dad, I almost had to stop and catch my breath.
Love like I'm pretty sure I never felt for him when he was alive. And love I'm very sure I never expressed to him once my tween world was rocked. Love that poured through me with such alacrity and intensity, I was certain I could rip off a 7:00 mile right then. Love that muted every regret, every I-was-such-a-sh*&-daugher feeling, every bit of anger I had at him for not measuring up to the person I wanted him to be. Love that was so powerful, it felt like a healing balm, letting me know that while he wasn't thrilled with my perspective, he could at least understand it.
Mostly, though, just pure and simple love that I honestly didn't think I had when it came to my dad.
I occasionally go to church. I've sat on a few therapist's couches. I've tried meditation and am off-and-on again with yoga. But nothing has ever come close to how running unfolds the layers of my life and summons raw emotions that I can't—or don't—tap into in my day-to-day world. On really great runs, the miles put my life on a slide show. As I zoom in on each film, the colors grow increasingly vibrant, the corresponding clarity is almost tangible, and I feel like I'm almost running in another world.
Every family relationship is complicated, and pondering it solo—and especially pondering it on a run—is about a thousand times easier than when you're in promixity to the other person in said relationship. It doesn't take a shrink to tell you that either. If I were celebrating Christmas with my dad in person, I know it wouldn't feel half as jubilant as I felt on my run; even typing this now that I'm back on earth feels a little corny.
But I was jubliant—and teary—as I climbed the last hill home.
And so grateful for the gifts that running perpetually gives me.