My father called me a foreigner for being my brother’s friend. That bond made me unwelcome in my father’s eyes because my brother was gay. Dad kicked Andy out of the house in 1967 when he was 17. He went to live with another family, finished high school and, trying to please his parents, married and had two children. But he was off the list.
My father refused to talk to me for 14 years. In the fall of 1992, as my brother’s health was rapidly failing from AIDS, I sent Dad an 11-page handwritten letter, with photos of my children and my brother’s children. He returned them to me, cut up like confetti, certified. The only thing intact was a card from a funeral home, in Pottstown, Pa., where he had a prepaid interment. I, too, was off the list.
His list grew longer over the years, to include family members, friends and others who asked questions that my parents wanted to avoid. When my brother was dying, my parents wouldn’t take my calls. Only my sister could get through.
During the years after Andy’s passing, I occasionally sent a letter to my father. I mailed my last one in August 2003. Eight months later, it showed up in my mailbox, in the same envelope.
In December 2006, my sister called and said that my father was dying and he wanted to see me. I drove 15 hours the next day, ready to make amends, tell good stories, find peace.
At the door of my parents’ home, a frail woman wearing a worn sweater greeted me. I barely recognized my mother. “You’re not coming in here,” she told me through the storm door. “Your father changed his mind.” I could feel her pain as she slammed the door and clicked the dead bolts into place.
My sister called again, 40 days later, assuring me my father would see me this time. I caught a flight.
He was much weaker, on morphine. We talked of the few good times. His eyes glistened as I remembered sitting on a mattress in the unswept truck bed of the ’57 Ford pickup with my brother and some friends who kept us company on our way to ride roller coasters and Ferris wheels at Dorney Park.
“I’ve always cared for you and that other one,” he told me, and the weight lifted. We stayed in touch, and spoke daily.
When he passed, I returned again to take care of the funeral. As we lowered my father into the ground, my phone vibrated. My new granddaughter, Lily, was born.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. John J. Korkie is a reader from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.