Most men that earn the title father usually can remember the first time they held their child. But few are so fortunate to remember that their own father placed that child in their arms on Father's Day of all days. That's how it was for us though the first time i held Lyric. She was already 3 months old when my arms first found her.
And we were in a prison visitation room.
But the summers in Texas penitentiaries where i ended up in are pretty dadgum hot, you know. Like burning sand at the beach without an ocean for your feet to look forward to maybe. I'd wake up and my sheets would be soaked with sweat and i'd lay there for a little bit, staring at a photograph of this little girl who looked just like me on the underside of the bunk above me. Stuck it up there with some toothpaste on my first day in, right next to a scratched out swastika. I'd stare for a while and i was sure my absence would leave holes in her heart that she would fill with lesser things later in life. I'd splash water on my face in front of an old scratched up stainless steel mirror that a thousand other broken men had stood in front of over the years and i'd swear to myself that i'd never forget what i saw. And yet, this was my life and i'd earned it through failure.
I was Dylan Hollingsworth, number 1023407.
And they called for me one Sunday in June.
I had a visit.
When they say your number over the intercom, you walk up there wondering who's waiting and are at the least happy to be leaving the sound of dominoes on metal tables, bootleg tattoo guns and daytime television. Down at the end of the bowling alley you get strip searched before your visit and they have this bleak little room where they do it. Smells like antiseptic cleaner and used locker room and the floors have been painted grey so many times that it's slick when it's humid out. But this was June and the humidity had went down to Houston or somewhere back in May. It was just a whole lot of hot. I say that because i can still remember the way my skin and my mind and my bare feet felt in that room. But that probably only means something to me.
Anyway, i was getting my clothes back on and i looked through the little 6x6 inch window on the door, combing the visitors faces to see who'd come up to give me something i likely hadn't given them. Turned out it was Pops and we made eye contact through the window. Since i'd fallen he'd been there every step of the way and so much of what we have now was formed in those acts of giving his boy love first and asking questions later. In fatherhood, that's about as good as it gets to me. Having said all that, i've always been a little ashamed that i was disappointed when i saw him because i had thought it would be someone else. But there was my Dad. And as i walked to him i broke stride for 2 half seconds when i saw what was on his lap. She was like a nativity scene and like nothing you would ever expect to see within bars and razor wires. A guard from Uganda named Nguku sat me down next to them and told me i could hold her. And while i thanked him and told my dad Happy Father's Day, i met my daughter for the first time. Life gets real different real fast sometimes.
We had two hours together and after realizing that i wasn't gonna drop her, she settled into me. I was half proud and half ashamed for other people in the room to see me pretending to be a dad while dressed in white with a guard all dressed in gray hovering over my shoulder but i just kept staring at her anyway and tried to remember to look up at Pops once in while too. At one point she dozed off in my lap and when i went to shift she jerked awake and looked terrified. She gazed up at me and wasn't immediately comforted by what she saw and i felt myself start to fall apart. Sometimes the way a person looks at you can teach you a lot about yourself. And the first time i held my daughter she stared at me like i was a stranger that wasn't enough. Because i was a stranger. And i wasn't enough. But i ended up calming her and rocking her and whispering some old soul song to her anyway. And right before our time ended i told her a couple other things too.
I stripped down to nothing again and walked back to K Dorm in some kind of cinematic slow motion but you knew i was gonna say something like that. I felt changed but still broken and wasn't sure if i'd taken a step towards mending or if i was one crack closer to shattering forever. I looked up at the sky though and i asked for some things. I asked for those things in a way i'd never asked for anything before. And all these days and years away it turns out i got what i wanted and then some. But some people ask for things they never receive so i'm never too sure about the actual mechanism of prayer and communion with that which presides over us all. Find yourself in a foxhole or on a long bowling alley though and i bet you'll be doing some asking too. It's just the way we're built. But i did all that asking and then shook it all off and rejoined the fellas back in the dorm. Life keeps going regardless of our circumstances and you gotta sort your business out right quick and play nice with the boys. So that's what i did for a while. A couple seasons later, Lyric and i made our way into each other's lives. And we've been by each other's side every since, growing up together i guess.
But the other afternoon she had a lemonade stand and at the end of the day turned her nose up at a mere $5.50. I watched her practice sign language in the yard while business was slow and she makes the same oblivious expressions i do when she's deep in thought. Her and her sisters room is right next to mine. And i can hold them both any time i want.
Then there's my father, who stays with us often. He sleeps on the couch in my room and we stay up way too late reading and watching every film in the vault. He sends me photographs of my dog in his lap while im on the road sometimes. And together we continue to celebrate, fatted calves and all.
When i was lost and far away, someone saw me. To see someone from far away, you have to keep watch. I can't tell you to hope or even believe in returns like mine. But watch for the lost anyway, my friends. And visit them when you can.
" But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate."