The thing is, I'd been having dreams about my father for weeks. Missing him. Wishing I could talk to him, tell him how everything's been going all these years.
Then the letter arrived. Prudential Insurance, addressed to my maiden name, so I almost threw it away, thinking it was junk mail, but something made me stop and open it.
It was an insurance policy that my father had taken out, naming me as the beneficiary. The letter said to call immediately, or the funds would be transferred to the state.
It was like a sign from him saying: "Hey, honey, I've been thinking about you too."
The strange part being that my father died 13 years ago.
Of course I dropped everything and got on the phone. And on hold for nearly an hour, during which time I was informed that my call was important to Prudential Insurance, and that all calls were answered in the order received.
I had plenty of time to fantasize about how much would be waiting for me. Ten thousand would do wonders for my credit; twenty would be mighty sweet; fifty would really set me straight. A hundred and fifty would take a bite out of the mortgage and replace my wheezing Toyota. Fifteen minutes into being on hold, I was up to a quarter of a million and sipping a frozen coconut confection on the deck of my second home in Cabos San Lucas.
Cheesy elevator music snapped me back to reality. Where would my father have gotten that kind of cash? He'd prided himself on being debt–free, but was never wealthy.
I stared at the letter but saw my father's face. I felt like he was in the room with me, tucking me in at night or making sure I'd finished my supper.
Finally I was next in line.
After several questions meant to confirm my identity, I ventured to ask how much the policy was worth. I was told I would receive a call in ten business days—after they made sure I really really was who I said I was.
"What I can tell you," the insurance agent said, "is that the last payment made on this policy was in April 1968."
Holy mother of God.
He'd made his final payment when I was ten years old.
Memories rushed back. My parents' marriage falling apart, Dad's rocky new job and our brand new ranch house that I never loved; in fact, I always associated our move there with their bitter separation. My mother's daily explosions of rage at all of us while Dad treated my brother and me as if we could do no wrong, taking us swimming at the YMCA, then out for ice cream, getting us in bed by 9 on school nights, though some days I'd never seen his face so stormy.
He would look at us kids with an expression I now understand: He was trying to figure out a way to make us safe.
I think about how hard the world is, how full of judgment and challenge, and how I try to make myself brave thinking of him if even for a few seconds every day, to remember the faith he had in me. I keep a little marble statue he brought from Italy on my bedside, a beautiful woman on a swirl of clouds reaching out for something. Every morning I touch the top of her head, just quickly, before I leave for the day.
The check finally arrived.
Sure, I could have used a few more decimal points in there, but it was a beautiful gift from my father, and it made me realize the real ways he made us safe: He demonstrated how to love through consistent, caring actions.
I spent the money on a fancy dinner with my husband, another father of two who has changed his children's lives by never giving up on them, and always being there in every way possible, large and small.