"What you do unto the least of these..."

by - June 5, 2010

The memories are more feelings than images, like a dream that leaves you shaking and sweating and trying to slow your racing heart but, no matter how hard you strain your memory, you can't grasp what it was that scared you so much.  I don't remember being scared.  I don't remember being told that he wouldn't be coming home.  I don't remember saying goodbye.

I remember pride.  I believed in what he was doing with as much passion as a nine year old could muster.  I had been to the rallies.  I had done the walk-a-thons and the street picketing.  I preached pro-life from a big stone in front of the Saugeen Valley Elementary School library.  I saw the devastating pictures of mutilated fetus' even though he tried to shelter me from them.  I studied "The Miracle of Life," at first shocked by the real-life photos of a woman giving birth - until then I'd believed the doctor coaxed it gently from the belly-button - and then amazed at what confirmed that which I'd secretly known all along: my mother was SuperWoman!

He felt it was God's calling.  He felt it was God's will that he publicly and unapologetically trespass upon Dr. Morgentaler's clinic property.  "What you do unto the least of these..."  I don't have a true picture of what actually happened.  I have read his journal but it's been years.  I like to picture him quietly sitting on cement steps, lips moving in a desperate prayer, or lock-armed with the people beside him, singing "Jesus Loves The Little Children," like some eccentric peace-rally hippies, or like Su-Chin Qah from Juno, bravely fighting the flow and saying beautiful things like, "your baby has fingernails."  I know he was passive during the arrest; not fighting the officers tagged with the task of removing the band of praying pro-lifers that blocked the clinic door from women seeking freedom from their mistakes - not helping either, forcing the police to drag him to the cruiser.

The first two times it was only a few days.  The third and last he refused to let himself be released until every person he'd been arrested along side of was home.  Noble?  I don't know.  I do know that my pride in him never wavered.  I think if I had been any older I would have been angry, fighting against fears of abandonment or the fear that he'd never come home.  If I had been any older I would have seen how much it hurt my mother.  I would have been able to support her as she single-parented, as she warded off advice from Christian friends to leave him, as she fought loneliness and anger and worry and fear.

I remember spending an entire recess at the top of the monkey bars with my friend Nancy giving her all the reasons why it was okay that my dad was in jail.  Never once did it occur to me to be embarrassed or ashamed.  If anything, I thought it moved me into a whole new category of cool - in a my dad's better than your dad kind of way.

We visited him once.  I can't imagine what was going through my mother's head, marching into that high security institution, three little girls - hair done pretty for daddy - tagging behind her, wide-eyed at armed guards and metal detectors, visiting her criminal husband.  I remember how tired and sad he looked through that thick, wavy glass that wouldn't let me hug him.  I remember an orange jumpsuit but that memory may be influenced by too many movies - he may have been wearing blue.  I remember dirt along the baseboards and a guard standing against the wall to our left, legs shoulder-width apart, arms crossed behind his back.  I remember how wet my dad's eyes seemed and I think we broke his heart by being there.

We had made a big sign, decorated with markers and crayons: "WE LOVE YOU, DADDY!" and we stood in the parking lot holding it up towards the jail windows.  A head bobbed and we were sure it was him and we yelled and waved goodbye.  It wasn't him.

I was over at a friend's house.  He'd been gone just over a month.  I called home to ask if I could stay a little longer to go swimming.  Dad answered.  I didn't know what to say so I just asked about the swimming.  There were tears in his voice as he said that was fine.  I hung up and told my friends mother that I needed to go home.

He was still sitting in the chair beside the phone when I got there.  I don't remember saying anything, I just remember crawling onto his lap and clinging, fighting a pain in my chest that was trying to leak out my eyes, not recognizing until that moment how much I'd really missed him.

I am still proud of him.  I am proud of my mother for sticking by him despite the position of the church.  I am happy that he has now decided to pour his passion into things of a less criminal nature.  No child should ever have the experience of visiting their father in prison (though it made for some fun boyfriend scaring along the way) but I don't think I'd change it.  If one baby was saved as a result of my father's sacrifice then I think it was all worth it in the end.

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  1. It's strange that the rare times I talk about my time in jail, I tend to say something about the costs to Mom and the strain on our marriage my actions cost. But reading it from a child's perspective sheds a whole new light. Thanks Alanna.


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