The first week of April was rather chilly in Myrtle Beach, but we didn’t go just for the beach. We left right after Easter worship services, arriving shortly after midnight. We hadn’t expected to meet up with my father until at least Tuesday, as he’d said something about a doctor appointment in North Carolina, one state up the Atlantic Coast.
I’d seen the Atlantic Ocean just once before when I attended a week-long worship seminar at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Cindy had joined me for part of the trip. She’d flown over and drove back home with me. It had been a rainy week, so we never got in the water but we saw it. A year before that seminar, I’d attended another one in Mobile, Alabama, affording me the opportunity to see the Gulf of Mexico. Cindy and I took our kids to the beach the first day of spring break. We dipped our toes in the frigid water and so resigned ourselves to building sand castles until we could no longer tolerate the bone-chilling sea breeze.
We’d expected not to spend much on our trip, since the beach is more or less free entertainment. We never went back after that first day. So we took in the touristy sights, which all cost money. But we did save a little by eating cereal for breakfast, packing picnic lunches, and preparing our dinners in the condo kitchen. Of course, we splurged on our final day at a seafood buffet. Expensive as they usually are, it was a sort of gift to ourselves to lift our spirits over a rendezvous that never transpired.
I called my father on Tuesday, and he told me he was still in Charlotte and likely wouldn’t be able to leave until the following morning. He said he would call when he arrived in Myrtle Beach. I didn’t receive a call on Wednesday. It rained that day, so we went to see The Croods in 3D. We don’t typically opt for the 3D version due to the upcharge, but we’d arrived too late for the standard version. I laid down some $80 for tickets, popcorn, and drinks. So much for the beach. (The movie is good, though. I’m planning to use a clip when I preach on Father’s Day this year.)
Thursday I called and left a message, telling him that Friday would be our last day, that we had to leave early on Saturday morning. I didn’t hear back from him.
After the seafood buffet, we drove to the place we’d found listed as his home address. Though it was just half a mile off the beach, the neighborhood was not where I’d wanted to be after dark. But I walked around the make-shift apartments. I knocked on a couple doors, and the tenants were unfamiliar with the name I gave them, except for one man, a Rastafarian who’d poked out his second-floor window and asked what I was doing wandering around the small complex. He was friendly enough and he seemed willing to help me locate the man I was looking for. Unable to provide much of a description, I told him to envision me about thirty years older.
The Rastafarian said something curious, “Is he like … gay?”
“Gay?” I repeated. “I don’t know about that.”
“You know, just the way he walks and says things. Just kinda gay.”
“Well, I’ve never met him, so I don’t know him.”
“If it’s the same guy, then I know he used to live here, but I haven’t seen him in a while.”
I thanked him for his help and returned to Cindy and the kids in our locked minivan.
The following morning we made the twelve-hour drive home in that minivan. We’d had a nice vacation, something other than visiting family in Arizona, which we’ve always liked but sometimes it’s nice just to get away. Certainly welcome after the busyness of Lent and Passion Week. But for all the anticipation, I drove home with a heavy heart.
Embarrassment at being so foolish and having to acknowledge the futility of my attempt. I’d been sure after our phone conversation almost two weeks prior that the meeting would happen.
That week of spring break I’d been texting a few friends of mine, guys I’d asked to pray for the situation, one of whom was my pastor. He said to me, “Shame is such a cruel taskmaster.” Indeed, shame over the past very often keeps us from living in the present and holding out hope for the future. I didn’t know when I would speak to my father again, when the chance would arise again for us to meet in person. Two weeks after we returned home, I left him another message, which was the last time I called him.
A year after the failed meeting, I discovered another opportunity when I found out that after twenty or so years of living in South Carolina, he’d moved back to Yuma, where we were headed for my sister’s wedding over spring break. I’ll write more about that next time.