I couldn't believe it. After twenty-four years, the moment had arrived. Was it only a week since I'd made the call? It felt like an eternity. My heart was dancing the quick-step as I dialled. I swear it skipped a beat when I heard her voice.
"Hello, Lyn speaking.'
Who? This wasn't in the plan. He was supposed to answer. I had my speech prepared. I was ready. But who was this? His wife? No, her voice was too high pitched; surely she was younger than me. I ignored the background cry of my baby girl and tried to think.
Be still my soul.
I charged my lungs. 'You don't know me, my name is Catherine Thompson. I was wondering if Doug James was there please....I'm his daughter.'
I blurted it out - it wasn't rehearsed or at all eloquent.
Please say something before I lose my nerve and hang up, I thought.
'I do know you, Catherine, well not really but I've heard of you - Dad told me about you and your brother.'
A quiet gasp escaped my lips. Dad? Wait - he's got other children? My brain somersaulted without coordination. A single word was all I could muster.
It wasn't even a word - it was more of a sound, a grunt at best.
'I'm Sorry, Dad's not here but he should be home soon. Can I take a message?' she said.
A message? What was my message? That I'm totally unprepared when I thought I was ready? That I'm a blithering idiot who can't string two words together under pressure?
'Just tell him I called.' I rolled my eyes at my inability to be smooth or at least to sound friendly.
'Is there a return number?' she asked.
'Oh sorry,' I said, and gave her the number.
'Thanks Catherine. I'll pass it on. Goodbye.'
I stared out the window at the trees thrashing around. Handfuls of leaves tumbled to the ground with each windy blast. There'll be a mess to rake up tomorrow, I thought. I heard the creak of the door as Rob came into the lounge room.
'How did it go Sweetie?' He caressed my arm and handed me a hot mug of tea. 'Here you are, get that into you.' He kissed the side of my head and sat down, relaxing into the sofa. The smile that covered his face when he looked at me never changed - it was always genuine, as if he knew something good about me. I never understood what that could be. His towering presence comforted me - it had always been that way. The first time I saw him I thought how sweet he looked. His eyes radiated blue warmth against his tanned face - like an oasis in the desert of life.
'I think I blew it - it went nothing like I thought. He wasn't home. His daughter answered.'
'Oh,' Rob said.
'Yes, oh - that's what I said. I wish I'd known.'
'Would it have made a difference?'
'I don't know - maybe. I'll never know. Anyway, it's done now, I left a message so we'll see if he calls back.'
'He'll call back,' Rob said.
Oh, the confidence of those who don't need it, I thought.
'I wish I had your faith,' I said. 'God started this, so it's up to him to finish it.'
I jumped when the phone rang. Rob and I looked at each other. He nodded at me. Was it an affirmation that he believed in me or a directive to answer? Either way another force pushed me towards the phone to silence its cry.
'Hello?' I swallowed while there was time and ran my tongue over my teeth.
His voice was soft and searching but still I recognised fear - she had been a familiar companion of mine for as I long as I could remember.
'Yes, it's Catherine speaking.'
'Hello love, its Dad here.'
Dad? The word was foreign to me. I closed my eyes - my throat felt like a piece of dry bread had taken up permanent residency. I turned clammy and light-headed.
I opened up my eyes and sucked on the air.
'I'm sorry I was out when you called, but Lynnie gave me your message. How are you?' he asked.
How am I? I shouted the question in my head. I am so shaking scared I want to throw up. I am curious and inquisitive and have a bucket load of questions I want to ask. In all honesty, I am an adrenalin - fuelled nervous wreck.
'I'm alright, thank you,' I said.
Liar! A still small voice distilled my chastisement; it urged me to surrender.
'Actually, the truth is I'm really nervous,' I said.
'Me too,' he said. I heard his breathing change. I've been hoping for this day for over twenty years.'
'Twenty-four to be exact.'
He laughed and I knew we had crossed over.
'I have questions,' I went on.
'Actually I was hoping to do this face to face. My husband Rob and I have a nine month old daughter - she's your granddaughter. We would like you in her life and in ours....if you want that....I understand if you don't.'
The dance in my heart began again as I waited for his reply.
'I would like that,' he said at last.
I looked at Rob with wide eyes, nodding, like a child who'd been asked if they want the biggest piece of chocolate cake on the plate.
'Can you come next Saturday afternoon?' I asked.
'You name the time. I'll be there.'
As the door opened, I stood a good metre behind Rob with our baby in my arms. A grey-haired man, almost as tall as my six-foot husband and clutching a white fluffy teddy bear, extended his hand.
'Rob - great to meet you, buddy. Doug's the name.'
'G'day - it's good to meet you, too. Come in,' Rob said.
He stepped over the threshold and our eyes met. I noticed his were blue, like my mother's.
'I expected you'd have green eyes, like mine. Everyone on Mum's side has blue eyes.' I said.
'My mother had green eyes, just like yours,' he observed.
Why I opened with a conversation about eyes, of all things, I'll never know. It was the first of many questions I would ask him that day. I introduced our baby, Rebecca, and he took her in his arms. I watched him give her the white teddy bear.
'Hello princess - aren't you beautiful!' he said.
He saw me starting and handed her over to Rob. Tears filled his eyes. He moved towards me and placed his hands just below my shoulders. I felt him tremble. I longed to embrace him but I sensed he had something to say, so I waited - what's another minute, after all these years? A single tear escaped and fell into the crevie of a line on his face.
'Thank you for inviting me to come. I know I don't deserve it. Many years ago I walked away from your mother, your brother and you. I'm sorry.....I wish things had been different.'
His face contorted as he emotionally disintegrated. I threw my chest against his and sobbed into his shoulder.
'Dad...I forgive you...I forgive you.'
The sound of regret came from a deep place within him. We howled as one, until nothing but wet handkerchiefs and beautiful tear-stained faces remained.
'I don't deserve your forgiveness,' Dad said.
'It's not about deserving it....none of us deserves it.'
We sat on the sofa and chatted.
'I don' know what you believe but Rob and I are Christians.'
'I haven't been to church in a long time. I walked away from God when I left your mother.' he said.
I nodded. I figured as much.
'Dad, what matters is now. I was angry with you for years but God showed me there was no forgiveness in my heart. I realised if God could forgive me, who was I not to forgive you? I wrestled with it but I couldn't get any peace until I forgave you. That's why I contacted you - to tell you you're forgiven. I think God wants you to have the same peace that I've found.'
'I'd like to believe that,' he said.
'You can, Dad. It's done. Finished. You can't earn forgiveness - it's a gift.'
'Our church calls it grace,' Rob said.
More tears formed in my father's eyes.
This story was first published in 2016 by Carolyn Tonkin in "A Chicken Can Make A Difference". For more true stories of faith, visit the storiesoflife.net