Mickey hadn’t seen his son for three years.
At his lowest ebb during the first of these years, he’d been walking along the canal when he noticed a father and son having fun on the other side of the bank.
Stood on the toe-path and precariously close to the water’s edge, the father held the hands of the boy as he spun him around and around. Flying through the air, the boy couldn’t stop giggling.
‘Whoa!’ the father shouted when his son flew over the water’s edge. ‘This is it! I’m going to let you go!’
Of course, he never did let him go. The boy held tight and after a minute or so, his father let him down and crouched to share a few words of love and beam a smile together.
Mickey’s face was filled with sadness as they embraced.
He remembered the absence of love in his own childhood and sighed longingly.
As a teenager, he’d have barked profanity at the spectacle. If he’d been drunk and in company, stones would have been thrown.
As he saw it, they had no right to display love when he had known only pain and hatred. His pain would become their pain, but not that day.
Across the water, Mickey watched as the father held his son aloft, plonked him on his shoulders, and started walking away.
He thought of the silent beatings his father lavished upon him and how his mother, too frightened to defend him, sat and watched.
When his father died from heart failure, he laughed, singing ‘The King is dead! He was a heartless bastard anyway!’ but that backfired on him when his mother put him into care, choosing another violent boyfriend over her own flesh and blood in a matter of months.
The pain of watching beauty, and imagining his own son, now five, held aloft on his shoulders was almost too much to bear, but from somewhere deep inside himself, a little voice spoke to him.
‘Ask Jesus to be your father and he will guide you through your life.’
Mickey got up and wandered to the main road. From there, he walked into a church and knelt at a pew.
‘Please Jesus, take my pain and guide me as my father through life,’ he said, as if in a trance. A warm feeling came over him and he began to cry. This was the first time he had cried tears of joy. Before, there had been tears of anger and alcohol, tears of pain and confusion, but not once in his life had he ever experienced such pure, unadulterated joy.
The moment he left that church, his life took on a whole new meaning.
Sobriety had seen him at his most depressed but, up until that day, he’d refused to ask for help.
He prayed every morning and every night that he wished to do God’s will so that he could be a good father to his son.
He found a job at a local supermarket, started going to Alcoholics Anonymous and counselling for depression.
Two years later, just when he thought he’d never see his child again, he received a letter from social services asking whether he would like to meet his son at a contact centre.
When the week to meet his son finally came, Mickey was full of fear. Since news of his meeting had arrived, he’d started to forget to pray some days and he’d lost a little faith in AA. Some of his childhood memories had started to float back into his mind and he slept badly, constantly wondering how he’d be viewed by his son, worried that it would all go wrong and that he’d say the wrong things or lose his temper.
Negativity clawed its way back into his life but Mickey couldn’t see what had caused it, until the morning of the meeting at the contact centre.
He laughed to himself when he realised how he’d forgotten to pray and got down on his knees.
‘Please Jesus,’ he said joyously, ‘Fill me with your love and let me be a good father to my son as you have been to me. I pray for all lost children whose fathers aren't there for them. Thy will, Lord, not mine, be done’.
He sprang to his feet and ran around his flat laughing and screaming, then he gained composure and left for the meeting.
Once there, he was shown into a room where, with a beaming smile, stood his son. His ex-girlfriend knelt down to kiss the boy goodbye.
‘I’ll see you here in two hours, OK?’ she said, and the boy nodded obediently, his eyes firmly fixed on his father.
Mickey and Joe, his son, had a lovely walk by the canal. He swung his son around over the water’s edge just like the other man and child, and then they went for a bite to eat at a café.
They joked together and Joe told his father all about school and football and his favourite subjects.
All that time worrying had been wasted but Mickey had learnt another invaluable lesson about prayer.
Back at the contact centre, Joe shed a few tears when he said goodbye. His mother held his hand and walked away without saying goodbye.
Filled with such joy as he had never known, he went to see the staff-member on duty to confirm another visit.
‘Mr Knowles, before we book your next appointment, there’s someone who would like to see you in this room,’ she said, pointing to a door.
Mickey’s negativity swooped into play.
What had he done wrong now?
Were they going to drag something up from his past?
Had they been watching him when he took Joe to the canal?
What had he done?
Had his ex decided that she didn’t want him to see Joe anymore?
Maybe she’d had second thoughts and called the whole thing off.
When he was shown into the room, Mickey was surprised to see a beautiful young woman in her twenties sitting at a chair.
She was dressed far too casually to be staff, he thought.
‘You don’t recognise me, do you?’ asked the woman with half a smile.
‘No,’ said Mickey, ‘I can’t say I do.’
‘I’m your daughter, Rebecca.’
‘My God,’ said Mickey, but that was all he could muster.
‘My social worker saw your name on the list today and found out you were my Dad, so she asked me if I wanted to see you. I said yes.’
‘That’s amazing,’ said Mickey ‘Rebecca, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you when you were growing up. I’m a bit of a changed man now so I hope we can…’
‘I just wanted to see your face and say hello,’ interjected Rebecca. ‘Not really sure what I want to do now, but you can call me in a week if you like.’
Rebecca handed over a piece of paper with her number.
‘I better be going now. My little girl’s been seeing her father for the first time in three years and I need to collect her.’
‘I’ve got a grand-daughter?’
‘Yes, you have.’