My Favorite Mistake: Judith Regan

Judith Regan in her New York apartment in 2009. Todd Heisler / The New York Times-Redux

It was in my rearview mirror that I first saw him. He was trying to steal my parking space and I flew off the handle until I took a good look at his face. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, and when he jumped out of his car and came toward me, he smiled, leaned in my window, and asked, with infinite charm, if I’d have lunch … and a baby with him. I said yes, and I did, and it was wild, passionate, and, yes, crazy.

Our son was born. A year later, placenta previa ignited my labor and our premature daughter passed away. This man turned violent: black eyes, broken windows, suicide threats, and, finally, he took off. Our son was just a toddler.

For years I wanted to fix him, to get him help so he could be the father I thought my son deserved. I rented him an apartment in New York so he would visit. But he drank too much, caroused too much, and hurt us too much. After years of disappointment, I let go of him. For me, he was no longer my son’s “father.” He was just “The Inseminator.”

When I heard tales of his woes, I rolled my eyes. Nothing surprised me: financial ruin, broken relationships, and finally prison. Every few years I’d hear from him and I rarely responded. I’d just press the delete button.

My little boy grew up and one day I got the call. He was getting married and could he invite his father to the wedding. “Of course,” I said. “Just please don’t seat him at my table.”

When he arrived, this once stunning man was holding onto his nurse. He was quivering and unsteady on his feet. “I suppose you think I am getting my comeuppance,” he said.

Before I could say a word my sister piped in with, “You could say that again.”

But the truth is I didn’t feel that way at all. Seeing him suffer from Parkinson’s disease broke my heart. He seemed not at all the image of the irresponsible swashbuckler I’d carried with me for so long. I was filled with overwhelming regret that I had turned my back on him.

I should have answered his calls. I should have forgiven him. I should have let go of the disappointment long ago. What a horrible mistake I’d made to abandon all hope, to empty my heart of any possibility of love or compassion.

At the wedding reception I sat with him at his table and, as my daughter later recounted to me, she stood with my son across the room.

“See,” my son said with tears in his eyes, “they really do love each other.” I so wish I had shown my children that sooner.