Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Adoption”

Daddy, Don’t Go.

Yesterday’s post was quite heavy. Today it is going to get much harder. But it is my hope, that when all is said and done, I might just have been able to finally grieve for my Dad.

So a comment made to me on my post yesterday read, “so what would you have done differently?”

I know what I needed. No, wanted. More time. I missed nearly half of my life with him, mostly my childhood, and there was so much more to be said and done. As I went through my divorce, I recalled what I could remember about my youth, and thought about what I could not remember, and I used that to make sure that I did not do the same things to my daughters as they grew. Because it is that past that still haunts me to this day, and the day my father passed, I lost any chance to deal with or resolve any of those issues.

When my Father and I finally began speaking to each other again, after being estranged for so many years, it was at a time, when crisis had struck him. My stepmother had been hit by a car while crossing the street. Just before that accident, she and my Dad were having an argument. They had to run some errands, but now mad at each other, he went outside to the car, parked across the street, and waited for her there. As she finally came outside and began to cross the street, she never saw the car approach. But my Dad witnessed the impact and everything that happened after. A guilt that he would carry with him the rest of his life, it was at that moment, my Dad felt the need to unload other guilt that he carried, while he had the chance. It was too late for my stepmother. She had survived the accident, but her injuries left her crippled and without memory of the accident. My Dad would make it his life, to care for her, for the rest of her life. Turned out, he could only do it for the rest of his life. Somehow, a surprise to all, and a nod to my Father’s care, she is still living, now nine years later after his passing.

Anyhow, this second chance, or new beginning, whatever you want to call it, was awkward. I did not start right off with calling him “Dad” again. He was not forgiven for what I felt he had done, rather had been told he had done, and for not being there for me. I had told him, we would put that aside for the time being, and instead, build forward. Small talk about current daily life would become in depth conversations about things that needed to be done or have help with to eventually, becoming involved again in my life, now with grandchildren.

“I wish I had done things differently,” my Dad said quite often. And instead of airing everything out, what I had missed, what he had missed, and more importantly, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED THAT YOU STOPPED WANTING TO SEE ME!?!, I would respond, “I know Dad, but now you have two wonderful granddaughters who adore you and love you. Make up that lost time with me, but with them.”

And my Father did just that. Heck, one story is told how he caught me off guard, offering to babysit my daughters overnight. While I did not hesitate to take him up on his offer, this was something I was so happy to do. It was the date of my 25th year class reunion, and it was being held local to where he lived. I would stay overnight at the hotel, not risking drinking and driving. Should my Dad need anything, I would be near enough by. I had a great time that evening, only to be getting a wake up phone call at 6:30am from my Dad. “Hello?”, I answered groggily. “So? How was your night?”, my Father asked. Now, I know the older population wakes up early, even on the weekends, but I really did not think he would call me this early. Something had to be wrong. But he was offering small talk, or so I thought. “I had a good time. Been a long time since I have seen some of my friends.” I do not think my answer mattered to my Dad. “So what time are you picking the kids up?”, he asked. My daughters could not have been too much to handle. They both were easy going, easily entertained, and always focused on the giant “Oreo” cookie jar, filled with cookies.

To preface the rest of this conversation, my daughters were aged three and five years old at the time. My Dad continued, “they had me up at 3am. They found my flashlights and were running around the house with them. It woke your stepmother up, who then woke me up.” I myself just waking up to this conversation, had to use every ounce of strength I had not to laugh or guffaw, because clearly my Dad was not amused by the early hour activity. I would not have been either. The funny thing is, I am a light sleeper, and I had never seen either of my daughters up in the middle of the night doing anything. “I will be there around 10. I just need to get some breakfast. Sorry.” This is just one memory of many my father gave me, with my daughters, which is one more memory that I have of my Dad from my childhood.

My parents divorced when I was three years old. Over fifty years later, I still have no idea why. And with only one side still living to tell me, I have chosen not to hear anything. Being divorced twice myself, I know there are two sides, and ultimately, the children will eventually figure things out themselves if they want to, and are able. But when I informed my daughters, who were 8 and 10 years old at the time, I was able to explain to them, nothing was going to change between them and myself. I was always going to see them. I was always going to be there for them. I was never going to disappear.

But what was said to 3 year old me? Was my Father even there to explain anything to me? Or was he already gone, out of the picture? Did I ask where my Dad was? Did I try to stop my Dad from leaving, “Daddy, don’t go?” I have no memory of that time period at all. While that could be a good thing, depending on how the divorce was going, but soon I would realize, I didn’t have a Dad in my life, and that hurt when I saw all the other kids in the neighborhood all had fathers.

To be fair, to my Father, I do know that he did occasionally have custody visits with me, but honestly, I can remember only enough to count on both my hands. As I got older, words I heard spoken around me, made me resent him for not being more involved in my life. Soon, it was me refusing to go with him when he would come for my sister. This attitude is not normal for a child to hate their parent. It was taught to me. My high school graduation was the final straw for me. I actually threatened my Father, “show up, or I never want to see you again.” He did not show. It would be years until I would ever see him again. I meant what I said.

I used my childhood experience to do all that I could to protect my daughters from the same parental alienation tactics. I know divorce is not easy. But it is between the husband and the wife, not the children. It is not natural to turn a child against either parent. And at least I can say, I never did any such thing, and I still do not. I have no comment on their mother and others.

But this much I do know, I have tons of memories that I continued to build with my daughters. Sure the living situations were not ideal, but they were the best for all of the circumstances. I wanted to protect my daughters from witnessing any harassment that I was receiving, which would have put me in the position of fighting back against those they loved in spite of those who held animosity towards me, or witnessing me being bullied. If you asked them today, and this is with them having exposure to their friends who have “broken” households (the ones where the parents stay together no matter what, with all kinds of hostility), and those who are from “broken” homes (divorced), my daughters both will tell you, they are more at ease with their mother and I having gotten divorced.

Next month, my youngest daughter will graduate high school, and just like with my oldest daughter, I will be there, proud as ever for both daughters. I have navigated through one of the most difficult things in my life, focused on only one thing, actually two, my daughters. I was never going to give up.

But what did my Father do my entire childhood without me? Did he think about me at all? Did he remember my birthday? What went through his mind when he made the decision not to show up at my graduation?

It was a tragic event that brought us back to each other, and a long road to haul to where we ended up. I never bothered asking my Father those questions as we repaired our relationship because all that mattered to us at that time, was moving forward. I certainly was not going to ask those questions from his deathbed. But following his passing, those questions would surface in my thoughts, as I often found myself struggling emotionally with some of the tactics used in my divorce towards me.

Though my Dad and I had made amends, and I once again developed a huge amount of respect for my Father, I struggled with his absence in my childhood once again. I was my Father’s son. As hard as it was to go through this divorce, I know my Father’s divorce paled in comparison. Why did he not want to see me? Again, this is still something I struggle with today.

But as my Father neared his end, it was not situations of my youth that I wanted answers to, our lives split into two halves, I finally had my Father back in my life. Sure, he had some health issues, and I was there for him. I had some health issues, and he was there for me. I had my Dad back. With my health issues, I did not anticipate outliving my parents (a totally different but accurate post). We were having grown up conversations about current issues, and things that needed to get done around the house. I was going to rely on my Dad to keep my legacy with my daughters alive should something happen to me. To be certain, I do not plan on anything happening, but it is just the nature of a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor with my treatment history decades ago. My daughters grew up with several other children who had lost their fathers. I did not want my daughters to go through that pain, very similar to that of growing up without a father due to divorce.

I know my Father regretted many things. Missing out on my childhood. And though he relied on my experience in medicine during his cancer as his advocate, he regretted not questioning certain things that I recommend he do question. Would that have resulted in a different situation if he had? Would he still be alive had he not gone for the additional treatments recommended to him, suspected by me? We will never know. But toward the end, I believe he did believe things would have been different.

There was so much more I wanted to experience with my Dad, for my daughters to experience with their Grandfather. Unlike fifty-four years ago however, I know for certain this time I told my Dad, “Dad, please don’t go.” I do hope that I had that chance when I was that little boy and told him, “Daddy, don’t go.” I hope he knew how much he meant to me. And if there is any way possible, I hope that somehow, he is able to see what is happening today, and be happy for his son and granddaughters. Because ultimately, he is what got me through these last ten years, even though he has been gone only nine.

I miss you Dad.

So, in the end, instead of fighting off everyone challenging decisions interfering with my Dad’s care, instead of one court battle after another, I just wish I could have had the time to discuss all these things with my Father, and allowed to feel the pain emotionally as he struggled physically, and then be able to mourn his loss, as I now seem to finally be doing at this moment.

The Top Story Today…

Newspapers and newscasts all have top stories followed by lesser significant stories. I am treating this post in similar fashion.

The top story…

My youngest turned 18 years old. When I look back at the hundreds, ummm… likely thousands of photos I have taken not just of her, but of her sister as well, I consider myself blessed to have watched and witness the growth and development from someone so tiny when she was first placed in my arms. Her wit, her personality, her intelligence, and her ability to smell through bullshit, she definitely is my daughter. Every photo I look at, I can remember where, when, and what was happening.

I encouraged her to stay a child as long as she could, and I believe she did just that, with her foot in the door to the next stage of her life, adulthood. Her childhood years behind her, she now heads in to the next phase of her life. I see only good things for her.

Another milestone reached…

It seems as of late, I have been doing a lot of talking about milestones. Back in 2008, when I had my first heart surgery, tied to my cancer survivorship of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my doctors and I agreed, I wanted to live. I had a lot to look forward to, and I wanted to be around to see these things, these milestones. I went from a certain fatal event, to seeing each of my daughters turn 18, one having graduated, now completing her first year of college, to my younger daughter now graduating, heading off to college in the Fall, another milestone reached. And it will be a tense three years, dealing with my health issues as I await the next milestone, a college graduation. But for now, I have seen both my daughters turn 18 years of age, something that has never been a guarantee.

A chapter closed…

Also, with my final child turning 18, brings an end to my divorce case. This does not mean an end to me supporting my daughters, emotionally, or financially. But what it does mean, is that the relationship between my daughters and I, will now be, between my daughters and I.

As an adult child of divorce myself, I am still haunted by my parents’ decisions with their divorce. But it was my feelings, that drove me to protect my daughters from being exposed to the hurt I have carried with me my entire life. Most importantly, I feel it played a vital role to make sure, what happened with me, did not happen with them. Granted, I had better means to accomplish this effort, namely in the form of video messaging services, which allowed this non-custodial parent to have nearly daily visual contact with each of my daughters. Of course there was also the drive, never to leave my daughters’ lives.

Through it all, I hope that I was still able to convey to them, that there is good in relationships, and that marriage can be a good thing, but also takes work, respect, and communication. I tried to set examples for them, of how they should want to be treated, all the while, teaching them other life lessons, even if from afar.

And here we are, both my daughters, now going full speed ahead into adulthood. My role as teacher and comforter, turns to advisor and support. Of course, they will also become more familiar with my health issues, as it is likely, they will need to know everything I have gone through.

And finally…

Today was about my daughter. This will not become another “anniversary date” that I recognize. This will always be about her big milestone. The other two things just happened to occur on the same day.

Delaying The Inevitable

This post was going to have a completely different direction when I started. But a tragic local headline served a stark and horrific reminder instead.

I wanted to talk about traffic and driving experiences. I am one of many parents who have children who have delayed getting their drivers licenses, a right of passage growing up. Where I live, the area seems to grapple with a loss of gravity, as the nearly daily accidents involve some sort of rollover of their vehicle, including from either a straightaway or pulling out in an intersection. No, when I originally came up with this filler piece, it was nowhere near as heavy as I write it today.

The picture is a screenshot from my phone, credited to local news agency, UC Breaking News – SWFL. The headline reads, “13-Year-Old Boy Killed In Crash.” Again, as I mentioned, daily car crashes here are not uncommon, and it seems that deaths or at least severe injuries occur nearly every day. There were not many details released. A car, driven by a 17-year-old girl, had three passengers, two aged 13 years of age, and a 10-year-old. She attempted to make a left turn, thinking she had the right of way, or at least enough distance, and instead was hit by another vehicle, being driven by a 30-year-old father, and his 3-year old child. This turn was attempted at night. The accident is being investigated. But one definite fact has been reported, a 13-year-old boy was killed in the accident.

Of course, social media does not disappoint, with all the know-it-alls and just plain assholes, offering their commentary and disrespectful, hurtful comments. A lot of discussion needs to be had about this accident for sure, regardless of anything that comes out of the investigation. One thing that was confirmed, all passengers and drivers in both vehicles were wearing seatbelts, or this would have been much worse.

As a teenager, all I wanted to do was drive. The day I turned 15-years-old, I could not wait to rush out and get my learner’s permit. With a birthday occurring in the wickedest time of the year weather-wise, Winter, I would learn to drive in extreme conditions not experienced by my friends born in April or July. The furthest thing from my mind, was ever getting into a car accident, a clear case of the “it will never happen to me.” And for over 35 years, I kept that record in tact. That is right, that record came to an end, five years ago.

In a scene reminiscent to the story written above, only I know my details accurately, I had a left turn arrow, and was actually following behind a police cruiser who was also turning. But a young woman driving a Challenger in the opposite direction, was approaching, clearly without a green light, through the intersection. The police officer had just completed his turn. She was coming straight at me. A last-second maneuver, a hard turn left, turned my eventual collision from head-on, to her hitting my right passenger side. I do not recall much of the accident other than the sound of the impact. I remember the officer, who had turned around, witnessing the impact in his rear view mirror, asking me if I was okay. I was a little woozy, but I did not seem injured.

I deal with flashbacks when I have to drive that intersection, but otherwise, I had begun my accident-free streak again from that point on.

Having two teenage daughters, I knew there would come a day, that each would want to get their driving licenses. And why shouldn’t they? As I said, it is a right of passage. The fact that it was something that should happen, did not take away the many memories that haunt me of others that I knew, or had heard about, involved in car accidents. Admittedly, my memories really only hold on to those killed in car accidents. As a teenager myself, there were so many.

The first occurred during my senior year, a friend was killed driving across a bridge known for being hazardous, especially during inclement weather. Another friend, killed just after graduation in a vehicle purchased by his parents as a gift. The most personal for me occurred when my first ex-wife was hit head-on, on a dark two lane road. Driving a Geo Storm, she was hit by a Ford Crown Victoria. Somehow, she survived, hurt badly, but survived.

But these personal memories definitely impacted my motivation, rather, lack of motivation to encourage my daughters to seek their drivers licenses. I used all kinds of rationale from not necessary, to expense, and even relied a bit on their own lack of impulse to pursue the process. I would tell my daughters, “you know, by getting a license, you will be asked to run errands all the time,” capitalizing on how they often did not like being interrupted or, “if you want to borrow the car you will need to do this,” blackmail, the exchange simply not worth the inconvenience.

I have driven all over the country. And as I have, I constantly changed my opinion of which places were the worst to drive, whether road conditions or drivers. Along the way, Florida held that title for me once before and has regained my opinion of worst place to drive again. As my picture above shows an intersection in China, the photo was taken by me, that was what I thought was the worst place for traffic. Having witnessed all types of transportation, from tractor trailers and buses, to cars, to motorcycles and mopeds, to bicycles and pedestrians, it was clearly a “circle of life” situation with the strongest surviving. I had even witnessed an accident with someone opening a car door into a cyclist who had been trapped in her lane of travel. It was a sickening thud.

Here where I now live, in south Florida, there is not a day that goes by, there are at least two or three accidents, one of them severe, at least every other day involving a death. If it involves a car, there is likely a rollover involved, which does not make any sense from the lack of curves in the roads, and in most cases, traffic does not move that fast because of the amount of cars tying up traffic. Then, just as in China, you have all of these other vehicles on the road, not just trucks and buses, but because this is a tourist area, there are these funky vehicles, three wheelers, electric rickshaws, vespas, all risking their lives having less physical protection around them in the event of an eventual crash. And of course, pedestrians and cyclists are constantly getting hit by vehicles. Did I mention aggressive drivers?

And so, we have a tragedy like just occurred. There needs to be discussions about the circumstances. I know we are a country of people that do not want to be told what to do, but dammit, when we do not use common sense, such as drunken driving or texting while driving, something needs to be done to protect the innocence.

My biggest fear next to my own daughters driving, has always been them, being driven by someone else. Of course, them driving the family car, we would be aware of. But going for a ride with a friend or classmate, as the expression goes, “what we don’t know…” Well, my daughters as of now, still do not have their licenses, and it is likely they will not anytime soon, because they have realized they do not need them at their current stage. They will get their licenses eventually, but right now, they do not need them. They know this. That means, their friends do the driving. I have no idea when or how often this happens. And yes, they are to offer gas money. But as I pass cars filled with teenagers today, I see my biggest nightmare, the passengers all carrying on inside (and outside) of the vehicle, while the driver focuses on the roadway.

This tragedy is just that, a tragedy. What was a fun night for a family, has now become a nightmare. There will be lots of “coulda-woulda-shoulda”, and changes made in families who knew them, and perhaps by others who heard of the accident. But in this area particularly, the county needs to do something. Aggressive and reckless driving (such as drag racing) is at an all time high. This is not the first time a child’s life has been lost on our roads here. The first thing to dealing with a problem however, is recognizing there is a problem. And while authorities may admit to a problem, they do not publicly publicize it, you know, it is called “awareness.” If you don’t talk about the problem, it does not exist, right?

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