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.