My father. I didn’t grow up with him in my life. He was out of the picture before my second birthday. The reasons why are not important. It was not his fault. I never blamed him. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. I knew, somehow, that the reasons WHY had nothing to do with me. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. You sort of don’t miss what you’ve never had so I didn’t really dwell on it or pine for him to be in my life.
One day, out of the blue, I got a letter from a woman…his wife…saying that if I wanted time with him, the time was now because he was ill. I had never even THOUGHT about this possibility…but when faced with it, there was no question that I would go to him.
We spent one day together. This is what happened:
It turned out my father lived about ten blocks from where I grew up. The excitement of that day, the day we arranged to meet was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s too hard to put into words. I won’t even try. All I know is I wanted to hug him and to let him know that somehow, all along, I knew that the fact that he was not in my life was not his fault. And more than anything, I wanted him to be proud of me.
When the moment came & I walked into the room to see him for the first time since before I could tie my shoes, I saw a man, frail but proud, sitting on the side of the bed, struggling to stand up with the use of a walker. The first words I spoke to him ever (save for maybe some baby babble when I was a toddler) were: “It’s ok Daddy. You don’t need to stand up”.
“DADDY”. That was a salutation I had NEVER said in my life. And why did I call him “Daddy”? Why not “Dad” or “Papa” or “Father”? Ok, “Father” was probably not very likely, but I thought it was interesting that, in that moment, “Daddy” was what felt right & natural…as if I’d been saying the word forever and a day. As it turns out I think I just might be a Daddy’s Girl after all…and that is fine by me.
I went over to him. We hugged…and spent the next six hours catching up. There was no awkwardness. It was natural and easy. He felt like HOME.
On that day I learned things about him that I never knew. My mum never spoke much about him and when she did it was when pointing out my perceived faults and how they were inherited from him…according to her.
Getting to know him for myself, on our terms, as an adult, was a blessing.
Turns out he was a special Ed-teacher. That was what I thought I wanted to be from about age 5 until college…when I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as noble as I once thought. I inherited his fierce stubbornness & his unwillingness to compromise on issues big (Liberal Democrat for life!) & small (we-no-likey pineapple on our pizza, no way, no how!), his inability to master the use of chopsticks & an ability to sniff out bullshitters a mile away.
One thing I didn’t inherit from him was his talent for art & music, though my appreciation for both is deep. He played 5 instruments (self-taught) & was a talented artist who painted & made very delicate multi-media collages; my stick figures are round. Sigh. He was a professionally trained chef; I’ve been known to burn boiling water!
Even the fact that we both were wearing red (a color I never wear for whatever reason) seemed to be a sign…but one tends to read maybe too much into things in emotionally charged situations such as seeing your father for the first time in your adult life. But I clung onto every nuanced genetic link I could on that day. I was desperate to make connections, to draw a line from his heart, his brain, his soul to mine, to be my father’s daughter.
When I was a little girl I thought my father was Marvin Gaye & my mother was Jackie Kennedy. Ok, I KNEW they weren’t REALLY my parents but to my child’s eyes that’s who they looked like to me in the peak of their youthful beauty. Throughout my life whenever I’d see or hear Marvin Gaye I would think of my father. In truth those were the only times I did think about him.
While Daddy & I were taking…about everything…I suddenly had an urge to ask him a preposterous question. Knowing this might be my only chance to do so, I went for it. “Daddy, do you know what today is?” Most people would have answered, “It’s April 1st (which it was) or “It’s April Fool’s Day” (which it was). But that was not the answer I was looking for; the answer I was looking for was so random and obscure…and yet somehow I felt like he would know. My Daddy said, without a hint of implying that his answer would seem most random to anyone, “It’s the anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s death”.
There is no way I can explain that to you. First of all, how many people would even KNOW that (another thing Daddy & I had in common – massive amounts of useless trivia, usually entertainment related, rattling around in our heads). And how would he know that THAT was the answer I was hoping for…all the while knowing that it was literally insane to think that he would give the “right” answer. But he did. My Daddy didn’t let me down. He knew.
The similarities between us were instantly apparent & magical. We shared the same passion for politics & music & football (though differed in team allegiance – his 49ers vs. my Raiders) & pizza & our favorite cookies: Oreos!! The same quirky habit of bouncing one leg up & down when eating a particularly scrumptious morsel of food was evidenced over a shared meal of…you guessed it: Pizza & Oreos. A love of writing long handwritten letters to friends, whipping out a well-worn dog-eared book in the midst of a passionate debate to find the perfect quote to prove our point & an affinity for all things PBS, CSPAN & jazz music radio stations, were another part of our shared tapestry in life.
The question of nature vs. nurture is a complicated one. I am more like him in every way than I am like my mother who raised me. Of course I am my mother’s daughter but more in the ways that were pounded (literally) into my head or forced on me through fear. But that’s another story for another day.
There was a lot that I didn’t know about my father before that day. But it turned out, he knew a lot about me. He pulled out a box full of many of my modeling clippings from the many times I was in the local paper. He knew where I went to college and that I had graduated president of my class. He knew that I was “smart, brave and funny”.
He told me that he was proud of me. Proud of the woman I had become. And that is really all I needed to hear. I still remember that on days when I don’t feel so smart or so brave or so funny…but I AM…cause my daddy said so.
At one point, he said, so very wistfully, “I think you turned out so well because I wasn’t around to mess you up” in comparison to my 4 half siblings whose lives he WAS a part of during their formative years & who all seemed to struggle a bit in life. “Nooo, Daddy”, I pleaded. “You get to take credit for who I am. At least half of it. I am YOUR daughter”. His eyes welled with tears. It was important for him to know that. I got the sense that it was something he had thought a lot about. I’m glad I was able to put his mind at ease. It was the most poignant moment of the day…of which there were many.
My father was a handsome, talented, funny, caring, charming, witty, gifted, creative, passionate, complicated man (5 kids by 4 different women will do that to a you). What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man. I was BEYOND grateful to meet him & remain prouder still to be his daughter. It’s funny: tho I never thought about the possibility of meeting him up to that day, now I can’t imagine what life would feel like NOT having had that experience.
He wrote me several sweet notes after our reunion before he died soon thereafter. To say I cherish them all of my heart is an understatement. He called me “Sweetheart” in those notes. To this day, when I look at them & see that tender greeting, I dissolve into tears.
My father passed away soon after that special reunion.
I miss him every day.
Dear sweet man. My daddy. He had a gentle spirit of a soul, a devilish twinkle in his eyes, and a deep kindness in his heart.
Happy Birthday, darling Daddy. I love you & I miss you.