In 1985, my sister graduated from high school. As a celebratory trip, my mother took her to New York City. My father — obviously miserable and sensing a window of opportunity — brought his girlfriend over, packed up, and left. I was twelve.
One glaring detail — that I would be alone in the house for five days until my mother and sister returned — somehow escaped him.
Again, I was twelve. There was no one in the house when he left but myself. Of course, being twelve and not understanding the intricacies of marriage and relationships, I thought it was my fault. I didn’t tell a soul about this until my twenties when I finally confided in my sister.
Can anyone say, abandonment issues? Yes, I’ve got them.
My sister got the brunt of my father’s wrath when he was living with us. She was a teenager, he was strict. I didn’t get any of that. I was too young to cause any real problems. We were buddies. We played video games. We joked. We cooked. It was all around great. Until he left.
Which made it so much harder for me to swallow.
My father leaving was the first, biggest, and worst betrayal of my life. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I never got over it. And I damn sure never forgave him for it. I began hating my father. I cultivated this hate for decades. I mastered it, actually. When he finally died, in 2008, the story I believed about this man was so burned into my brain, I hardly shed a tear when I saw him on his deathbed.
History is tricky. So is the human brain. You make your own history, and what you believe to be true really becomes true — whether or not there is a speck of truth to it at all. My father wasn’t the monster I had made him out to be all of those years. He was a human being with flaws. I only wish I would have realized that a little earlier.
My father made mistakes, as people are wont to do. He didn’t do a good job of apologizing for those mistakes, and I’m pretty sure looking at me reminded him of a lot of them. I kept a tally of those mistakes. Until the day he died.
The day of his funeral I saw him laying lifeless in that coffin. I walked up to him and touched his face. It felt like pottery. He was so small, so meek, so not the intimidating character that I knew him to be. I thought about the last time I dodged one of his phone calls. It was a Friday night, I was working at a bar. There was a lull in business — I definitely could have answered it and spoken to him for a minute. But I didn’t. I remember thinking, “Ugh. My dad.” I didn’t know that he would have the catastrophic stroke that would render him unable to form a coherent word, ever again, the very next day. I didn’t know that was the last time that I would be able to hear my father’s voice.
I didn’t know.
That’s the thing about life. You kind of always have to do your best, because you never know when shit like that is going to happen. I didn’t do my best that day. Unfortunately, that will follow me until the day I die.
As luck would have it, I birthed the second coming of my father. My son has the same skin tone, the same hairline, and the same furrowed brow. With his long legs, and baby belly, he even has my father’s stance. Sometimes, I see him smiling at something in the distance. He’s definitely looking at something that isn’t visible to me. I picture my father, standing above me, making my son laugh the way that only he could. I picture my son getting the joke, the way that I did when I was a child.
When a parent betrays us in some way — or leaves — sometimes anger is all we have to hold on to. And there’s nothing wrong with that. No one can tell you how to navigate a situation so personal. But for me, that old adage that says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” would have done a world of good, if I would have paid it any mind. There are some things in life, that don’t have a do-over.
On what would have been your 82nd birthday, I’d like to say “I’m sorry, Dad.” I’m sorry I’m human. I’m sorry you were, too. I’m sorry I couldn’t figure this all out while you were still alive. And in the future, when you come to your grandchild, could it be around four o’clock? He gets grumpy then, and whatever you are doing to make him smile, works.