I haven’t spoken to my father since I was sixteen years old.
I remember the conversation well, though there was no meaning to the words we shared. He called the house, and I answered the phone.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Is Ben there?”
“Yeah, hang on.” I turned from the phone. “Ben! Phone!”
My brother came into the room to take the phone from me. As he placed the phone to his ear, I could hear the last words I ever heard my father speak.
“Who was that?”
I’m not sure how he didn’t recognize my voice. We hadn’t spoken in at least a year before that moment, but I do sound like my mother. You would think he would remember his ex-wife’s voice. My brother told me later he thought I might have been a girlfriend. He still had two sons living with my mother; perhaps he had forgotten about his youngest child. It’s not like it was a secret he had never wanted me. Though, to be fair, I am the youngest of eight children, and the third to be born using supposedly highly effective birth control. I didn’t take the rejection personally.
In truth, I don’t have many memories of my father.
I remember going to a father daughter dance on my twelfth birthday, wearing matching lavender bandanas around our necks.
I remember dancing around his house listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks on a Walkman while dusting shelves with a feather duster.
I remember attending a wedding, though I don’t think it was his. The wedding itself is a blur, but I remember wanting desperately to wear a pink straw hat, and my mother concerned that I would draw attention to my frequently messy and tangled hair when I started playing.
I remember standing in a room, my sister holding me, and my father holding a suitcase. I know it was the day he left, but I didn’t realize it at the time. All I knew was that everyone was very sad.
And I remember the last words he said. “Who was that?”
I guess you can tell we didn’t have a close relationship.
I used to think he was amazing. He was my Daddy, even if I didn’t see him everyday like other people did. As I got older, I began to see he wasn’t everything I used to think he was. He wasn’t the father who deeply loved his kids, and would deeply love it if we could live with him. He was a man who didn’t think of us much, except when he needed something.
I think that was the point when I became angry. I guess it’s what all girls do when they realize they will never have the love and affection they want from their father. You can’t get blood from a stone; you can’t get love from an absentee father. Instead, you get angry. You wonder what is wrong with you that made him not want you. You hate him, not because he is gone, but because he still somehow has the power to hurt you.
A year after I was married, sitting at home with my six month old daughter, I received an email from him. Someone had told him I was living two hours away from him with his grandchild. He said he wanted to get to know my husband and daughter. I was shocked. He hadn’t wanted to know me, but he wanted to know the people who were important to me? If I hadn’t already been going through a phase of hating him, that might have pushed me over the edge.
I ignored the email. I didn’t mean to. I intended to think about what to say, and answer. However, I never thought of a single thing to say to him.
Eventually the anger faded. I’m sure you would expect me to say it was part of my natural maturing process. Maybe say that I outgrew my fury from being a little lost girl. The truth is, I worked hard to let it go. There was no therapy, not even a profound moment that caused me to rethink my feelings. I just woke up one day and realized I needed to let all of that pain go. I needed to forgive the people who I felt had wronged me because the only person I was hurting was myself. I was slowly drinking poison, waiting for my enemies to die. It doesn’t work like that.
Somehow the lost girl, the one who wondered why she was so unlovable, had learned to accept her father for who he was. He was the boy who never grew up. He wasn’t a cute Disney version of Peter Pan, but he wasn’t the evil Once Upon a Time version either. He was simply someone who thought about himself more than others. It was a character flaw that drove away many people in his life. But it was also not my fault, or my problem.
When he sent me a friend request a few years ago, I accepted without much thought. I didn’t send him a message, and he never sent me one. Mostly he sent me requests for items in Farmville. It didn’t give us the close relationship I once craved, but it allowed me to feel as though I had redeemed myself slightly. The first time he reached out, I wasn’t there. The second time, I was. It never lead to a tearful family reunion, but it allowed me to prove to myself that he no longer held the same power over me he once had. This time, when he was back in my life but not as a father, I wasn’t broken. I had accepted who he was, and who I was. The anger was gone.
I’m sure by now you are wondering why I chose to air my daddy issues. Last night, my mother called at two o’clock in the morning. The time difference between California and Belgium still trips her up sometimes, so she was hoping it wasn’t the middle of the night. My father died; we’re not sure when, and we’re not sure how. Sometime with the last two months, the health issues he had had for years caught up with him, and he passed. No one was notified. One of his brother’s heard someone by that name might have died; a little research confirmed it, but that was all we knew.
It’s only been seven hours since I received the call. I keep thinking I should cry. When I lost my brother, I shut down, with my brain only half functioning for several days. So far, I haven’t managed a single tear. It feels wrong; he helped to bring me into this world, and yet I can’t manage to cry over his death. I guess it is because I mourned his passing a long time ago.
He was never the father I wanted. I never really knew the man he was, not really. When I accepted that my anger wasn’t helping, I mourned the man I wanted him to be. I mourned for the man who wasn’t there for my ballet recital, the man who never made it to a single school play, the man who never read a single thing I wrote. I mourned for the father I could have had, and the man I never knew. I can’t cry, because that man died almost a decade ago.
I’m not sure if there was a funeral, or if there will be a memorial service. Other members of his family have not let go the way I did. There is still a lot of anger and hurt. I guess that’s why no one was notified; there was no one left who cared. If I was going to cry over anything, it would the idea of someone dying, old and alone, not knowing who would care enough to pick up the phone and accept the news. I’d like to think I would have picked up the phone. Who knows, maybe there would still be a part of me afraid of hearing those words again; Who was that?
Maybe I’m not as healed as I thought.