For the first time in my life I know where my father is. I love having a dead dad.
Death is an address he can’t change.
In death, my father is no longer homeless, violent, alcholic and unwell.
He is no longer wandering the streets. He’s not cold or hungry.
He isn’t drunk and baking on a sidewalk.
He’s not in pain.
He’s not causing pain.
He can’t break hearts or bones or promises.
He is not a question mark, a threat or a worry.
I won’t search for my nose on the face of strangers.
I am not sad for the loss of what we had. I am sad for the loss of what never was for him, or us, in life.
The severing of our bond was not recent. It was not a rope that frayed and got weak over time. It was not milk that soured. He was a carton past the expiration date from my beginning in 1966.
He was always unavailable to me no matter how thirsty I was, as an infant and a middle-age woman.
Death isn’t always where loss lives.
When I found out my father was dead last fall it was surreal. I was profoundly tired as though anemia hollowed out all of my bone marrow.
I will never be a blossom my father will see or know or admire.
This isn’t news. I’ll be 50 soon.
What’s different is I no longer keep a tiny tea cup in my heart waiting for a few small drops. I can put it aside at last and clear my hands and heart of curiosity or concern.
Sometimes the people we are related to are beyond our reach, dangerous or toxic. Aunts. Fathers. Sisters. Lovers. Sometimes we do the best we can in this life and it is not enough.
It’s true for them. It’s true for us.
“They leave a residue,” my boyfriend said. He knows. The year before his father died he drove drunk and killed a mother out on her moped. Her children will live without her.
The misery spread by his father is inconceivably large. So when he said, “If he had only died sooner… that woman might have lived,” I winced.
But I couldn’t argue. I understood.
My boyfriend feels for her and her family, a trait his father did not have or share.
How do we survive parents like these and ‘celebrate’ Father’s Day?
We know there are reasons: disease, addiction, misery and ignorance. But those reasons don’t protect us if we have contact. Our relatives might be life-threateningly dangerous or difficult.
We have tear drops carved into the family tree, bark with a musty odor that can’t dry out. Relatives who are tattoo’d to our skin. We didn’t pick out the design but yet we can’t remove them either. They are our DNA. We can change so much but not everything or all at once.
We can’t change other people.
Love and hope are like trapped animals that had been caged in me for decades. they for food, light and love. But freedom didn’t come until his heart stopped beating and they surrendered the fight.
Both my boyfriend and I chose not to procreate. We met in middle age. He had no children. I chose to parent but not give birth. My family was created via adoption. I was too afraid of sex, my body, and mixing postpartum with post-traumatic stress.
“Let me prune my family tree as a gift to humanity,” I used to say, “Let me water down the blood line.”
He understood the infertility of terror of I carried.
I was too old to give birth by the time I believed I had a study enough foundation to protect, shelter and create structure in my body.
I felt haunted for most of my life.
Which doesn’t mean I never worried about my father or didn’t know he was desperate, addicted and ill.
I don’t write this so you feel bad for or mad at me or him but to understand how one can have a homeless relative and not offer a couch or heart.
I’m not the only one.
There are those of us with children who need home to be safe from chaos, violence and drama and that maybe means relatives. Or maybe there are some people it’s too vulnerable for us risk being close with or near.
My father served his country. He also injured family members. What to do when both are true.
Who ends up being responsible for people too dangerous for family to take in?
Social workers? The government? You? Me? Who takes care of people who can’t take care of themselves and who hurt family?
Sometimes silence is the last word in a difficult sentence.
Sometimes a life sentence has no happy resolution or closure.
Words don’t always feel good or kind even when they are true.
I love my father more dead.
He was never a safe man. He didn’t disappear quietly or get help or recovery. He raged and was violent.
Recently, I learned he threw a radio at me when I was in the crib because the sound of my crying enraged him. This isn’t the worse thing ever done but it stung to hear.
Father’s Day used to be painful. Now it isn’t.
I’m not jealous looking at father daughter images on Facebook. I don’t wonder what Hallmark cards could be appropriate. I don’t think about the money, cards, love or explanations my father didn’t send his wife or children. I don’t wonder what made him violent or abusive and what might have happened to make a difference.
It’s not that I didn’t want or need a father – just that I didn’t get to have one.
I know there are others who on this holiday have loved ones who are suckling whiskey, nurturing needles, decaying or suffering rather than having a Father’s Day cookout.
My father never got to hear my daughter call him “grampy” or run to him when he came through the door. He didn’t see me buy my first house or help me replace panels in a drop roof ceiling. I never made him his favorite meal.
There was no father-daughter anything except that he was my father and I was his daughter.
His death is a relief. The final draft of the past is written. There is nothing left to revise. I accept my forehead, name and genes are shared with him.
I can stop being the sad child looking for her Daddy. There is no breath held aside for him. I am no longer the abandoned or the the one he left.
I am just another middle age woman without a father. Common. Ordinary. I don’t have to make up lies, excuses or dodge conversations about fathers.
He was dead for more than a year before I knew. No call or letter came. Those in his life, on the street, or at the periphery didn’t know he had kids or how to reach us.
There was no funeral, wake or burial. No casket to kneel before, no remembrances or loved ones gathering. I’m not even sure where his remains are. Who buries the homeless when caskets cost money? Was anything done for him? I didn’t do anything.
My friend Jen sent me flowers. My uncle said on Facebook that his leaving might have been his greatest act of fathering. My friend Heidi drove an hour to give me a hug and a bag of lollipops.
He wasn’t in my life. I wasn’t in his. No work was missed. His death was unceremonious. He was always the presence of absence but in death something has shifted.
I know where he is.
Somehow that matters. The father-daughter thing is primal. That’s not true just for mothers.
I contacted the Salvation Army Missing Persons Bureau the January before he death. I wrote a letter saying I was searching, wanted to know medical information or if we have siblings. Salvation Army said, if alive, they could forward my note to him and he could choice if we wanted to respond.
He died a few months after that letter was mailed. He was just shy of 70. Why did I feel better for having addressed him directly?
I have no idea. Maybe just because it means there was some sort of connection.
Even though I know my life was a letter he could open, read or receive.
I will never know if he saw my words on the paper addressed to him. I know the saliva that sealed my words carried cells from me I got from him.
I know this father’s day my father isn’t cold or hungry or sad.
I know he’s not abusive or mean or drunk. It’s more than I knew when he lived.
I know he’s not going to bring drama, confusion or chaos and that he’ll never ask for money or do inappropriate things to my sister.
He’ll never meet, hurt or disappoint my daughter or nieces and that’s something.
He’s dead. Period.
I can even romanticize him a little, imagining him in the sky with the friendly, masculine father figures like God and Santa Claus. I can pretend a whole version of my father’s soul is looking out for me and my sister and our children.
No one can for sure that’s not true.
He’s not a vagabond wanderer and lost. Death gave me the father life couldn’t give.
Death has taken him in. Death provided home and an address.
My dead father is more loving, stable and predictable now.
Death makes it safe to love him.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.