It’s April, and I want to tell you about my Dad. I’m going to change some names here because, while I don’t want to hide anymore, I’m also not ready for the people I left behind to find me with a simple google search. And that’s all it would take, because my maiden name is distinctive. I guess I’d just feel better playing peek-a-boo for a little while longer. Please understand.
My Dad died April 15, 2000. I was with him. I know that sounds like a bummer of a way for this story to start, but trust me when I say you have it all backwards. It’s not a sad beginning. It’s sort of a happy ending, or at least as happy as it could be under the circumstances.
My short term memory is not what it used to be, but my long term memory is excellent. I have scattered yet vivid memories from when I was two and three years old. I can prove it, too.
One of my earliest memories takes place in a large apartment complex in Illinois in 1973. My mother was making up the sofa bed. My brother and I were arguing over whose turn it was to sleep with Daddy that night.
“It was your turn last night, Kevin. It’s Gringa’s turn tonight,” my mother said while shaking out the bedsheets.
I was so happy.
The next thing I remember is lying in the bed next to my father. The room was dark, but there was light coming in through the large picture window. In my memory, everything looks blue. My father has his arm around me, and my head is resting on his shoulder. I am warm. I am safe. I am content.
Quietly, he says, “Mrs. Jones paid you a compliment today, Princess.”
That’s all I remember about that. I wish there was more, but there isn’t. I have other memories of Illinois as well, but I won’t recount them here. The thing I guess you should know is that I was born in 1970. My parents divorced in 1973, and my siblings and I moved back to New Jersey, where I was born, with our mother shortly thereafter.
Over the next 17 years I listened to my mother tell me that my father didn’t want anything to do with me. When she was in one of her moods, which was often, she would spit, “He can’t even be bothered to send any of yas a card on yer birthday.” As far as I knew, it was true. But my memory, as good as it was, was still too immature to remember my father in any great detail. All I really had was that one night in 1973.
It made me sad when my mother would tell me how little my father wanted anything to do with me. When she was particularly disgusted with us she would use him as a threat.
“Why don’t yas all go live with your faa-ther? I’ll ship yas off to him myself. See how much yas like it there. Yer miserable human beings without an ounce of love in yas.”
Wow. It still hurts to type this. I feel like a helpless, skinny, gawky, little girl again. I think I’ll skip ahead.
When I was 16, I went to live in a foster home. (That, too, is a story for another time.) When I was 20, I was estranged from my mother for good. All I want to say about that right now is that, in spite of everything, I still tried to be a good daughter. I still believed that she could be a happy person if she would just deal with her issues in an honest manner. I would have forgiven her for some extremely f’ed up shite. But she was never going to do that, and she was like poison to me. In the end, it was me or her, and I chose me.
I thought about my Dad a lot over those years. I wondered what he was like. I couldn’t believe that the person who was with me in my memory was the same person my mother denigrated all those years. When I was 22, I tried to look him up. I called directory assistance. His number was unlisted. I called the operator.
“Hello. Operator. How may I help you?”
“Hello, Operator. This is going to sound kind of strange, and I don’t know if you can help me. I was trying to find a number for B___ M_______ in _____. I know the number is unlisted, but… I’m his daughter. I would very much like to speak to him. If I give you my number, would you be able to contact him and give it to him? Then he could call me if he wanted. Or not…”
I never knew that operator’s name, but she did what I asked. She probably could have lost her job, but she did it anyway. I hope, if she’s out there, that she knows how much I love her even after all these years. In less than five minutes I was talking to my Dad, and we were both crying. It turns out that he sent cards and letters and… well. His side of the story was very different from the one my mother told.
I had six years with my Dad. He lived far away, and we didn’t get to talk as much as I wanted. But he was at my wedding. He cried then, too. He got to hold my son. I was with him when he died. He had cancer. It was sad.
I have some morbidly funny stories from that time. Dad had a weird sense of humor, too, and I know he would appreciate those stories the way I do. He would laugh in his loud and goofy way, and you couldn’t help but laugh with him. He was like that.
I’m going to share those stories with you, and I do hope you will be able to find the humor in them, too. I hope you will understand that they are being told with love from a daughter who wants to honor the father who made her feel like a princess for one blue night in 1973 and gave her the strength to face all the years after.