Father’s Day is a strange day for me. Heavy and yet not heavy …
I had three fathers growing up. But somehow I always felt fatherless until I connected with my biological dad. The heaviness comes from missing my Dad, the un-heaviness comes from being grateful for the brief experiences we shared before he passed.
It is truly a wonder that I could like men, can bond with men and have any trust at all in men. The legacies my fathers left could have been unintentional as I know they loved me and only wanted my happiness. It wasn’t their fault they were temporary. My mother had a revolving door on her relationships– there were the ones she married, and then there were the ones who passed through for an evening or a weekend; those were my “uncles.”
My Dad (“real father”) left when I was 14 months old. I saw him once when I was five years old as he (unbeknownst to me) was signing custody of me over to my grandparents. I remember that day as if it were a movie. It’s in my mind’s eye for always. He picked me up and put me on his desk, handed me a hot dog and a coke, like nothing. And then he was gone. He wrote child support checks throughout my life (also unbeknownst to me.).
My first stepfather came to be when I was in 3rd grade. He was a beautiful gift. He showered me with love, affection and most importantly, acceptance. I was my step-daddy’s little girl. He passed away though at the hands of my mother when I was twelve.
The summer after my stepfather passed was horrific. He died in February and my mother remarried in June, news I received from her by phone. She sounded elated and was so excited for me to meet him. I cried myself to sleep that night, not because of her marriage, but because the realization that the only father I had ever really known was dead. I didn’t cry at his funeral, I didn’t believe he was in that pine box. I sat quietly staring at all the people crying. I watched as his mother pounded on the coffin screaming, “Let me in!” I was completely disconnected from “reality.” I simply wanted to be invisible and did my very best to dissolve into the background of those horrible moments and the week of Shiva that followed.
I cried myself to sleep ever so quietly that June night so as not to be found out by my aunt. I cried, wept until my well was dry. One week later, I went to find my real father. I visited his office and the receptionist told me he was in a meeting. She was shocked to see me, she recognized me as his immediately. You see, I have the same face as my real father, there is no denying. Yet I was denied. I sat in that office as the staff left, and my coward of a father snuck out the back door. I sat in that office as the cleaners came in and out. I watched them emptying trash bins, silently dusting and vacuuming. I would have sat in that chair all night. My eighteen year old brother came for me. He somehow figured out where I was and without a word he extended his hand; we walked back to my aunt’s house in complete silence. I cried myself to sleep again that night. I felt that my father who passed did so because I couldn’t save him. I was a failure, the proof was my real father didn’t even want me. I was worthless, just as my mother had said; the “proof” was in these moments.
Summer ended, and I was greeted with yet a new stepfather. He was a really nice man. I was forced by my mother to call him Daddy. He tried to intervene, suggested I call him “Pop,” like his real children did. My mother ruled supreme… a lesson he had yet to learn. She had already taken me aside and laid down the law, and I knew it would not be worth the battle. I felt so disloyal calling him daddy. That was my first stepfather’s earned title. But fortunately this “daddy” was a lovely man and ended the trail of uncles. Fortunately, this was also the year I was sent away to boarding school.
Fast forward to nine years ago. I have long since separated from my mother and she is on husband number six now. I have united with my father through quite a series of events.
The choices I made to have a relationship with my real dad were misunderstood by most and celebrated by a few. I chose to let go of the past, and in doing so, my father validated childhood memories, explained his decisions, and above all apologized without prompting. Because I let go of what could not be undone, I received unconditional love from my father. My children bonded in the most special ways with their grandfather and we all gained a huge extended family. One day I will go into more detail, but for today, I simply would like to be grateful and thank my fathers.
Step-father Number One
Step-father number one, my first “Daddy,” thank you for the love you showered upon me. Thank you for making me feel like a beautiful little girl. Thank you for the light moments amidst the darkness that was my mother. Thank you for the physical affection, the cuddling and the light kisses on my nose that make me smile to this day. Thank you most of all for being my soft place to fall, you made me feel safe for the fist time in my life. You gave me a secure foundation. You were my solid ground with no unexpected faults. Thank you for being my confidant, my keeper of secrets and most of all, thank you for teaching me that men could be trusted. Every year I light a candle for you, Daddy. You are remembered and honored by me, you are a story to my children and you for always will be.
Step-father Number Two
Step-father number two, I will call you “Pop,” as we both wished I could. Thank you for your sensitivity. Thank you for validating me as a good person. Thank you for trying to protect me and most of all, thank you for sending me to safety. I don’t know if you knew that you were sending me to safety when you enrolled me in boarding school, but that was the result. You saved my life. You put me somewhere that gave me perspective. You gave me peace. As you sit in heaven with my first Daddy and my real Daddy, I hope you know that I have much love and respect for you.
To My “Real” Father, My Daddy
And finally to my “real” father, to my Dad, my Daddy. Thank you for owning up to the past and helping me heal. Thank you for giving me unconditional love and for filling the holes in my heart. Because of you, I no longer look at father’s day cards wistfully. I now know what it’s like to buy one without heartbreak. Thank you for making me your “little girl” in my forties. Thank you for giving me advice that I still hold dear today. Thank you for becoming my rock. Thank you for all the answer to the questions I never had to ask. The one thing that haunted me more than anything was the wondering…. wondering if I was ever sitting in a restaurant in your proximity without recognition. There are no words to describe how that haunted me. Every time I was in a restaurant in your city, I would look around at the other tables searching for your face. I knew I wouldn’t know you for all the years that had passed; yet I hoped I would.
Thank you Daddy also for allowing me to give you what you never gave to me, not because you didn’t want to, but because you couldn’t. I know you recognized that, and you didn’t need to speak the words. Thank you for telling me you love me and giving me the opportunity to do the same in the last moment we shared. It’s ironic that mine was the last face you saw of our family. Mine was the last voice you heard in your consciousness. I never really thought about that until now. Your last moments in life were mine…were ours. You never blew out my birthday candles with me. You were not there for most of my milestones. Yet we shared the last moment of your life exclusively. I don’t know why that moment was given to exclusively. I fought for you in the hospital. I brushed your teeth, I walked you to the bathroom, I took care of you in the way you never took care of me. I remember the moment when this concept flashed in my mind and I know you thought it too. Thank you for that silent acknowledgement. I love you more than words could ever do justice to and most off all, I know you loved me the same. Thank you my dear Daddy. Thank you most of all for that.
Today’s Mantra for us all: Let go of what cannot be changed, and let love in.
It’s the only way.
Read next article here