6 Years Later And I’m Still Spreading the Message: What I Learned From My Father’s Absence and Death
My mother and father divorced as soon as she found out he was involved with drugs and had a ton of legal issues. I appreciate my mother’s decision because had they stayed together, it could have turned out quite differently.
My one memory of my father was during a visit with him when I was about 3 or 4 years old. He was fighting with his girlfriend about who knows what and in retrospect when I replay the entire scene in my mind – they were both probably high. He wasn’t able to leave that life behind so he left me instead.
I was in high school when it hit me one day, I suddenly realized I had gone 18 years without a biological father (by this time I did have a step-father) in my life. I ran to the school counselor with tears of rage and he tried his best to comfort me over a period of a few days. What good timing because his support prepared me for what was coming.
The September following high school was one of new beginnings for me. I had moved into my own apartment, started a full time job and would start college in January.
I was on my way.
Getting ready the morning of my second day of work I got the shock of my life.
My father called me.
As soon as he said “Hello”, I knew exactly who it was. I hung up and he called back. We spoke for a bit as he asked me how I was, what I was up to and doing for the day. I responded to each question with very direct answers – I was in shock at what was taking place. The rest of the conversation is a blur but I do remember telling him I had a job at a local pharmacy and I had to get going.
I was at work stocking batteries when I heard a voice behind me say my name. I looked up and had a feeling similar to the feeling I had on the phone. I had never seen him before (as an adult) but I immediately knew who he was. I got up and asked him what he was doing there.
I can’t recall what he said but he took a picture of me. This picture would later be on a poster used in the case for his death. I ran to the back room, upset that he’d just pop up, and in panic not knowing what to do. He bought some things and left by the time I came back out.
That was the last time I would see him.
We had some exchanges via email in which I’d curse him out for being a “deadbeat dad,” for choosing drugs over me, for treating my mother like crap, and for some other things. A simple “Hello” through instant messenger from him would provoke the world of wrath from me. I stopped taking his phone calls and eventually stopped all contact for a few months.
In May of 2007 I had a medical bill I really needed help with so I asked my father for his help. His response? He had a toddler, a new baby, and couldn’t help; but we could to meet up at McDonalds and talk.
That was it for me. I was furious! After all of those years of never contributing to my existence when I actually need something, I couldn’t get it because of your two new kids? I was hurt to the core. I also couldn’t understand how he could continue having children while neglecting one already here for so long.
The McDonalds thing, yea that tripped me up too. That night I wrote him the nastiest email I could’ve conjured up. He replied asking if that was any way to talk to my father, and I told him he wasn’t my father.
That was our last interaction.
The night of July 8th my phone rang at exactly 11:36 pm. It was him. Holding the phone in my hand, I thought to myself “What does this jerk want?” and tossed it back on the counter. The next morning I got a text from my older sister saying my father died.
Initially I didn’t believe her because I mean, he had JUST called me the night before – it was barely noon, how could he be dead? A few minutes later his sister called me and that’s when I knew just how true it was.
Around 4am on July 9th 2007, he was on his motorcycle and got into a horrible accident with an 18 wheeler. At his funeral (which was ironically the second day of my new job) I met my older sister, eventually met my older brother, met my younger brother and met those two younger sisters who were 1 year old and 2 months old at the time of his death.
I met a lot of his family members and let me just tell you – it was a lot for me.
So let’s do a quick recap. My father was absent my entire life. I met him, had angry interactions, 10 months later he gets killed. I still hadn’t dealt with the feelings of his abstinence, much less his sudden appearance and boom - I’m sitting with his death.
Thankfully I had (and have) an amazing, wonderful and nurturing therapist who was there for me through it all. She was patient with me as I avoided the subject for months, as I periodically touched on it and as I’d call at midnight leaving voicemails in tears. When I did talk about it, her office was my safe space when those around me either couldn’t understand why I could feel anything about someone who was never in my life.
Although it was and is overwhelming, with his death came meeting my siblings which I’m extremely grateful for. In addition to the little sister from my mother, I have two from my father. If you know anything about me, you’ll know it was no coincidence that I now have three little sisters – I like to think of it as a blessing from the universe.
I also got to meet more of his side of the family which I’d like to get to know better than I do. His family is another side of me, a sort of extension of myself. Sometimes I think when we have situations like an absent parent we get so caught up in emotions that we forget the rest of the family is an extended part of that child.
When I talk about this it’s for a reason bigger than my own experience – it’s to share the lessons that I learned.
Some of us have family members we never speak to, for whatever reason. It could be an aunt, brother, cousin or our own mother or father. Grounds for not speaking could be warranted, just as mine were, but something I don’t want for anyone is to have an experience like mine.
My actions represented my feelings at the time and given the situation I felt they were justified. I was hurt and angry as hell and who knows, maybe with time I would’ve come around. I didn’t know then like I know now about addictions, so although I still maintain my stance that he should’ve done whatever it took to remain in my life, I can now acknowledge that it may not have been easy. As for the illegal activities that landed him in and out of jail – the same goes for that.
It’s tricky because people can be assholes, they can be the one in the wrong and the ones who hurt us but that’s the thing about forgiveness. It’s not for them, it’s for us. While forgiveness has different definitions for different people, for me it’s about letting go of the pain and taking my power back. For me, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten but it means I won’t walk around with resentment.
For a long time I used to think about the night the phone rang and how I had that one last chance. Five hours after he tried to reach out to me one last time, he was gone. I carried that guilt around but I had to let that go too. What I do now is stress to others the importance of telling someone you love them when you have the chance, simple hello’s, talking things out so a person knows they hurt you, apologizing if you’re in the wrong and most of all – forgiveness.
While reading this did anyone in your own life come to mind?
If so, reach out to them. It may not play out how you’d like or might imagine but it’s a start. Perhaps this was a message given to my father, something I had to learn and now I’m passing it on to you all.