My first childhood memory involving my dad was visiting him in prison when I was four. My parents got divorced when I was two, and I don't remember them being married. They hated each other, but I like to think in order to hate each other so much, they had to have loved each other that much.
My mom went to the prison because she wanted to move but my dad had visitation rights and had to sign off for us to be able to move out of state. We moved, but then we moved back only a year later. When my dad got out, my parents ended up living across the state from one another, which meant a three-and-a-half-hour drive one way. I went to visit my dad for a month during the summer and a week during Christmas break.
I remember my dad always drinking and doing drugs — mostly smoking pot, although selling cocaine is what sent him to prison. He was very charismatic and constantly surrounded by women. I don't remember ever going to visit when he didn't have a girlfriend or wife. He got remarried when I was in sixth grade, but it lasted only a year or so. He married once more when I was in ninth grade to a really nice lady, unlike the other women he'd been with. My dad seemed to straighten up for a couple years but started going back to his old ways, which caused them to separate and get back together a few times before finally divorcing. I think she really tried to keep him off drugs, but no one would ever be able to do that for my dad because he didn't want it.
When I was 25, I finally cut my dad out of my life because he only ever thought of himself and was destructive to both himself and those around him. I was scared of him. He had a bad temper, which got worse if he was under the influence, and he could get violent.
Since I was afraid of upsetting him, I couldn't tell him face-to-face or even by phone that I didn't want a relationship with him, so I wrote him a letter explaining why I didn't want to have any contact with him. He sent my letter back to me with no response, but I know he had opened it because the original envelope was open and he'd sent it back inside another envelope. I waited to hear back from him with some sort of rant about how awful I was, but I didn't.
My mom got cancer when I was 29, and I took a leave of absence from work to become her primary caregiver. I was with her until her final breath and wouldn't have had it any other way. For some reason, I thought my dad should know that my mom had passed away, but I didn't know how to contact him. I wrote a letter to my ex-stepmom and explained what had happened and that I didn't want to be in contact with him; I asked her not give him my updated contact information.
I got a phone call a few days later from him. My ex-stepmom had looked up my phone number online and given it to him. Hearing his voice was a surprise, and he said he was sorry to hear the news about my mom.
A month later, he came up with an excuse to come visit me. I told him there would be rules and that I didn't want any drugs in or near my house. He said he would abide by my rules, and we agreed he could come visit for an afternoon. His visit ended when I found him doing drugs in his car and asked him to leave. He started saying awful things about my mom, and I told him, this time to his face, that I was done with him. It was that last time I ever talked to him.
I kept updated on how he was doing by looking online at his latest mugshot. He was in and out of jail with charges like drug possession, probation violation and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. I could tell by the pictures that he wasn't doing well and not in great health. I thought about contacting him, but once I had my daughter, I knew I never would. I didn't want her to ever be exposed to him.
A few weeks ago, a police officer showed up at my door to tell me my dad had passed away. He couldn't tell me much, but he gave me the number of the detective that was in charge of the case.
Since I hadn't spoken to my dad in 11 years at this point, I tried to get as much information from the detective as I could. He said that my dad had been living in a flophouse that was frequented by prostitutes and drug users. My dad had not been in great condition; he'd been sick for a while. He died from kidney cancer but also had melanoma covering a great deal of his body. He said he'd been found by a woman that was a friend of his, and there was no foul play suspected.
It was when I asked the detective if he could forward my contact information to the woman who found him so I could ask her about my dad that he told me she was a drug-addicted prostitute and they couldn't find her now.
The detective explained that she wasn't there to "do business" — that she'd had more of an affectionate relationship with my dad, keeping an eye on him. She had even called for medical assistance for him in the past.
There wasn't much to recover from the house, but they'd found some pictures and papers. My husband and I drove that three-and-half hours each way to pick up the items; everything my dad owned fit into a small laundry basket. The medical examiner asked if I wanted the possessions he'd had on his person, but it was just the clothing he was wearing when he arrived at the morgue. He didn't even have an ID; the only way to officially identify his body was by using one of his mugshots.
I've gone through so many emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion and guilt. I was sad because a parent passed away, and mad because if he hadn't been such a jerk, I would have still been in contact with him. The guilt is the worst of it, though. Everyone keeps telling me I shouldn't feel guilty because it was my dad's poor decisions and actions that got him where he was in life. Both the detective and my dad's landlord told me that he didn't want to live anymore and was just waiting to die.
I do feel guilty, though. I'd done everything I could for my mom when she was sick and did nothing for my dad and he died alone. Since I was next of kin and the only living relative, everything has fallen on me to make final arrangements; I feel guilty because I couldn't afford to have a funeral, bury or cremate him. I had to file for assistance for an indigent burial, and thankfully I was approved, but it took a while, and his body was just sitting at the medical examiner's office.
I ended up selecting cremation and had the option to have his ashes spread in the county's Pauper's Cemetery or to collect them. I've chosen to collect his ashes, but I have no idea what I'm going to do with them. The funeral home asked me about writing an obituary or including a story about him on their website, but I wouldn't even know where to begin, so for now, it just states him name, age, city and date he passed.
I wish I'd been able to talk to him one last time. I'm not sure what I'd ask or what answers I'd want. I have no idea what happened in those last years or why he made the life choices that he did. I know I couldn't have changed much in his life, as I'd given up trying quite a few years ago, but maybe I could have kept him from dying alone.