IT HAPPENED TO ME: My Dad Died The Day After I Had My Baby

I didn’t sleep that night. It was a first for the hospital staff but they were all very kind with the condolences.
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Lisa-Marie Dhondt
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I didn’t sleep that night. It was a first for the hospital staff but they were all very kind with the condolences.
Our son, a few hours after he was born.

Our son, a few hours after he was born.

I was prepared for a lot with baby number two, I mean, we’d been there before so I was going to kick childbirthin’ butt this time around. Of all the scenarios I played in my head, anything at all that could possibly happen, I never imagined what actually did. I would have been less surprised if he’d turned out to be the new Messiah. 

I had to check my father’s obituary to see whether his name was spelled with an I or a Y. At this exact moment I again couldn’t tell you without looking. It’s not that unusual to not know much about your father, there are many people in exactly that situation. Only I lived with my father for 21 of my 35 years and I don’t think I ever knew him.

Going back 16 months, I shaved my legs and gave myself a pedicure. I was 8.5 months pregnant and though everything had seemed fine at my last ob-gyn appointment, my first baby had been 10 days early so I wasn’t taking any chances. 

After my first, there was this nice lady who came to massage you, give you small stretching exercises and the like. Her lotioning my stubbly dark haired legs mortified me, right through the still-active epidural. I was determined to be as polished as possible regardless of when child number two decided to arrive. I still had 16 days to go.

I think the polish on my pinky toe had just about dried when I was hit by a twinge. This twinge was a forbearer of the worst pain I have éver felt. Have you ever seen a pregnant lady holding on to a car door screaming in pain? I may have put many a pedestrian off kids forever…

As it turns out, my uterus was tearing. I didn’t take much time to ask specifics, just get me an epidural and whatever the hell this is: Fix it.

And so a mere 12 hours after doing a mean Banshee, I was in my room and we had ourselves a second baby boy.

There is something amazing about those first few hours. Basically, it was the middle of the night, all was quiet, my drugs were working wonderfully and there was little more to think about than bragging on Facebook and informing the fam.

I sent my parents an email, some pictures and all the stats of our new son. It being 3 am, no phone call.

The next day, my partner was out doing all the usual. Picking up cards, all the stuff I had forgotten. He took awhile, but why would I worry? I had a caesarean which kept me in bed and I was too tired to wonder much.

He finally made it in at 9 pm. I haven’t seen my guy look frazzled very often. There was something serious to say. 

Your dad died. A heart attack. On the stairs. My mother had not called me, she had called my boyfriend.

I didn’t sleep that night. It was a first for the hospital staff, but they were all very kind with the condolences.

My father had seen the pictures of the new baby, had even sent them on to other family. He had been proud. But he was never going to meet his second grandson.

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My mom and dad met in the late seventies. She was poor, he was not. She was pretty, he was a journalist and very cool. They should not have married but there you go, they did and along came me.

For the first years, my dad really was the one everyone was jealous of. A journalist who had traveled the world… Nobody had a dad like mine.

But he always had his demons. His mother had killed herself a year or two before he met my mother. She had been a manic depressive in an era when such things were simply not spoken of. 

For a child who worshipped his mother, it was a blow he never got over. My mother was wife number two. Wife One found him unlivable. He smoked like a chimney. Several chimneys. 4 packs a day. He drank. Like a … like a fish? Do fish drink whole bottles of brandy between dessert and bedtime? 

But he drank well, it had to be very excessive for you to notice. He’d down the Johnny Walkers and really he’d seem no different than usual. With the brandy he got a bit silly.

He shared his mother’s mood swings. My father was always stressed, always nervous. Over 20 years, he completely shut down. We had people over to the house until I was about 10. After that it petered out. 

By the end, when I went to visit, even the shutters weren’t opened anymore. The house was closing in on itself. From traveling all over, he went to sitting at the kitchen table, doing Sudoku. He never really left that chair. Smoke, drink, Sudoku.

As a teenager, I never went out. I didn’t even ask. Not worth the hassle. It would have been allowed, no problem. But you’d see him get stressed and you’d just let it go.

My father never slept at night. He took naps that lasted most of the afternoon. There was no noise in the house, no toilet flushing, no doors opening.

The older I get, the more I see what a very lonely life he had. In the evening, I’d be in my room, my mother in hers and he’d be downstairs alone. We found him too much to hang around, there was so much seething. 

We were never a family. Just three people who happened to live in the same house but lived separate lives. Don’t get me wrong, my folks were always on my side however they privately felt. My childhood wasn’t warm or conventional, but it wasn’t bad.

I grew up as mommy’s girl, and accepted everything my mother told me. Daddy was nervous, stressed, don’t upset daddy. Mommy can’t do anything because of daddy. Mommy should never have married daddy. 

Now that I only have my mother left, I realize how one-sided that all was and I could – and do – kick myself. There were a lot of lies over the years. My mother will tell me A, tell you B and the other guy XYZ. I now know she had a series of affairs, masked by all kinds of classes: sewing classes, aerobics, etc. 

I don’t blame her for anything she did. It was difficult being married to my father and she probably – or definitely – should have gotten out years ago. But she wasn't just a victim and my father wasn't just a villain. 

She didn't get in touch with me until four days after he died. Even now, I hardly hear her.

When my father died, I had not seen him for about seven weeks. It’s how we were. There was no bad blood. Dad got stressed if a visit took too long, an hour was about all he could handle before he started getting prickly thoughts and focusing on the bad things and we’d have to leave before he got too worked up. 

I’d have liked my oldest to have spent more time with his grandparents but dad got too worked up and mom wasn’t really that interested. 

I didn’t stay after the funeral. I had a baby in the neonatal unit, only six days old. I went back there. I’ve only been to the grave once.

Like my Dad, I find myself hardly leaving the house if I can help it, I don’t like people much and I try to avoid them. I don’t drink, smoke or manage Sudoku. I fear I have become my father but I seem to have skipped the cool "see the world" part all together.

As I learn to deal with – or learn to studiously ignore – my own dark mind, I feel that in my dad I lost the only person who was like me, who would have understood me. If only it had been in our nature to talk. It still feels like a punch to the gut every day. 

My dad was presented to me in a one-dimensional way, I never looked deeper, I never asked questions and now that he's gone, I feel unbelievably stupid. I miss my dad.