March 8, 2001 ~ Father of Mine
Father of mine, tell me where have you been? You know, I just closed my eyes and the whole world disappeared. Father of mine, take me back to the day when I was still your golden boy, back before you went away. I remember blue skies, walking the block. I loved it when you held me high. I loved to hear you talk. You would take me to the movie; you would take me to the beach; you would take me to a place inside that is so hard to reach. Father of mine, tell me where did you go? You had the world inside your hand, but you did not seem to know. Father of mine, tell me what do you see when you look back at your wasted life and you don't see me?
~Father of Mine, by Everclear
The last time I saw him was in October, 1998. He showed up on the doorstep of the house where I was boarding. I can't even begin to describe how shocked I was to see him standing there. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to turn away. But instead I just stood there, staring at him, speechless.
He said he wanted to talk with me alone somewhere, so I nodded and followed him to his little beat-up Chevy Cavalier, where what was left of his belongings were laying in the back seat.
I noticed that the car had been through one or two more accidents since I had seen it last. But it still had the scrapes and broken turn-signal cover on the front right corner, from when I was learning to drive and had run into Grandma's motor home.
That was so long ago. It was one of the first times I had ever driven. I had flawlessly driven around the neighborhood, only to run into Grandma's RV upon returning home, while going two miles an hour in the driveway. Made me feel pretty stupid. I remember getting out of the car, holding back the tears, and surveying the damages. Grandma had stuck her head out of the door of her RV (since she lived in it) and had started laughing one of those healthy, deep, hearty laughs that shook her whole body. "You straightened out my bumper, thanks!" She said through her laughter. And Dad never did get mad at me for that, either.
So, as I settled into the passenger seat, Dad asked me where we should go to talk, and I mentioned the park down the street.
I remember sitting there with him, that afternoon, watching the sun hit his hair as he talked about the problems he was having with his new wife. He said he was leaving her. But I knew he would be back with her within a week. (I was right).
I told him about Morgan, and how I was in love with him, even though he was so far away. I told him about how I wasn't very happy with PSU, and I wanted to transfer to Warren Wilson, both to be with Morgan and to be at a better school. I told him about how I was finally spiritually happy, though. That made him very glad.
He mentioned that he didn't have any money for food, and he hadn't eaten all day. I gave him the only money I had, twenty dollars. He claimed that he would try to stop by the next day, but the last time I saw him was when he drove away in that car that day.
He left me with Savvy, his pet rat, but I had to leave her with a friend when I moved across the country two months later.
Since then, there have been two or three phone calls and a few letters. There have been several periods of time when I wasn't even sure if he was alive. Then, of course, I would get a postcard saying he was homeless in Seattle, or crashing with a friend in Olympia. Little clues that he was still breathing, somewhere.
Snow can wait, I forgot my mittens, wipe my nose, get my new boots on. I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter. I put my hand in my father's glove. I run off where the drifts get deeper. Sleeping beauty trips me with a frown. I hear a voice, "You must learn to stand up for yourself, cause I can't always be around." ... He says, "when you gonna make up your mind, when you gonna love you as much as I do, when you gonna make up your mind? Cause things are gonna CHANGE so fast ... I tell you that I'll always want you near. You say that things change, my dear." ... Hair is gray and the fires are burning. So many dreams on the shelf. You say, "I wanted you to be proud of me." I always wanted that myself...
~ Winter, by Tori Amos
I was "Daddy's Little Girl," his first-born, and he was so proud.
Rough housing (not too rough), eating raw cookie dough (make it last), building Lego worlds (offset the bricks, and the building will be stronger), getting soaked in the rain (who says it's bad weather?), building a fort in the back yard (maybe someday we'll run a rope bridge from the second floor to the maple tree), building jigsaw puzzles (do the outside edges before anything else, sort by color), rock climbing (three points of contact, always), teaching me to drive (he never raised his voice), camping (s'mores and muddy boots), building fires on cold evenings (is the flew open?), snowball fights (not fair, you can throw farther), driving up to Mount Hood in the winter to cut a Christmas tree (it must be a noble fir, just the right size).
My father taught me to stand for what I believe in (though I thought he believed in me, but he walked away). He taught me to be honest, even when it shames me (though he broke so many promises). He told me to stand up for myself, that I didn't need anyone else (I needed him...). My father always told me I could do anything, and I believed him. I still believe him. And I can do anything (except bring him back).
There was a time that you curled up in my lap like a child. You'd cling to me smiling, your eyes wide and wild. Now you slip through my arms, wave a passing hello. Twist away and toss a kiss, laughing as you go. You used to say, "Read me a story, and sing me songs of love," for you were Princess Paradise, on the wings of a dove. Now I chase you and tease you, trying to remake you my own, but you just turn away and say, "Please leave me alone." ... And I'm a tangled up puppet, all hanging in your strings. I'm a butterfly in a spider's web, fluttering my wings. And the more that I keep dancing, and spinning 'round in knots, the more I see what used to be, and the less of you I got. ... But for now you write your secret poems in a room just for your dreams. You don't find time to talk to me about the things you mean. What I mean is ... I have watched you takes shape from a jumble of parts, and find the grace and form of a fine work of art. Hey, you, my brand new woman, newly come into your own. Don't you know that you don't need to grow up all alone?
~Tangled Up Puppet, by Harry Chapin
When I first started puberty, my father thought he would lose me. I remember walking in on him sobbing in a dimly lit room, listening to Tangled Up Puppet. I couldn't find the words to say, so I just crawled into his lap and let him hold me. I wanted to be his little girl again.
In the months before the divorce, he spent every night, rain or clear, out in the back yard, and I would come out and talk with him, sometimes for hours. I knew all of his dreams, his ambitions, his sorrow for his failed marriage, his wish that things had worked out differently.
I was of legal age to choose which parent I wished to stay with, and I chose him. I even testified against my mother in court (we had a very unhealthy relationship back then). But the judge overruled my decision, and put all of us kids with my mother.
The weeks following were very unsavory. Imagine testifying against your own mother... needless to say, she didn't take that well. Neither did we. I was only able to see my father once every other weekend. I missed him terribly.
And then he decided to take a month-long trip to Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, he met a woman whom he decided to move in with for the duration of his stay. Within week of knowing each other, they were engaged. She didn't speak a word of English, and he only spoke a few sentences of Portuguese, but "it's love," he insisted.
After he returned to the United States, he quickly made plans to marry her and get her and her son into the country. He moved two hours away where the rent was cheaper and he could get a job. He went to Brazil again, married her, and brought her back. As soon as she was in the country, she forbid him to see his "old family." For months, I would send him letters and he wouldn't respond (I later found out that she had gotten to them first and had thrown them away before he even saw them). I would try to call, but she always answered and would hang up on me.
One day I finally got a postcard from him. He wrote that he was sending it in secret, because she didn't like for him to write. He asked in it why I never wrote. He said that his wife kept telling him it was because I didn't love him anymore, but he didn't want to believe that.
This postcard brought a cascade of confused emotions. Why didn't he write anyway? Who cares if she "didn't like it"? Had he chosen her over me? And I had written! Several times! Wasn't he getting my messages?
The following months were very confusing. I rarely got any word from my father. He missed my high school graduation, even though he had sworn that he would never miss that day.
To be so close to a parent, and then to be forgotten. The hurt ran very deep.
A month later my grandmother sent me his old Nikkon 35mm manual camera, with all the attachment lenses, which she had been keeping for him. She said that he wanted me to have it for graduation, since I loved photography.
Over the next few months, I only got word from him when they were "broken up." It never lasted, though. He always went back to her.
Finally, one day, my mother agreed to drive us the two hours to his place to try to find out what was going on. When we got there, my mother and my siblings sat in the car while I ran up the stairs to his second storey apartment. I knocked. No answer. Rang the bell. No answer. Knocked again, loudly. No answer. I looked in a few windows. No curtains, no furniture inside. Nothing inside.
Something cold and sharp settled into my heart.
I went downstairs to the landlady's apartment. I asked when the upstairs residents had moved out. "Two days ago," she said.
I later found out that my grandmother had mentioned to him that we were coming to visit. He moved out to avoid me.
I figured I would never see him again.
But I was wrong. One night, he showed up on my doorstep, asking for the camera he had given me as a graduation gift. She was there with him. He explained that he had decided to give it to his wife, since she wanted it.
I didn't say anything, I just started silently crying, got the camera, and handed it to him.
"Why are you crying?" he asked.
I stared at him in disbelief. She whispered something to him in Portuguese.
"I haven't seen you for so long... Dad, do you know how much you are hurting all of us?"
He glanced nervously at his wife, and left, saying a quick goodbye and driving off.
It was the first and last time I ever saw her.
I only saw him one more time after that, the time that I described above. After that, I left for the East Coast, and I got the occasional email or postcard.
I got word that she had framed him for several petty crimes, and he was imprisoned for months while awaiting his trial.
He said that she had put a restraining order on him, which was fine with him; he just ignored her. But then she had left a message on his answering machine one day, panicked, saying there was something terribly wrong and to call her back.
He called her back; she recorded the phone call and had him arrested for breaking the restraining order.
I got a few letters from him in jail. I didn't know what to think anymore. He said that he was permanently separated from her, and that he wanted to make up for lost time with me.
She charged him with several other things, while she was at it.
He was proven innocent for everything, except, of course, his concerned phone call.
I finally wrote to him, and told him of my wedding, asking if he could come. He said he would do everything possible to get here. He seemed so genuine.
I had hope right up to the ceremony. Something inside me wanted to believe that he would show up right as we were starting, in order to surprise me. Childish, I know, but I really wanted to believe that he wouldn't miss my wedding.
He did, though.
He claims that he did everything he could do, but that it just didn't work out. I believe him. But still...
I want him to meet my husband. He has never even seen Morgan... And if he couldn't come for my wedding, couldn't meet my husband... How do I know he will be here when I have children? How do I know he'll ever be here when I need him?
I miss him so much. We were so very close, before he drifted. I trusted him with everything. I gave all my love to him, and, all through everything, I still believed that he would turn around, that he would come through. It's been four years since I have seen him or heard from him regularly. His contact comes in waves, occasionally.
The last two months have been a good wave. He's called a few times, and this time, when he asked "Why are you crying?" Instead of "do you know how much you are hurting all of us?" I said, "Because I'm so happy to hear from you..." and I meant it.
Today I got a package from him. I cling so fiercely to these little signs that he sends to me, these little signs that he still cares. I truly believe that he wants to know me again, to be my father again.
But it's so hard to put all that hurt, those four years of betrayal, behind me. I realize that I may never trust him, because he has broken so many promises.
But I don't care, anymore. I want to forget it all, I want to talk freely with him again, I want to show him my life again, I want to have a father again.
We have so little time. I'm going to take what I can get.