Most of the time, this is a humor blog. Or at least, it tries to be. Which is why I feel like I need to give you fair warning about the emotional shit storm you’re about to stumble into. If you’ve come here looking for a laugh, you’d better go HERE instead or check back with me in a couple of weeks when I’m (hopefully) done venting my anger at my dead father, and have once again found my sense of humor….
Dear Dad –
Today marks the 2nd anniversary of your death. In the weeks leading up to this day, I’ve been bracing myself for the suffocating wave of grief that crashed down on my head at this time last year, but it never came. Much to my surprise, rage was there to take its place. It started one night, about a month ago, when I sat down to watch a film called Broken (insert bitter irony here) starring Tim Roth.
If there really is an afterlife, maybe you watched me that night from whatever dimension you’re in, sobbing alone on my couch as I watched the beautiful relationship between a father and daughter blossom behind the screen of my TV. Could you feel the unbearable longing deep in the center of my chest as I watched those two characters take part in something we never had? Did you feel guilty as I played and rewound the touching father/daughter parts of the movie dozens of times? God, I hope so. I know that sounds pretty harsh, cruel even. But right now, I really don’t care if I hurt your feelings.
Missing you was the only constant in my life that didn’t change when you died. For the first eighteen years of my life, you were never there for me. Ever. You were always quick to explain those years away – citing the divorce, the physical distance (between our homes in Illinois and New York), and Mom’s anger towards you as the reasons behind your absence. But now that I’m a parent, I know something I didn’t know when I was a child – there’s nothing that can stand in the way of a parent who truly wants to be with their child. NOTHING.
A quote I read by Jim Rohn pretty much sums up my feelings about your side of the story: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” And Dad, you were all about excuses when it came to your children. You know what I think was the real truth behind your absence? I think you felt little kids were tedious and boring. So you bided your time until your children were old enough to have those grownup conversations you loved so much. Then we could talk for hours like old friends, while bonding over cigarettes and beer.
Never quite worked out though, did it? Sure, we had plenty of chats over cigarettes and beer, but the bonding always felt forced and uneasy. Part of me was afraid to drop my guard around you because I never knew if the next thing out of my mouth would make you disappear back into the void. So I became the consummate daughter for you – quick to laugh at your jokes and put you up on a pedestal…. never realizing that it’s almost impossible to bond with someone when they’re towering high above you.
But underneath my meticulously made smokescreen, lurked a girl who was anything but perfect. You never met her. She’s the messed up result of a lifetime of paternal neglect that your once-a-year visits did little to assuage. Your absence made me who I am today every bit as much as Mom’s presence – maybe even more so.
Here are the parts of me I was too scared to show you….
– The child who desperately sought out the attention of other fathers to fill the void you left behind. Even if those fathers were total assholes, I still clung to every scrap of affection they showed me. All my earliest memories of rough housing, playing, and cuddling were done with those men – I don’t have a single one that includes you.
– The teenager who always dated older guys because I was looking for a father figure, rather than a whirlwind romance. And when I didn’t have a boyfriend, I used the male friends that I surrounded myself with to fill the empty space. Sadly, teenage boys make pretty crappy fathers – they’re much more interested in getting into your pants than healing your inner child.
– The grown woman who has to combat pangs of jealousy every time I see a father carrying a small child up on his shoulders or being affectionate towards them, because you never laid a finger on me unless it accompanied a hello or goodbye. That woman cries too easily over stupid, cheesy songs like Butterfly Kisses and melodramatic Hallmark commercials designed to sell greeting cards. She also resents the hell out of you for all of the above.
I wonder what would’ve happened if I had the guts to show you all of that, or worse, the anger and frustration behind it all – kind of like when America Ferrera (playing Carmen) tells off her dad in the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants….
That phone call was the exact one I wanted to have with you a million times, but I could never manage to gather up enough courage for that kind of confrontation. I imagine there must be an awesome feeling of freedom that comes along with getting really pissed off at someone, and at the same time knowing that they’re still going to be there to love you afterwards. I never trusted you enough to test that freedom. If I had, do you think we’d have enjoyed the same storybook ending as the father and daughter in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. Because unlike the sappy chick flicks I perpetually fall hook, line, and sinker for, life doesn’t have happy Hollywood endings. Apparently, when it comes to emotional pain it doesn’t have any ending at all. Kind of sucks.
I have to say though, I prefer this newfound anger to the overwhelming grief I had been feeling these past two years since you died – it’s easier to manage. There’s a lot less crying involved. Probably because I’m no longer pouring over old photos, or listening to the songs on the radio that remind me of you. When I took my favorite picture of us off of my bedroom dresser the night I watched Broken and threw it in a drawer, it almost felt good…. or at least justified. I have the feeling I won’t be taking it back out anytime soon.
I don’t know what the next year of grieving will bring, but for now you can keep your shiny pennies and “signs” from the other side, if there is one. There’s no comfort in knowing that you’re there for me in death when you never were in life. But feel free to sit back and watch the real me for a while, because if reincarnation exists, I might prevent you from fucking up the daughter you have in your next life. Just promise me that before you choose to dive back into the mortal melee again, you’ll do yourself and her a big favor – learn how to hug.