He was born in 1952 to an alcoholic mother and father. He lived in Wisconsin for a while and then moved to Alaska with his family including 2 brothers and 2 sisters, though he was the oldest. His father died when he was only in his teens. When he was a young man, about 16 or so he hitchhiked his way back to Wisconsin to live with his aunt. A futile attempt at escape. In his young life he lived through family addiction, repeated surgeries (one of which leaving him in a body cast for months), the death of his father, and running away as far as he knew he could.
He married my mother at the age of 20. She was 18. I was born in 1974 and my brother in 1976. Back in Wisconsin, they did their best to create a family and a sense of normalcy. But my father’s issues simply would not allow that to happen. He was anxiety ridden, depressed, a perpetual child. He hated work and would do almost anything to avoid it. He was a complete narcasist, self centered to the core. Though he loved his children and his wife, his own incapacity to grow kept him from what he wanted most. They divorced when I was about 7.
He remarried a few years later. We would see him off and on through the years. Sometimes entire years would go by with no word from him what so ever. Not a birthday card. Not a phone call. Then he’d pop back in for a while. And the whole time I would defend him to the tee. I would cry tears of joy when I finally saw him. And cry my eyes out when he’d drop us back off because I never knew if I’d see him again. There were nights waiting by the window. Sweating in my warn hooded winter coat. Watching the clock, watching the street, with a knot in my stomach everytime I heard a car approach. To this day, I hate waiting. Cannot tolerate it in the slightest. By the time I was about 16 I had had enough. I wasn’t going to be yo-yo’d any longer. I avoided talking to him. I wouldn’t see him, even on the holidays. Once in a while I’d answer a call or go for a visit, but not very often. After all, it took a long time to build that wall. Alot of energy went into protecting myself. There was no way I would allow anyone to infiltrate my shield, especially the person who made me build it in the first place.
My father always had an illness or injury of some sort. Countless surgeries for back problems, knee pain, heart blockages, diabetic amputations. You name it. This went on his entire life. It is almost as though he wanted to be saved. It was almost like he created his own illnesses. He certainly didn’t take care of himself. He didn’t take the doctor’s advice. So he wasn’t the one to save himself. Maybe he wanted to be rescued. Taken care of because he had never been taken care of as a child. To me, he seemed wounded yet coated in armor. He always thought he was dying, yet he never did. So obviously, in my mind, he never would. Until the day he actually did.
My stepmother called and told us he wasn’t doing well. That perhaps we should come up to the hospital where he had been for the prior week or so. My brother, his girlfriend, and I decided to go. I hadn;t seen him in a long time and was very nervous. Not because I thought he was dying, but because of my guilt. It was 2 days after his 46th birthday. I had sent him a rose and a couple balloons. Not sure why, I hadn’t sent anything previous years. They were still in his room when we arrived. He was certainly not well. He looked ghostly and he was not thinking completely clearly. He was able to eat his dinner and even complained there wasn’t more. He and I were in the room alone as he drank his coffee and sat in the chair. A nurse or tech of some sort came in just to check his IV or something when I noticed he was breathing very strangly. I asked her, "Is something wrong?" She looked as confused as I was. I said kind of loudly, "Dad…Dad…" Something wasn’t right. I could feel it. Fear and calm at the same time…is there such a thing? The next thing I knew I was wisked into the adjacent room. His nurse came in and told us that the doctors were doing their "final check". My step mom asked through tears, "Is he gone?" And the nurse simply said yes. I just remember repeating the word ‘No’ and crying. How did this happen? I want answers. I want reasons. But they are to never be heard.
This was 8 years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish so much that I would have taken those phone calls. That I would have visited him, even when it seemed he didn’t want me to. Though the guilt has faded in time, I doubt it will ever cease. I should have been the one to give him a reason to live. I should have tried to help him. I should have been the one to rescue him. Instead I was stubborn, angry, and full of self pity.
I would love so much to call my dad today. To introduce him to his wonderful granddaughter. To ask him about cooking secrets. To watch The Sopranos with him. So much lost. So many moments that could have been shared. He didn’t even know me.
I am sorry Dad. I am sorry I wasn’t there for you. I am sorry you were in so much pain for so long.
I forgive you Dad. I forgive you for abandoning me. I forgive you for thinking only of yourself. I forgive you for making me feel guilty when I was only a kid doing the best I knew how. I forgive you for leaving before I had a chance to really know you. I forgive you for leaving before you could know me. I forgive you for leaving a mess in my head. I forgive you for dying, Dad. I love you. Good bye.