Next Monday is my fathers birthday. Normally this information evokes a positive verbal or emotional response for me however, it brings about a barrage of confusing and conflicted emotions. In addition to my already stated condition the knowledge of my father’s birthday was only recently learned by me. But, before I go further into my revelation let me start where all things do, at the beginning. I am the only child of a school teacher and a laborer. My parents relationship was never perfect, but it had for the most part been civil. When my parents marriage began to sour, everything started to spoil. The fights between them were on going and endless and I felt trapped in between with no one to talk to. By the time I was in first grade I knew my parents marriage was over. The divorce that soon followed granted my mother full custody and my father was allowed visitation. Throughout my life I have learned many things about people. Some of the things that unite us are the very same that can divide us. The human condition is one example. It consists of many facets, one in particular is everyone has internal angels and demons. For my mother and I it would be my fathers demons that came to haunt us.
The endless debts he had racked up from charging his hidden addictions caused us to collect cans on the side of the road to buy groceries. My father refused to attend his court dates and remained unemployed, the lack of additional income meant sacrifices had to be made. The majority of my childhood I lived without cable because my mother could not afford it. Cable she said ” was a luxury item not a necessity,” and at the time I remember hating her for it. Christmas and birthdays were some of the worst times for my mother. When the endless bills arrived in the mail she would sit at the kitchen table and cry. The constant angry phone calls and the violative messages he left on the voicemail were the subject of my nightmares. The final straw consisted of him showing up at my mother’s school and threatening to hurt her and kidnap me in front of co-workers. These incidents brought his visitation and communication to an abrupt end. The resolution was a restraining order and although my mother had promised this would keep us safe I still lived in fear. I had grown to fear and hate my father with enough ferocity that at times it swallowed me whole. I was angry for not only what he had put me through but watching my mother suffer put a pit in my stomach that tightened with time.
I had become content in my hatred and with the removal of the cancer from our house things started to finally balance out. The balance though, was only temporary. Shortly, before my twelfth birthday my father died. My instant reaction was satisfaction, a horrid sense of justice. But, as the truth started to wash over me I felt a sense of new loss and betrayal. I would never be able to tell him how I felt or demand an explanation for his actions. I would never have the same memories or experiences with my father like my friends. My father would never wait up for me after a date or attend my wedding. He had cheated me out of things once again and he left without any consequence. I decided then and there at eleven he would be anonymous in my life.
The years passed and as I experienced achievements like honor society, graduations, and birthdays I had forgotten about his vacancy. It wasn’t until I had to fill out paperwork for my routine background check at work that reality struck me. The document among the usual information asked for personal details about my family their birthdays, birthplace, place of death etc. I was able to complete the section on my mother in less than five minutes. But, as I stared at the space where my fathers information belonged the white paper with the black lines began to blur. I started to cry while staring at the vacant lines with their cold menacing spaces. The very thought of not being able to fill any of it hurt me bitterly. The details of my fathers life had always been unknown to me. In the past when I had asked my mother questions she had given me basic information but the questions seemed to wound her, and I stopped asking.
This was my self realization moment. I felt like an adopted child trying to find out information about my biological father. My mother could only give me a little information and the experience was mind altering. I had no idea where my father was buried or when. Granted I had been young at the time and confused. But, both my grandparents on my fathers side were gone, and my father being an only child himself limited me. I had only been to his grave once, the day we buried him. My attendance at his funeral had almost never taken place, due to the estrangement his family was hesitant to invite us. Every single facet of his life was shroud in darkness. The worst part of it all? I finally was ready to know things and I felt like I had missed my chance. I wanted to know his favorite color, the sports he played in school, and what subjects he liked. I didn’t even have a picture of him from when he was a child. Did he look like me? Who was this man my mother had fallen for? But, would my search into his life hurt my mother? Would my sudden interest be seen as a betrayal by her?
Almost two decades after my fathers death and I had finally reached a point in my life where emotionally I was ready for answers. My research from the few photos and documents I found and asking my mother occasionally, has helped shed some light. My father liked swimming and played hockey in high school. He enjoyed being outdoors and hiking when he was a child. My father was ambidextrous, but growing up Catholic he had been discouraged from using his left hand. He had been very close with his father and would often talk to him at night long after he should have been in bed. My father had enlisted in the Air Force during Vietnam but never saw combat due to his vision being so poor. These small fragments have helped me create an outline of who my father was. My search is not complete but it is a starting point for me. Learning the basics about my father will never change my childhood or what he did to my mother. But for the first time in my life I can reach a level of closure, something that previously had eluded me like a mythical creature. I have the strength to acknowledge him now, and I can allow myself to heal. My hope is that someday down the road I can visit his grave again. Except this time I can finally say “goodbye dad, rest in peace” with no regrets.♥