There this man who I have loved all my life. Although I no longer know him as the person I remember him to be, I still love him. This man was the first man I knew who truly loved me. It saddens me greatly to know he is no longer that man.
This man is my father.
My father was born in 1951. The little that I do know about my dad is somewhat heart breaking. He went off to war not long after graduating in 1969 and likely would never be the same again. I know little about the things he saw, the things he did, and the reasons behind the demons he fights still to this day. He married probably not long after returning from Vietnam and had one child, my oldest sister. I never had a relationship with my sister, apart from seeing her every now and then at Hy-Vee where she worked. I was infatuated by her. Begin an only child and then learning I had a sister was exciting. But we never had a relationship of any sort except the occasional Christmas card or gift when I was young. To this day I have the Crayola Crayon holiday tin she gave me when I was probably 7 or 8 years old.
My dad divorced his first wife and not long after married my biological mother. I shall refer to her as my bio because the only thing she really did for me was give birth to me. She was never a mom, never a parent, only concerned about herself at all times. I understood this to be true at a very young age. Hence I became a daddy’s girl.
In the days when my dad was my hero, when he was the most amazing person in my life, I only saw him on weekends and Mondays when he’d come to school to have lunch with me. I remember to this day how heavy my heart was leaving him on Sunday at five to go back to her house. The second we’d leave his driveway the tears would well up in my eyes. Dad would notice and pat me on the leg hiding tears as he drove the highway to her house. He knew how much I hated leaving him and how horrible my bio was. He has told me he would have fought to have me, but no court would have allowed it. I believe this to be true given how the courts worked back then, always letting the mother have the child.
After school I’d walk to the local tire shop to see my dad. I loved being at the shop. The owner treated me like his own daughter. My dad’s coworkers picked on me and are likely to blame for the potty mouth I have to this day. On occasion I’d get to ride in the school bus when dad finished working on it and had to take it for a test drive. I thought I was the coolest kid in town. At the end of the day I’d watch as he scrubbed his hands with that citrus smelling soap to get the grease and grime off. No matter how much he scrubbed, his hands remained stained from the day’s workload. That’s one thing I will always remember about my dad, his hands. They were big and strong and rough from working hard every day. They were soft when he dried my tears or pulled my hair back for me when I was little. I remember how they shook the day he walked me down the aisle after handing me my grandma’s hankie. His hands….
Some mornings Dad would pick me up and take me to school. He didn’t have much money but he always, always made sure I got something at the gas station if I wanted it. Grandma’s cookies and chocolate milk, corn nuts after school, and the occasional scratch lottery ticket were some of the best treats I have ever had.
After he remarried when I was about 7 years old, he changed a little bit but only because he had another child to care for and give attention to. For a while I was jealous but soon realized the jealousy was unwarranted. The brainwashing from the bio and her family had clouded my judgement. Dad always made time for me and always made sure I knew he loved me. Two more siblings arrived in the next 3 years following Dad remarrying and I was pretty excited to be a big sister.
When I was about 12, my dad was committed to the psych ward at UIHC. His then wife, father, and brother had him committed for his drinking issue. I will never forget that day. I was happily walking to the shop after school and popped into my dad’s shop where he was nowhere to be found. I asked one of the guys working where he was and that’s when my heart sank. He sat me down and told me that he had been taken to the hospital and that my uncle would be over to get me soon. I was scared, devastated, and terrified. What was wrong with my dad? I later learned the reason they took him and was angry at my uncle for doing this to me and my dad. You see at this time my bio was with a new boyfriend and I wasn’t a fan of him. Least because he was a child molester but also because she was never around and I was always dumped off on one of her boyfriend’s family members if my dad wasn’t available. And now, he was very much not available. Looking back now I should have stayed with my uncle. But I didn’t. I went ahead and left with the creepy boyfriend of my mom’s when he arrived to pick me up. To this day I have no idea where she was.
The next few days were devastating. I wanted to see my dad. I wanted to talk to my dad. Sadly, I could do neither. Being so young I didn’t understand what was going on, why he was there, why I couldn’t see him. Eventually my cousin took me to see him at the hospital. I will never forget that place. The sounds, the smells, that little room where we sat and talked, where Dad put on a smile and acted as though everything was fine. I cried. I cried so much when we had to leave. I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to leave him there. I needed to be there to protect him. My cousin fought back tears and pulled me away as I hugged Dad goodbye. I couldn’t let go. From the other side of the doors I watched Dad through the small windows walk back towards his room, head down, surly fighting back tears.
After he finally got out he had been kicked out of his home and was homeless. No family stepped up to help, no friends came to help, he was a man who had been robbed of his life by those who should have loved him the most. He spent the next, I don’t remember how long, living in the shop, sleeping on the hard shop floor. I got to stay with him sometimes there. We watched old wrestling movies and he cooked me fabulous foods somehow. Dad’s always been a great cook. Weird creations but they always turned out amazingly.
The years after that were a bit messy. He moved into a home outside of town and then eventually his girlfriend moved in too. Dad was back to himself I felt after this happened but it didn’t last long. Years passed and I believe I was about 16 when he decided to go back to his ex-wife. The one who put him in the psych ward, the one who took his home from him and left him homeless, the one who attempted to corrupt his children against him, yeah, he went back to her. I never liked her much because I felt she could never be trusted. To this day I don’t trust her much at all. I have my reasons.
I was angry that he did this. He’d left me again. He’d hurt his girlfriend terribly, a woman I’d become incredibly close to and loved as my mom. The only mom I’ve ever known…to this day. I made it known that I was angry about his decision to go back to her. Many times we’d argue on the phone or I’d show up at his new home to find out why he was doing what he was. Our screams and fights could be heard outside the house. I was so hurt, I didn’t know how to deal with the pain. At around this same time I was abused by my bio’s boyfriend, and the bio, and long story short removed from her home. My dad’s ex-girlfriend did what was necessary to become a foster parent and became my foster mom.
When I turned 18, I moved into my boyfriend’s house. Not long after that I found out I was pregnant. In between this time of my birthday and becoming pregnant I’d been trying to mend the relationship with my dad. It was somewhat mended, we could talk and I was over at his home a lot, but it was never the same. I never felt like he was the same. He’d begun drinking a lot more than usual every day. I watched as my dad began to consume his life with alcohol.
After Erica was born I moved out again and from then our relationship dwindled. I battled depression after finding out Erica had a sibling on the way when she was only a few months old. Long story short, I pretty much lost it at this point. I too fell into a drinking pattern, was out of control, very disappointed in myself for this time. It was the only way I knew how to cope. As the years went by, the relationship with Dad came and went. At some point I gave up. The hurt was too much to handle and I said I was done fighting for my dad to come back. Somehow we once again mended the relationship some time before I got married in 2008. The most important thing for me was that my dad would walk me down the aisle. The day I got married, I will never forget Dad and I standing by the elevator at the Hotel Vetro and looking at him. The man he’d become. Slightly worn out, grey with age, but at that very moment, I had my dad back. I hugged him and I felt those big arms wrap around me and I felt like I was 7 again, hugging him before leaving his house. Tears rolled down both of our cheeks and in all honesty I didn’t want that moment to end. I knew this was the last time I’d have my dad as I’d always remembered him.
Nothing’s been the same since. Despite efforts to repair our broken relationship, I do not know my father any more. His drinking habits continued although now I believe they’ve changed a bit. I can’t be sure though. I try to remember my dad for who he was when I was a little girl who needed someone to tell her she was loved. I try to remember the guy who would bring me Sunchips on Mondays at school. I try to remember the man who made me feel like the most important girl in the world. But, as I get older, I find that its more difficult to hang on to those memories with all the bad that’s happened in-between.
I miss my dad. I really really miss him. I’d almost give anything to have a day with him as he used to be; to talk about silly things, to get cookies and chocolate milk at the gas station, to smell the scent of grease, smoke, and hard work while riding in his truck. I’d give anything to be 7 again and ride in the fire truck on the way back to the bio’s house on a Sunday evening. Those were the best times I’d ever had with my dad and they are nothing but memories now.
In lieu of father’s day tomorrow I felt compelled to write about a man who loved me with all his heart and was there for me when I needed him most. I wish I had him here now because I could really use my dad again.