I am ready to feel different about the subject of my dad. I have avoided truly thinking about him for most of my life. I’ve had lots of conversations about him with family and friends over the years; but I’ve never seemed able to get to the heart of my feelings about him.
My memories carry scent and sadness. They are filled with dream-like flashes and old photos of family gatherings. I hear the echoes of our voices and laughter. These thoughts bear weight and are sometimes unbearable. Some of what I remember must have happened; but surely some of it was my brain filling in the spaces so that I could have a history that didn’t make me cry. I find dates and times and ages particularly difficult. I understand this may be because trauma memories are stored in our bodies and not in our brains. My work is to get these memories back to my brain so that I can think of those times to their fullest.
These words have no particular order nor guarantee of accuracy. The little stories have been in my head most of my life. I am ready to let my thoughts come to the light of day; and I am ready to stop being angry.
Red motorcycle. Freedom to ride on empty mountain roads. No helmet. Red bandana, Levi’s, saddle shoes, sunglasses. My 5-year-old self has been given permission. I get to wrap my arms around you; and rest my head on your back. I recognize a rare and fleeting opportunity when I see one. I will never have the right words to express my joy. We ride like the wind and it is over. I had one chance to ride with him and then my chance was gone. I knew I should never ask for more; but I always wanted more. Towards the end, when he was really ill, I was spirited away on holiday with my grandparents. There would never be more for me.
My child’s mind always thought I’d done something terribly wrong. Why didn’t he love me? My adult mind harbored anger and resentment towards a man I never really knew. Perhaps he did love me.
I am ecstatic. I am being treated to an evening of pee wee golf, bowling (with bumpers), and ice cream afterwards. The whole night for just my dad and me. Always in the back of my mind was, why? Always, I am afraid to admit that I wanted time with him. Somehow that feels so selfish.
There’s a hippy girl sitting on a picnic table in front of the Frosty and she’s singing and playing guitar. I hear people whisper the words “Joan Baez”. I only liked the music because it meant more time with Dad. The night ended too soon and was never spoken of again. Why did it happen? Did it happen?
My whole life I’ve been told how wonderful he was. How funny. What a great guy. How lucky I was he was my dad. I could never let on; but I had no idea who they were talking about. I wanted his attention and time; but that was never to be. I wanted his hugs and love. They never came.
And then, he died. And his memory was sacrosanct. I would never be able to tell anyone how disappointed I felt. Because that would be bad. And wrong. And I didn’t want to say how much I needed him. And how much it hurt(s).
I think my father had a lot on his mind besides me. I think he was ill and absent. To me, it felt as though he didn’t love me and didn’t want to let me know him. Maybe he was afraid to become attached to me. Maybe he knew there wasn’t time. I always felt greedy for time with him. For years I’ve tried to imagine I understood how he felt. But I had no proof of his love or not-love of me. I will never know. I was 8 years old.
I especially could never let my mother know what was going on in my head. All of my questions and fears and sadness would hurt her. She needed me to help her get over her grief. She told me so. So I never told her I felt lonely and cheated. I never told her how sad I felt whenever the subject of my dad came up. Which was every day. She was keeping his memory alive for us. I felt guilty that I had so much anger. Of course.
I have little snippets of memories like Red Motorcycle and Pee wee Golf. I can no longer tell one from the other. They have blended in my head into one long song for too many years. The only thing I am sure of is that I am ready to stop being angry that he died.
I suppose I’m taking the long road around to tell you (me) that it’s okay to have these thoughts that are only possibly, somewhat accurate. I will not say this story is THE truth. I am saying it is MY truth.
Here’s what I suppose about my dad: He was the oldest of two children. His sister called him Butch. He called her Sue, not her real name, which was Mary Ellen. They were very fond of each other; and remained close until his death. Dad’s parents were very proper and had a proper household. I always imagined my aunt was a bit of a debutant. She was lovely and exactly the perfect daughter for her parents. I think my dad wished he was Marlon Brando from the movie “The Wild Ones”. They loved him; but I think he worried his parents. I imagine he liked danger and noise and dirt. He loved race cars, motorcycles, building model airplanes, and flying radio controlled gliders. I think my mother was very much in love him. I think the pressures of three kids and a wife was a lot for him. He liked building things and spent a lot of time in the garage – his “shop”. I wasn’t welcomed very often in the shop. I wanted to go in there any chance I could. After he died, I loved playing on the old crank telephone he had in there. It was on the wall and I could pretend…a lot of things.
I believe he was sick for a very long time. I remember his dad taking him to the doctor often. I think he felt poorly for most of my life.
His funeral and my memories during that time were fluid and surreal; but I know it happened and I know I was there. I was on my way home from Canada with my mother’s parents when he died. We drove home as fast as we could. I remember being very worried that we would miss the funeral. I had purchased a used copy of a Nevile Schute’s, On the Beach for him and it made me cry to think that I would never be able to give him that book. We made it home just in time; and I was given a neighbor girl’s dress to wear for the service.
My Auntie Sue wanted an open casket service but I didn’t go. I thought they didn’t want me to see how he looked. The adults thought it might scare me. The closed casket service was the next day and it was standing room only. There were so many people who loved my dad; and they all wanted to be there to pay their respects.
When I first heard my dad had passed away, I cried and cried. My grandmother told me if I kept it up, I would get a spanking. At the funeral, grownups told me I should cry if I wanted to. But by then, I just couldn’t. The world felt like it was spinning and everything going on around me was happening to someone else. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t coming back. It took years for me to accept that he was gone.
At the funeral, I sat with my mom and my sister and my brother and I guess a lot of other family; but I don’t remember that part. I remember my Auntie Sue being so hysterical that someone had to hold her up against a wall in the chapel; and I was frightened to see her so broken. There were a lot of broken people that day. My dad’s parents, were very serious and very sad. His mother began displaying signs of Alzheimer’s during that time. His father must have felt tremendous pressure to help and hold the family while going through his own grieving the best he could.
After the funeral came the wake. It was at dad’s parent’s home. All the cousins, Aunts and Uncles, friends…so many people came. But I only remember talking to my Aunt Emily. I was meeting her for the first time and remember her talking about all the delicious food. She said how nice it was for everyone to bring food. I think that might have been the only thing she could think of to say to a little kid.
The wake occupied a very strange in-between time. It was happening and it was significant on one hand. But on the other hand, people couldn’t wait to NOT discuss it. I don’t think the subject of my dad’s wake ever came up again. All those people together and yet, it was a time that existed just outside of our real lives.
The rest of the summer I don’t remember. I imagine it was just us trying to do all the normal things and failing miserably but never admitting that we were failing. I believe it was around that time that mom discovered frozen pizza. Then it was September and time to go back to school. I was in the 3rd grade and my teacher, Mrs. Anderson, had attended my wonderful dad’s funeral. Everywhere I went, there were reminders. Everywhere I went, I kept quiet about the anger in my heart.
I have been able to find two photos of me with my dad. One is a family photo on the steps of St. Leander’s Church. We are attending a wedding. The other is after my sister graduated from high school. I swiped her cap and gown and put it on. My mom thought it was so cute to see me with it on that she snapped a photo of dad and me standing in front of the fireplace. We are quite a distance apart. It’s not so much that we are together, it is that we occupied the same space that the camera captured. This was how I felt every time I thought of my dad. It’s not that he wanted to be around me, I just happened to be near the space he was occupying.
I don’t remember him hugging or kissing me. I don’t remember him holding my hand. I do remember him giving me spearmint gum to keep me quiet in church, which, of course, never worked.
I’m ready to stop feeling damaged about losing my father when I was so young; and ready to let myself just be sad that he’s not here. I am ready to begin my grieving process that I never started in 1972. He was born in 1930, and would be 87 years old now. He was 42 when he died. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to forgive him. While I’m not sure he loved me, he was my dad; and I think he took his commitment as a father fairly seriously, if not lovingly. I would like to meet sometime in my dreams. I’d like to finally know him; and I think I’d like him to know me.
AmyLee 05 27 2017