Monday will make 18 years since my dad passed away. I won’t even begin to pretend that we had a magical relationship, or even that my day-to-day life has been hugely impacted by the loss, which I’m aware sounds horrible, but I will admit that it changed the trajectory of my existence in profound ways.
My parents split up when I was 11. I came home from summer camp and he was gone. I hadn’t even noticed which can probably tip you off to how close we were. My grandma asked how I felt with him gone and rather than admit that I hadn’t noticed, I lied and said “it’s change.” We had routine contact, I suppose, of very short phone calls and limited visits. He moved out of state when I was 14 and the contact was even less. When I was 16 I got a wild hair to go stay with him for a summer and while my golf game improved, I still came home without knowing any more about him than I went with.
If you were to ask my older brother, I was the jerk in the relationship with my dad. My brother was taken to the golf course, told the stories and the jokes, had my dad at his baseball games, and even lived with him for a time. He saw a side of my dad I was never privy to, and assumed our experiences were the same because he saw the love for me that my dad never extended far enough for my reach. But conveniently for him, my brother has blocked from his memory how after I was born our dad worked away from home during the week so I only saw him on weekends if he wasn’t golfing (so basically never). Or how he only made it to one of my softball games and spent the whole game yelling at me. That it was my mom who taught me how to throw a ball, ride a bike, how to love others, and be a good friend. Maybe my brother didn’t know that I would ask my dad questions trying to get to know him and he would tell me it wasn’t appropriate for me because I was a girl, so the only thing we could talk about was sports. Or that I only have a handful of pictures of him and I together, and in most of them I’m crying because I’m with someone I didn’t know. It wasn’t until I was 18 that he finally started to communicate and share himself with me. We started to become friends just in time for a cancer diagnosis. 8 months later, he died. I learned more about my dad at his funeral than in the 20 years prior put together. And yet…I miss him. Or rather, I miss what we should have been.
I’ll never be, nor will I ever have been “daddy’s little girl.” He won’t be there to walk me down the aisle when I get married. We will never have the chance to sit down and catch up over coffee or a meal. There will never be a father/daughter dance. There are milestones in a woman’s life that seem to always involve a father, but what about those of us who don’t have one? I wanted to know him, wanted to learn about him, but he kept me at a distance and we didn’t have enough time to bridge the gap.
What his passing did for me, though, was re-prioritize my life. He passed away at 49, showing me how short life truly can be so when opportunity knocks you answer. Because of him I’ve lived all over the country, taken risks, and lived a very full life. It made me focus my spending on experiences instead of things- knowing that memories made would always be more valuable. I’ve learned that relationships made are gold in this world and to take care of them. And most of all- he taught me a lot about myself. It took me so long to see just how like him I was and that I’ve spent most of my life in relationships like ours- choosing men I knew it wouldn’t work out with, and always having one foot out the door in preparation for their departure; keeping people at a distance, never getting too attached, and never letting them in far enough to really know me. It’s been a rocky road trying to change the patterns and habits that I now know were born to me. I’ve spent years repairing us in my heart and mind.
I recognize that I’m better for it all, the life and the loss. I missed out on so much with him, but in return gained an entire lifetime of experiences. I know my dad wasn’t a bad man, he just came from a very different time and place than what I would ever know. Coming from a place of understanding in my interactions with others is just one more lesson I’ve learned in this. I’m a better person because of him and all the lessons he didn’t mean to teach me, and for the man he was. I often wonder if he would be proud of me, or tell me that I’ve done it all wrong. Who knows? I know I’m proud of who I am and the dad I did know- a poet and a writer, a southern military man, a golf pro, a friend to so many, and a million other great things that I may never know about. And maybe it’s yet another blessing that I can see that he was also human- that he made mistakes, had regrets, was stubborn, and didn’t always do the right thing. His imperfections, just like my own, have been some of my best teachers. Turns out I’m my father’s daughter after all.