When I was a child, and my parents were still together, we had a pillow on the couch that my mom had cross-stitched with the words: “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.” My world revolved around my father and I loved him dearly. A military man, he often left us for six months at a time on cruises, and because my mom wrote him letters every day, I’d write him multiple letters a week. My mom still smiles with pride when she recalls me “writing”, before I could form letters — I filled an entire legal-sized, college-ruled sheet of paper with squiggles, all of them situated neatly inside the lines, as if I were writing actual words to fill out the entire page. She says I was intently concentrated on completing this task and nothing would stop me.
I love my Daddy. I used to love my father. I have a difficult time reconciling my memories of him with the man that he has become; it’s truly like he is two separate people. My parents separated after ten years of marriage and three children, when I was ten years old, reunited for what I think was a matter of months, and separated for a final time. The day after their divorce was finalized, my father married his girlfriend, my stepmother. I don’t know why my parents divorced; maybe it was money, maybe it was stress, maybe it was sheer incompatibility. I feel in my heart that it was not because of infidelity, although him being a Navy man certainly would have provided both of them with ample opportunity for it. I only mention this because my stepmother, while she plays a huge role in why my father and I no longer speak, doesn’t have a place in the story of their divorce. I remember him having girlfriends before her, after my parents separated.
My stepmother had children already, staggered neatly in age between myself, my sister, and my brother; two sons, followed by a daughter. Since then, she and my father have had two children together, a girl followed by a boy, and while I would not mind having a relationship with my half-siblings, I don’t see it as being realistic. Due to a misunderstanding years ago (an event apparently occurred that I have NO recollection of whatsoever), my father’s new family believes that I hate these new children — I don’t even know them, how could I hate them? My mother’s side of the family are all close-knit; our family is our pride. In twenty years, when they are out of his household, I can look them up and see if contact is welcome. It’s more than I plan to offer my father.
And that’s a difficult thing to swallow as I sit here with my first baby growing in my womb, delighted with my life, my husband, and my future. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been asked “How does your family feel about the baby?!” and when I respond with how my mother, sister, and brother feel, they follow-up with, “What about your dad?” I haven’t figured out how to respond to this gracefully yet, so my answer is usually “It doesn’t matter” or “He doesn’t matter”. In some ways, I want to say he’s dead. The Daddy I loved so dearly is gone. Hell, the daughter he loved so dearly is probably mostly gone, too. The last fifteen years of my life are filled with defining moments, and he’s missed almost all of them.
One of those defining moments came five years ago, just when Chris and I had fallen in love with each other and were planning my move up here. I had just returned from my first trip to Canada, but weeks earlier, I had sent a letter to my father (having not seen/spoken to him for at least three years before that) to see what remained of our relationship. My mother drove me from the airport to my apartment, where she had been collecting my mail and setting it on the kitchen table. Included in that mail was a large, padded manilla envelope… with my father’s address on it, in my stepmother’s writing.
I didn’t open it until my mom left. Enclosed was a typed, multi-page letter, a handful of pictures, all of them with me in them (some with me & my dad), and an old pair of sweatpants from the elementary school I attended when we lived on the naval base in Virginia, all faded and well-loved. Even before reading the letter, the message was clear: he would have no reminders of me in his household. And the letter confirmed this. I can’t, for a moment, understand how anyone could write the things he did to his child. In it, he wrote cruelly about every person I loved — my mother, my sister, my brother, my maternal grandparents, and even Chris. Chris, who he didn’t even know, but had somehow discovered I was with. My father mocked the experiences I’d gone through in my prior relationship (something I may or may not write about another time).
Thinking about it now, I’m filled with rage, not hurt. But when I moved out of that apartment and to Canada at the end of 2003, I took the letter and its accoutrements with me. When we moved apartments in Canada, I took them with me. Back in January, shortly after a traumatic experience on my 25th birthday (sheesh, another thing I’ll have to delve into in the future), I was feeling vulnerable — so I took out that letter, and I read it for what would be the first time since the day of its delivery. And I cried — I cried so hard that I thought I might pass out. I called Chris at work, sobbing so hard that it scared him, unable to form words other than “I’m okay” to try and reassure him for several minutes. He was so angry: “Why would you even do that? Why do you keep that piece of shit? Throw it away!”
But I wouldn’t throw it away. That letter reminded me why there could be no reconciliation with my father, ever. The first man I had ever fallen in love with would be the last person on this Earth I’d open my heart to. So back into the depths of a drawer it went, buried under happier mementos.
Until, that is, the last week of August. Sitting on the floor with Chris, combing through our possessions as we packed up to move into our new, two-bedroom apartment and start a life that revolved around the baby that wouldn’t even be arriving for another six months, I came upon that envelope. Without a second thought, I reached in, pulled out all of the photos, set them aside, and tossed the rest into a plastic bag at my side. Chris asked, gently, “That’s trash, right?”
I just smiled.
It’s trash. My father is, too.
My husband is not.