I received an email from someone named Danielle a few weeks ago regarding the last post I wrote about my father here. What she said really touched me, and made me realize that I can tell this part of my story now, because it's time to just air it all out. Here's a little exert of what she said:
"My dad is not a great man, either. His friend David died and he changed. My dad is an alcoholic and the last few paragraphs have helped me more than you can know. I have spent big bucks trying to work out my daddy issues and lo and behold, all I needed was a little Kayla Layla."
Who knew that one person's dysfunction could be another person's epiphany? Danielle's words struck such a nerve with me that I felt compelled to share the entire story, because even now, it still finds a way to hold me back.
My parents were not married when I was conceived. My mother was many years older than my father and they met at a time when she had recently gotten divorced and just wanted someone to love her. Unfortunately, that man happened to be my father.
He didn't have the greatest childhood, having been abandoned by his real father and treated like garbage by his mother. It's no wonder he grew up to be the person that he did. Not that we don't all have a choice at some point, but I can sympathize with him that he didn't really stand much of a chance.
My father sold and did drugs, as well as his fair share of drinking. I can remember him setting me on the counter and having his friends watch in amusement as I would clean marijuana for them at the ripe old age of 3 years old. I don't remember him being an addict per-say, I know he smoked a lot of pot and did his fair share of cocaine, but nothing else to my knowledge. But then again, how would I know? I was a fairly young kid after all.
Before I was born my parents had a son that was stillborn. My father desperately wanted a boy and was incredibly upset and damaged by this loss. He resented me when I was born because I was not a boy. He never truly wanted me from the start.
He was very big on not showing emotions, unless they were anger, and he would often tell me if I cried that, "There's a dry well behind those eyes and you'd better find it." Another one of his famous lines was, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out." Sometimes I wonder if he truly knew what his words meant. As a child I was conditioned not to cry and not to feel emotions. It took a very long time to tear this wall down and feel things again.
My brother was born when I was 3 years old, and that was the single greatest event in my father's life. He was so proud of my brother, so happy to take care of him and be around him. It was the complete opposite of how he treated me. I can't remember my father ever cooking for me, or loving on me, or even having anything particularly nice to say to me. He would sometimes take me to the bar with him when he was forced to watch me, and I'd sit on a bar stool and drink Sprites while he would drink and hang out with his friends. Sometimes he would even pick me up from school, though I can remember a day where he got into a huge fight with my Mom when we got home and she told him to get out. He looked at me and said, "Come on Kayla!" and I just looked at him and said, "No." I was 5 years old at the time. I'll never forget the look in his eyes when I wouldn't go with him. He slammed the screen door so hard that it just shattered and fell to the ground like it does in the movies. He got on his motorcycle and left, and that was that.
The truth is, he scared me. I was scared to speak for fear of getting yelled at, I was scared to misbehave for fear of being spanked to the point where someone would have to stop him. I was just plain scared of him. How was I ever going to grow up and have a healthy, normal relationship with a man when the one who was supposed to set the example for all of the rest had terrified me and scarred me to such an extent?
There are people in my father's family who want to say that these things didn't happen, or that perhaps he was a better man than the stories reflect. And maybe to them he was. But I'm the only person in the world who knows how it feels to be David's daughter. I'm the only one who experienced these things from him first hand. There is not a single person who has ever or will ever walk this Earth in my shoes. I am beyond allowing anyone to tell me how great of a man he was, because they never lived life as his daughter.
One beautiful September morning I woke up for school and walked into the living room to find my entire family at home. Being 6, I remember thinking, "Sweet!!" But the looks on their faces told me they weren't home to have fun. All I can remember was my Mom telling me that my father had been in a serious motorcycle accident and that I wouldn't be going to school that day. My six year old self was disappointed because I didn't get to wear my new headband that I had laid out the night before. I also remember being overwhelmed with this feeling that I couldn't describe at the time. I can identify it now in my adulthood as relief. I felt relieved that he wouldn't be coming home for a while. I was relieved that I would finally know where he was at all times, and what he was doing. It kills me inside to say that out loud. What kind of 6 year old is relieved about something like that? Parts of the story like this are what holds me back from wanting to share it because it just gets so fucked up. So, so fucked up.
I won't waste any time or energy going into detail about what a horrible person my grandmother is, or all of the fucking crazy things she tried to do while he was in the hospital. I can't bring myself to give her the time of day, and even saying this much is way outside of my comfort zone.
To the best of my knowledge, my father and his friends had spent a night out partying and having a good time. Early that morning, they were riding down the road when my dad's friend Jeff's hat flew off. Jeff did a U-Turn to go back and get it without realizing my father was behind him, and they crashed into each other. Jeff was DOA, my father died multiple times and was successfully resuscitated. They had to completely reconstruct his face, he spent many months on a feeding tube, and his memory was severely effected. He was not the same man he was before, and he couldn't remember why that was. It was almost as if the old David died that night, and a new David took his place. Not a better David, just a different one.
Essentially, my father's motorcycle accident was both the absolute worst, and the absolute best thing to happen to me in my life. Had the morning of September 6th, 1993 never happened, I can't say that I would be the person I am today. Had I not been freed of the man my father was prior to the accident, I don't know that I would be as happy and well-rounded as I have become.
My father really was not present in my life after that day. He went to live with various relatives, had two failed marriages, and spent a couple of years in prison for domestic abuse. He lived a hard and fast life, and in a lot of ways he paid the price. I never had enough mercy in my heart to reach out to him, and I couldn't get past the pain and the anger to see that I was hurting myself much more than I was hurting him. He didn't think about the pain and hurt he caused me, because he couldn't remember it. Every time I looked in the mirror, it was all I ever saw.
I did however gain an incredible sense of self from all of this. Despite being very angry and bitter, I was very head strong and independent. I knew my strength and intelligence, and I knew no one was going to mess with me. I definitely inherited his confidence, and I knew I was always going to be the biggest, baddest, toughest person around. I was, after all, his daughter, and I wasn't going to let him bring me down, at least not on the surface.
I was at Wal-Mart once, probably around the age of 16 when I saw him there with his girlfriend at the time. They were at the jewelry counter looking at of all things engagement rings when I walked right up to him and said, "Do you know who I am?" I can't explain to you the pain you feel when your own father looks you in the eyes and has no recollection of you whatsoever. I had to tell my own dad that I was his daughter. I will never, ever, ever forget that moment for as long as I live. He didn't know who I was, and I look just like him. I'd like to blame it on the fact that he hadn't seen me in years, but I think he just wasn't mentally right. At least, that's what I tell myself.
A year prior to his passing, my Aunt called me and we had a conversation about my father's health. She was taking care of him, as she always had, and he was not in good shape. My Aunt Lisa is one of the most incredible women who has ever lived on this planet. She has a lot of health issues herself, and she is always the first person there for anyone who needs her. My father did not deserve her love and her efforts, but she gave them to him because he was her brother. She is one of the most amazing souls and I am so thankful that my dad had her to rely on.
Basically, my father had Parkinson's disease, pneumonia, and a myriad of other health issues. She asked me to come to him, that he was asking for me. I looked at my nephews playing on the floor in front of me, these tiny little babies with so much life ahead of them. And I made the choice to stay with them and focus on their health, and not to go to my father. On the surface, and in my heart, I know that this was the right choice. It was a choice my father could never have made. I didn't have the mercy in my heart to give him what he wanted from me. I'd spent the last 22 years defining who I was by how horribly he had treated me. I wasn't ready to forgive him just yet.
This is a picture I took the day my Aunt first called me. I look at these faces now, and I think a lot about the choice I made. I could have had a year to know my father. But I chose these three amazing little boys who needed me more. Some days I wonder why there had to be a choice, why I couldn't just be there for my Father and for them. Then I remember that it was never really a choice at all, because everything happened the way it was meant to. I love my nephews more than I can ever say. I definitely could not have gotten through the grieving process without them.
A year went by, with my Aunt posting things on Facebook about him, how his health would improve, and then take turns for the worse. Three days before he died, she had posted a video of him on a ventilator. I knew in my soul that it was time. It was like the connection between us had repaired itself. I was finally ready. I went to him the next day, and when I walked into the room his heart rate sky rocketed and he was going crazy. He couldn't talk because of the ventilator, but I knew that he was happy to see me. We spent the rest of that day holding hands while I talked to him. We would have these moments where we would just lock eyes and I could read his mind without him saying a word. We have the exact same eyes. We had a lot in common. Sometimes I regret not knowing him, we might have actually liked each other. I guess I will never know.
The day we took him off the ventilator was one of the most gorgeous days I can ever remember. I was standing beside him when they came in and took it out, and he frantically just started saying, "I love you I love you I love you" to me. Like he knew he didn't have a lot of time left to say it, and it had been years since it had last been spoken. I held his hand and I talked to him about my brother, who was on vacation at the time, and I told him all about my nephews and how amazing they were, and I tried to tell him everything I could about me so that he would know. I sang him the Bette Midler song "Wind Beneath My Wings" because he used to make me sing it as a child to him. And we just stared at each other. We only had a short time left to remember each other's faces. Even though our faces were the same in so many ways.
I held him as he took his last breaths. I helped to usher him into the next life. I gave him the mercy that I had for so long withheld. And he gave me my freedom. I was free from all of the trauma of my childhood. I finally understood that he loved me the only way that he knew how. That was going to have to be enough for me, because that's all there was. We can't choose our parents, we can't choose how our childhood's turn out, and we can't choose the trauma we experience. I learned in my father's last moments of life that you can choose how you live in spite of all of that. I learned that my father's opinion of me shouldn't impact the person I am or how I chose to live my life. Most importantly, I learned that I am loved, I can be loved, and that the only person hurting from my grudges and grief is me. I was free to let it all go and to live my life loving my father instead of hating him. Because he's the only Father I was given in this life. He no longer defined me, but he sure as hell taught me how to be one tough chick who doesn't take shit from anyone and who knows just how wonderful and amazing she is. I don't know that death is always this freeing for anyone other than the person who dies. But this is my story, and this is what happened.
My father and I on our last day together. I've shared this image with very few people. It is still hard for me to look at.
I now have a tremendous amount of love and respect for my father, and I forgive him for all of the bad things that ever happened. I like to speak fondly of him, and visit his grave to clean off his headstone. I have pictures of him up in my house and I have a shelf with some of his belongings on it. This is all I have left of him, and now that I am okay with loving him, I like to remember him positively.
I will never be completely okay with everything. I will never be fine with not having a positive male role model growing up, or a father who can fix my car or walk me down the isle. I will never be okay with not being able to make it right or showing him mercy with enough time for us to get to know each other and make some positive memories. But I can't change the past, so I try not to dwell in that. I do still cry like a baby for him. Because my heart will never fully heal from the damage of my childhood, or the loss and regret of what could have been. But I am whole and happy in knowing that he and I are both at peace with the past, no matter how much doubt tries to creep in.
So, there you have it. My novel of a post on my father. The primary reason why I am so fucked up. It is what it is. There are parts I didn't want to share, but did anyway, and there are parts I just need to keep to myself in order to stay in the positive. But I will always, always love my father. It took me a long time to get to this point, and I cannot tell you just how much I have grown as a person by learning this lesson. It took me 24 years and a lot of trauma and heartache, but I wouldn't and couldn't change any of it. I am so grateful that I grew into the person I am today, and I love how my life has turned out in spite of everything else. I couldn't ask for more.