Everyone has stories they’ve written about themselves based on their life experiences. (At least, that’s what my most recent therapist told me.) Your stories are essentially the narratives that influence the way you see/interact with the world. They build you, the main character, into the hero or heroine of the book of Your Own Life.
Though I’d like to think I’m a pretty complex protagonist, stomping around on this earth under the weight of several way more fun and exciting stories, I’d say the most prevalent narrative in my life has been the story of The Girl With the Absentee Father.
When I was about Dax’s age, my mom gave her then-husband Scott, my father, an ultimatum: us, or booze. Sadly (or, maybe, not so sadly) for us, he chose the bottle over his family, which meant I’d only interact with him via surprise drunken visits or scrawling letters of empty promises with no return address for the rest of my (and his) life.
Looking back on my life as a 30-year-old woman, I can see how growing up like this has influenced me in so many ways. (My first boyfriend was abusive, I have a hard time with the thought of abandonment, I believe my worth depends on my works and if I don’t contribute enough to my loved ones they’ll leave, blahblahblah.) And I figured that being The Girl With the Absentee Father was going to always follow me around.
Until July 2015, when Scott died.
I’ve decided that the events surrounding my father’s death aren’t really blog-friendly, but I’d be happy to share those details with you over coffee. However I will say that it all happened pretty suddenly, and we hadn’t spoken in just over ten years, and it has still taken me a year to process the reality of my new story, The Girl Who Never Really Knew Her Father Before He Died, and grieve what I’d always wanted (a real, healthy, life-giving relationship with my dad) but now will never have.
The last time I laid eyes on Scott, I was nine years old. He was living in Daytona Beach with his new wife, and he’d taken me to get my ears pierced. (They’d eventually become infected and close up, but that’s neither here nor there.) I can barely remember what he looked like, but I know he was very tall and extremely lanky, with a dark, bushy mustache and matching long 70s-esque hair. He smelled like cheap beer. Always.
The last few weeks of Scott’s life, my mom reconnected with him. He was bedridden and unable to speak — he could only communicate by writing on a small dry-erase board — but, according to her, they spent a few weeks catching up and chatting about me, my husband, and our two babies.
She told me that she printed out a picture of my kids, framed it, and gave it to him to hang in his hospital room. She asked me if it was okay, and I said it was (and I guess it was, really) but it still made me nervous. Even though Dax and Case “belong” to him in a biological sense, it still felt a little bit like a stranger was ogling my children.
But the reality is that I am his, I guess. Which means they are his, too. For better or worse.
Sensing he was nearing death, my heart began to soften a bit and I prayed about going with my mom to see him once. I never felt at peace about it for some reason, though. I was so very scared. (Of what? I’m not sure. Being hurt? Feeling guilty? Feeling pressured into feelings I didn’t have or want to have? Still haven’t processed that, I guess.)
One day, after praying about him, I got an email from my mom with no subject. I opened the email on my phone and about fell over.
It was a picture of him. Of Scott. Of my father. The first time I’d seen him in nearly 20 years. My blood turned to ice.
His face looked like mine. His eyes looked like my youngest son’s.
And the next day, he died.
End of story.