Pre-1974 my relationship with my Dad was awesome. Post 2012 my relationship with my Dad has been heartfelt and healing for both of us. It’s the in between that is quite rocky full of anger, doubt and bitterness. My Dad – an Officer in the US Marine Corp.
In 1974, my Dad came home from his second tour in Viet Nam. The man that came home was not the man that left. I was 13 when my Dad returned and announced that we were moving to California. He was going to be stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. And so it began…Dad wanted little Marines that fell into line whenever he spoke. That did not sit well with me. Now, I was a “good girl” about 95% of the time. My Dad said no so many times to me that I quit asking and did what I wanted. I made good grades and did not get in trouble (much), so I felt like he got the better end of the deal. I remember vivid conversations with my Mother in the summer of 1976. I begged her to divorce him. By this time he has become a functioning alcoholic, a liar, and unfaithful. She wouldn’t do it. She did not want her daughters to be without a father (not that he was doing such a great job) and Mom did not want to be alone.
I want to say that he was not always like this. He did have “good” spells. One of them was on a trip to Yosemite with my church youth group. He was a great leader and we had a really good time hiking, horseback riding, etc. This is always a memory that I hold onto.
In the summer of 1980, we moved to Tennessee. There was nothing I could do to stay in California. I was only 17. So, kicking and screaming, we moved. The next summer, I moved out. I had two jobs and was going to school. It wasn’t easy but I could not stay there any longer. My Dad was getting worse. Finally, in 1985, my parents divorced. I did a little happy dance at the time. Now I realize that it affected my life in so many way – most of them not positive.
Between 1985 and 2012, I saw my Dad maybe 6 times. The last time I saw him was in the late 90’s. My boys were little. Michael was a toddler and Shaun was still in his car seat carrier. I remember thinking that I wanted my Dad to see them and to see how happy I was. Maybe that would make a difference. It was the most awkward and uncomfortable that I have ever been. I was so glad that the boys were too young to remember the meeting.
In 2001, when my Mom passed away, I reached out to let him know. That was the last time I spoke to him until 2012.
During those years he was absent from my life, I did a lot of soul searching, raising my boys and cleaning up my thoughts about myself. The reaching out was always done by me or my sister. My Dad always told us he would be in touch and he never followed through. Finally, after several conversations with my husband and some of our closest friends and family, I gave up thinking that I would ever have a relationship with him or that my boys would ever know him.
Fast forward to 2012. I started working for Tractor Supply Company and we did a new store in Smithville, Tennessee about an hour from Nashville. I knew that my Dad lived there. That’s where he was when I called him about my Mom. The first thought that went through my mind was “I don’t want to run into my Dad”. Next thought…”not possible, what are the chances?” So we went to Smithville and toured the store.
We went to lunch at a restaurant across the street from the store. We sat down at this large round table near the front door. I was facing the door. We were looking at the menus and chatting when the door opened and in walked my Dad with his wife and some friends. I went very still, and according to my co-workers, very pale. One of the attorneys looked at me, then looked toward the door. My eyes never left the door and I said “that’s my Dad”. I know he recognized me when he walked past. I didn’t really know what to do. I just sat there in silence for a few minutes. Everyone was trying to figure out what to say, how to react, etc. Finally, I reached in my purse, grabbed my business card and wrote my cell phone on the back. I got up walked to his table and asked him if he recognized me. He said yes, you are my daughter. I handed him my card and said if you would like to get in touch with me my cell phone is on the back. I went back to my table, ate lunch and went back to Nashville.
I never thought in a million years that he would call but he did. I made myself very clear that if this was going to work, he would have to do the reaching out and to my surprise, he continued to call. I was very cautious at first – we had been down this road before but this time something was different. He was different. After several months of phone conversations, we went to see him and his wife at their farm.
He asked for my forgiveness and told me all of the things that he had done to help him realize where he had made mistakes. He was being treated for PTSD and was a recovering alcoholic. He apologized for the mistakes he made with my Mom, my sister and me. When he spoke of my Mom, it was from a place of love and respect. He really did love her.
By this time, I had done enough thought work of my own that I decided it should be a clean slate for both of us. And so a new relationship began. He would call, we would visit, they came to our youngest son’s high school graduation and basketball tournaments. We drove to Pennsylvania when my sister’s son passed away. My Dad is now very similar to the Dad I had before 1974. I am happy about that. One of the most endearing things about my Dad is his soft spot for Michael. Michael struggles with ADD and direction for his life. He really sees himself in Michael and wants nothing but the best for him.
In October 2017 my Dad was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer…Stage 4. It spread to his bones, liver and brain. Radiation took care of the cancer in his bones and brain. Chemo seemed to stall the cancer in his lungs and liver. About two weeks ago, things started to go very wrong. He is weak and unsteady, sleeping 18 hours a day, his hearing is gone and he gets easily confused. They were supposed to re-do his scans in mid-May but they did them on Tuesday, April 17th. The cancer in the lungs and liver has turned aggressive. His prognosis is not good – maybe a couple of months.
How do I feel about this…so very grateful that he walked in the door of that restaurant back in 2012. So thankful that my heart was open, and I was willing to try again. More than thankful that he got to know my boys. And, there is no depth to the gratitude that I feel when I can say that my Dad loves me and is proud of me. I am truly thankful for this second chance and will take each day as it comes. The doctors say a couple of months but really, that could mean anything. So I will check in each day and see him more often. I will help his wife, Gail, through this and I will be there for my sister when she needs to chat.
Things happen for a reason. I will enjoy the time that we have left and be the best daughter that I know I can be and love my Dad for the awesome person he is.
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