I never really knew my father. My parents divorced when I was a toddler, and Dad, caught up in the high life, essentially forgot about me. If he remembered at all, it was only as an afterthought on a rare occasion, and I paid the price for his irresponsibility—time after time. While I loved my father in the way that all little girls love their daddies, he remained a mystery to me until the day he died in the summer of 2011. I was thirty-five years old; he was fifty-seven.
Three weeks earlier, my eldest son had proudly walked me down the aisle and into a new life with my husband. Dad had been too sick to attend the wedding ceremony. Now I stood alone at my father’s graveside, apart from the small group of mourners, and said goodbye to this man I’d never truly known. A relative stranger, you could say.
What I know about my father could fit on a grain of sand. He wore Drakkar Noir cologne, rode a Harley Davidson, and loved Jimi Hendrix. And he was an addict with a brilliant mind who struggled most of his life to shake the monkey off his back, until one day, that nasty monkey killed him. A few other things I wish I didn’t know: he physically assaulted my mom before she left him, beat a murder rap in the 1970’s, and ran a prostitution ring in the 1980’s.
I cringed as the funeral home minister began his eulogy. “Rick was a loving father and grandfather…”
Is he kidding?
“…who was well-respected and loved by his community. He will be deeply missed.”
I can’t listen to this.
I looked over the gaunt faces in the crowd, and tried to meet the haunted stares of my father’s friends—the people he’d given his time and energy to, the ones he’d chosen over me. I wanted to be angry, furious. But instead, I felt intensely sad. Not for me, but for all of them, and for the people who loved them. In the downcast, empty eyes of my father’s comrades, I saw his shame and fear. Finally, I was able to acknowledge the oceans of guilt and self-loathing that had stood between my father and the life he could’ve lived. Between us. I realized then that Dad hadn’t chosen to leave—addiction had stolen him away.
That changed everything.
I’d spent my whole life believing I was unlovable. Not worth sticking around for. Insignificant. My mom had loved me fiercely, along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends, but nothing ever made up for the fact that my own father couldn’t love me. Until that day. In an instant, I finally saw the truth: it wasn’t about me. It had never been about me. My father had loved me the only way he knew how—he just couldn’t love himself.
When I realized that I could love enough for the both of us, I was free.
*This piece was originally featured in CBC’s Defining Moments contest (February 2014). Fourth place finalist. Story judged by former Olympian Donovan Bailey. Please feel free to check it out (here)*