Happy Birthday, Daddy – I miss you

Daddy with me (right) and my cousin
Daddy with me (right) and my cousin Christmas 1971

I can still picture myself in the precise moment I would first see him in the doorway, the tunnel vision, the barely contained excitement.  I can feel myself start to run, my heart pounding, the disbelief he is actually there!  I’m right back in that hallway as I launch myself at him, jumping into his arms, exclaiming “Daddy” and covering his face with kisses, hugging him fiercely, lest he disappear in a puff of smoke.  Blissful.  Euphoric.

Actually, as I sit here thinking back to write it all down, I’m not euphoric at all, I’m in tears.

I’ve never been able to fully recapture the feelings I had in those moments.  Truly, the happiest I ever remember feeling.  Sad that it should last only a moment and the real world would come crashing back in all too soon.

I didn’t get to see my daddy much growing up, though I yearned for him with my whole heart.  I spent a great deal of time with his parents, my Gram and Pop, whom I adored in a way I can’t put into words.  But it wasn’t daddy.  What little girl doesn’t want her daddy?  But he was hardly there.  It wasn’t work that took him away.  Nothing that noble.  He was simply absent.  Absent in a way I’ve never comprehended, never accepted and never gotten over.

My daddy was an alcoholic.

grad photo
Daddy’s grad (mom sure doesn’t look 14)

Helen fell in love with James (Jim) when she was a paltry 13 years old; barely wet behind the ears.   It was a [teenaged] May-December romance, when I think on it – after all, he was 17 when they met.  I’ve never been certain if he knew how young she was, despite her more mature presentation.  But that 4 year difference in your teens is a harder gap to bridge than a 14 year span later in life.  They were married when she was 16 (he 20) and I was born two months later.  They separated by the time I was 4.

I think this was our last Christmas together 1973
I think this was our last Christmas together 1973

When daddy came home to tell Gram and Pop about their “accident”, the only thing Pop had to say was:

“Son, is it your baby?”

“Yes, sir”

“Then by golly, you will stand by that girl and that child if I have to strap you to a board to keep you up”

(or something very much to that effect! I wasn’t actually there, but was told the story later)

And he did. As best he could with his disease.  Or so, I’ve decided to believe.  To be sure, there was probably never a baby doted upon and loved like I was.  And loved and adored by every person in my life.  I was a very lucky little lady in that department.

Despite that, my inner child still screams to this day:  IT WASN’T ENOUGH!

I’ve been told that I should count my lucky stars that I didn’t have to live with my father’s alcoholism.  Wow, really?  Really.  You think that because we didn’t cohabitate that I wasn’t living with his disease?  Then you’re an idiot.

I’m not trying to get into a my-damage-is-worse-than-yours pissing contest here.  I am horrified to hear the stories of abuse from other families of alcoholics and in those moments I would agree:  I was lucky my father wasn’t a mean drunk.  So if luck is a sliding scale, then……  But I have scars, trust me.  I just can’t pull up my shirt and show them to you.

I can also remember times sitting on our front step with my valise packed on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.  Waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  Until finally my mother would come out long after my bed time and make me come inside.

“I don’t think he’s coming today, honey.”       Again.

The most heart-breaking words my mother ever uttered to me.  For me.  For her.  That he forced her to say it is something I think she will hold against him until the day she dies.  And maybe he deserves it.

So, I prefer to remember the moments of euphoria.  There are so few of those and too many of the other.

Losing my father in 2002 was as devastating to my heart as seeing him in my hallway was euphoric.  You see, I’ve come to realize I never really knew him.  And worse, I never got to resolve anything with him and now I never will.

I hate my final memories.  I hate them and wish I could burn them.

After an overlong period of estrangement, I arrived at the hospital because my aunt had called to say he had been found almost dead, in a ditch; his liver and other organs failing.  Thank goodness my friend didn’t ask questions and we just hopped in the car for the silent 2 hour trek to St. Catharines.  I relived our entire lifetime together in that ride.  All the pain, all the anger, all the hate…and all the love.  I walked to his bedside, where he was wasting away, with tubes running into every possible orifice (and a few they had to create new orifices for), unable to understand where he was or what was happening….with only love.

“Boy, we had a really tough go of it, didn’t we?”  was all I could get out before I simply couldn’t speak another word.  I stroked his hand for an hour silently, as tears slid down my cheeks like waterfalls.

He died the next afternoon before I could get back to the hospital to say a final goodbye.  I scold myself for this regularly.  Why wasn’t I there?  WHY WASN’T I THERE?!!!!

I had picked up my voicemail as I was heading out the door to the hospital after work on March 14th.

“Danielle, it’s your aunt Margaret.  Don’t bother coming to the hospital.  He’s dead”

Yes.  Those are the precise words.  I absolutely remember them because they were the spark to the raging inferno I couldn’t control.  I was consumed by the fire inside me and as I felt my heart truly break, I wailed and keened in agony, I emotionally broke down in a way I hope I never experience again.

These days, I feel the pain less and the love more.  I don’t specifically believe in an afterlife, but he did.  I hope he found his Heaven.  And peace.  Mostly, I hope he finally found some peace.

Daddy,

I celebrate your birthday every year since you died, regretting that we never did while you lived.  I miss you, desperately.  I love you, unconditionally.

Peace,

Danielle

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