Happy Birthday Daddy

I’m sorry that I can’t be there today, to celebrate your life and your love.

My favorite part of my birth story is that you were the first to hold me. Mom did all that work, and you snatched me right out of that doctor’s hands. I remember when you used to take me out into the yard and throw me up in the air, as high as you could. You always caught me.

I loved it when you’d scoop me up and take me away. To your friend’s house to swim. Out for ice cream. To survey storm damage. Fishing. Remember when you taught me how to cast on the shore of the lake and I hooked you in the ass, and I felt the tension on the line and got so excited that I forgot we weren’t really fishing and tried to reel you in? Sorry about that.

Our history isn’t all ice cream and horseplay, though there was plenty of that. I have to tell you that it was a very strange experience- loving and adoring you so whole-heartedly, and yet fearing that look in your eye, that tone in your voice, and the violence that always accompanied those warning signs. I can forgive it, but I can’t ever forget it. I admire you for admitting it, for admitting it was wrong, for apologizing. Even if you justify it sometimes. You like to say that it made me who I am- a strong willed, independent person. You’re right. When I had that boss that used to put the tip of his nose against the tip of my nose and scream his lungs out, I never even flinched. Daddy, it did make me who I am, but I wouldn’t have minded the chance to see who I would have become without it. Because I think I would have an easier time trusting and loving people who are more than worthy of it. Then again, I am your daughter, so maybe not.

We’ve always understood each other a little better than Mom or little sister ever did. It makes them jealous of me, of how close we are. If they only knew that they were jealous of all that fear and guilt and anxiety we share. If only they knew that we fight the same demons, and that’s nothing to envy. That’s a closeness I think we both could do without.

I remember when you stopped holding me. When I wasn’t allowed on your lap anymore. I felt so abandoned. I knew, I understood- but that didn’t change the fact that I was still a very little girl in that grown up body. If I would have known that I would lose three years of our lives together shortly after your declaration, I would have fought you harder. Because I feel like you missed so much. When we moved, and you stayed, I was an awkward little girl. When you came home, I was a silly young woman.

I hated you for the longest time. I thought that if you really loved us, you would have come sooner. I didn’t understand what giving up your pension meant, or how sticky run down houses and mortgages can be. I blamed you, when I wasn’t blaming Mom. That month I spent with you the summer before my sophomore year- it was the best month I had in high school. Just you and me, in that old house, with nothing but lawn furniture and two beds. I felt so safe, and yet so free.

And then you did come to live with us. And I was so mad at you. You were taking over! You were criticizing everything I did, when I only learned how to do it because you weren’t around. You know as well as I did that Mom fell apart. I remember when you came to visit and she had come alive for the first time in months, and she cleaned the whole apartment (behind me, of course, because I had already done it), and cooked a huge dinner. Pot roast and mashed potatoes. Little sis and I ate two plates each, and spent the rest of the weekend throwing it up, because our bodies weren’t used to real meat. Because we were orphans, or might as well have been. Because Mom was just that lady that might remember to pay the power bill before she drank herself to sleep.

So I didn’t know how to let go when you came. I was still trying to carry the world on my shoulders. I was used to doing what I wanted, whenever I wanted, and you didn’t like that either. We had so many fights, so many that ended with you backing me up against a wall- literally- while I shook with fear and rage and pain.

We moved past that. We figured things out. I learned how to be a teenager, and not a Mom. You learned how to be my Daddy again.

I remember when you lost your Mom. I came home from work that night, as soon as they could let me go, and you were sitting in the dark. Drinking and crying. Mom and little sis were on a trip out of town. So, we sat there, in the dark, and we drank and we cried together. And you told me. Told me that you had looked for so long for your biological family. It wasn’t anything against your Mom and Dad, just a quiet drive that you had to know where you came from, to have a *real* family. But that all changed when you held me. You didn’t need a family. You *had* a family. Me.

I met WH. I told you the night I met him that I met my future husband. You laughed at me. When I told you I was moving, that WH and I were moving, you let me go. You helped me and you accepted it and you gave me roots. That meant so much to me.

When you gave WH my hand, you took me aside. You wanted to make sure that I wasn’t settling, that I really wanted to do this, that I was ready. I told you that I wasn’t, that I did, and that I was. I can tell you now, Daddy, that I was 100% honest when I said that, but I now realize what you were really saying- “will you be happy with this decision in ten years?”, and I can tell you that I’m still not sure. But, honestly, Daddy, I’m good at forgiving men their faults and loving them with reckless abandon anyway. I wonder how I got so good at that, huh?

Then everything went wrong. So, you moved us back in. I probably knew that it wasn’t a good idea. I wanted so badly to believe that we would be one big happy family and that we would get on our feet and get out of there quick, and that everything would be fine.

But it wasn’t. We all fought all the time. Remember when WH and I had that big, horrible fight, and he walked out? You held me then. You caught me. You told me that he would either fix it or he wouldn’t, and that you would be right here either way. He did fix it.

The day that the two of you fought ripped wounds in me deeper than anything ever had. I just remember wishing so much that you had hit me instead, because at least you and I knew how to do that. WH just had no clue. I had to stand up for him. You were wrong, so wrong, and even though I understood that you were angry and jealous, it wasn’t right. You were my first hero, and you’ll always be my Daddy, but you had to accept and understand that there was a new man in my life. I tried to tell you- WH is my future- but all you heard was that there wasn’t room for you anymore. Daddy, you were so wrong, and I cried for months. Months.

We moved to Paradise. I cried the whole way there, because not even this move would change your heart and convince you to make things right with WH for me. For me, Daddy. Not for him. Maybe if I would have put it that way, it would have come sooner, but I didn’t, because I was afraid it wouldn’t matter. That I wouldn’t matter. That your pride was more important than me. But you did. You made it right. You caught me.

I don’t see you often enough. We don’t talk like we used to. I know that’s because Mom’s right there, always listening. Still, I get so lonely for you. Even now, when I’ve kept the worst from you, I know you understand. I know that you’ve been where I’ve been and felt how I feel.

When we met down in Atlanta to kick TEX out, I came because you asked for my help. You let me help you. I have never been more proud of you in that moment, that you followed me into the house and let me hold you while you cried, because I knew that everything that happened with WH taught you that losing your temper wasn’t worth losing your daughter. I was so honored that you let me help you. When you told us about Mom, I could hear the worry in your voice, and I knew just how you felt- the guilt, the fear. I stepped inside your skin for a minute, and I knew that you weren’t sure that you could handle this. But you did- you are- and the love and tenderness that you’ve shown her takes my breath away. After everything you’ve been through, after all she’s done and you’ve said and all of it- none of it matters. Because she needs you. You caught her.

My first thought when I found out about her was to fall over in gratitude that it wasn’t you. I’m not ready to lose you. I need more of your honesty, your answers, your love. I need to know that you’re there to catch me. Especially now.

I sit here, another day, same troubles, and all my limbs are heavy, and my eyes are empty. No sparkle, no shine. I always wondered where your rage came from- how you got so angry so quickly and never knew what you were really doing. Now I know. It was desperation. Desperation, guilt, fear, shame- I even know just exactly what mix it was. I bathe in it daily now, and every night I fight the urge to drown it with liquor, because that’s another valuable lesson that you taught me. Sorrow can swim.

Happy Birthday Daddy. I love you so much. All I want in the world is to be that little girl again, to fly through the air and have that uncertain ride end with you catching me. Thank you for being so honest with me, always, even when it wasn’t appropriate. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to handle all of this now. I wouldn’t have come to understand how men that love you so much can hurt you so badly, and how to love them anyway. I wouldn’t truly know you, and so I would never be able to truly know myself. I am, after all, a Daddy’s girl.

Can I tell you a secret? You’ll always be my hero. You always catch me.


3 Responses

  1. Very honest, open, raw, true feelings. It’s true that we love our parents in spite of their shortcomings and sometimes because of them.

  2. Wow. This must have taken alot out of you. It was hard and easy to read at the same time. Our feelings about our parents are so tricky to deal with. Which I would imagine is how they think of their feelings about their kids.

  3. […] not gonna get all mushy, like we did last year. It was nice, but I’m just not feeling the syrup this year. You’d like this better, […]

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