Sitting proudly on the seat of my first bicycle, a “refurbished junkyard special,” I yelled back excitedly to the silhouette standing in the driveway. “Look, Daddy, watch me, I can ride my two-wheeler all by myself!” As I rode off feeling confident, with a 6-year-old-toothless grin, I wonder if I knew this would be the last memory of my father. A short time later, my parents divorced, and I never saw him again.
Recently, one of my brothers and I talked candidly about our father. For years, I thought I felt nothing for this “long-ago daddy.” We spoke, openly, unafraid of hurting anyone with our true feelings. Tears trickled down my cheeks as my brother tried to reassure me that our father had once loved me, his little girl.
In my mind, I wanted to run through the overgrown weeds of sadness to his grave, crying freely for this stranger who was supposed to be mine.
“Was it more than the alcoholism that caused you to walk out of our lives? Didn’t you know that children couldn’t just be expected to understand these adult matters?” I sobbed.
While growing up, I needed to hear that regardless of your poor choices, you never stopped caring about me. Sadly, the child in me still felt responsible in some way for my father leaving.
Kicking his tombstone, I started to turn my back on the emptiness I was feeling, but I couldn’t just walk away as he had.
“Daddy, I am sorry,” I whispered. “Oh, how I wish I had taken the time to hear your side of the story, to see for myself if you ever missed your little girl.“ As I stood there lost in thought, my eyes were transfixed on the other graves where freshly cut flowers had been neatly placed, symbolic of undying love for a family member. When my parents divorced, it was as if someone had taken a permanent marker and blacked out part of my childhood. I was a little girl who just stuffed the happy times and painful memories into the back of my heart. Now, I can see where some of the “rocks” came from that have caused me to stumble. There have been times when my relationships with others haven’t worked out; the fear of losing a friend would overwhelm me. Even if they were the ones to hurt me, I would disregard my self-respect and beg them to stay. Whether my father was a good or a bad person, at six years old, I must have had some feelings of abandonment.
My parent’s last heated argument had escalated into an ugly scene with blaring sirens and red-flashing lights. The altercation between my drunken father and my mother was like a scary-puppet show. I have never been able to get Mom’s hysterical screams out of my mind. I had needed someone to help erase the haunting memories, but there was no one to comfort me. Out of loyalty to my mother, I didn’t ask any questions about my absent father.
I repeated out loud, “He loved me, he loved me not,” as I began ripping into small pieces and scattering over his grave my father’s obituary that stated he had no children. While struggling to give me permission to have feelings for this “once upon a time daddy,” I wondered if there was really such a thing as a resilient child of divorce.
After all these years, I still feel at times like a vulnerable little girl, riding my two-wheeler for the first time, holding on tightly to the handlebars of life. I look back one last time, crying out to the dim reflection of my father that I still carried inside of me. Within the heart of every adult, who was wounded as a child, remains feelings of loss that can’t quite be forgotten.
“Daddy, I needed to hear that you still cared about me, even after you left.”