Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Guardian by Any Other Name (Father’s Day)

In honor of Father’s Day, I decided to write once more about my own father for all of you. Growing up, and until his passing, I never had, as I have discussed in the past, a chance to truly connect in full with my dad as most fathers and daughters do. That lost opportunity is something which I wish that I could retrieve every day, and it, along with one other thing that I will tell you about later on in this post, will bring me sorrow for the rest of my life. It was not that he was a bad father who shunned being with his children; it was that my mother was (and is) a jealous, vile, and greedy woman. Unkind words, I know, but such is the unfortunate nature of the beast.

When I was very young, my mother, who was notorious for having my dad sent to jail, decided to strike herself repeatedly and slam her head into counter tops and doors to make it look as if my father had beaten her after they had had a petty argument over my dad taking me to swim. She was jealous that I was closer to my father than I was to her, despite the fact that I was only a small child and wasn’t doing anything to hurt her intentionally. She called the police, as she often did, had him arrested, packed all of our personal belongings, took us, and left him as he was sitting in a jail cell for an act of which he was innocent.

Over the next few months, as became her way, she had multiple boyfriends, certain ones worse than others. The last fling that she had resulted in my one-year-old brother being hospitalized, and both of us going in and out of foster care homes for the next three years. My dad would come to visit us and did everything in his power to obtain custody of us, and although my mother was obviously unfit, the courts continuously denied his requests. After three years, my mother finally came to visit with us, and we were told that we would be going home with her, for good. Not only did I hardly know who this woman was, I also had no idea who her new husband was, and what exactly was in store for my brother and I over the next ten years.

My father struggled for the best custody agreement which the courts would allow him, and luckily, we thought at that moment, he was going to have us at least half of the time, and we would one day be able to choose to live with him instead. My mother moved us around to new cities, states, houses, and schools close to every three months in order to keep us away from our dad. We were fortunate if we were able to see him even one day every few months, and a little more than that when my mother was high enough to feel generous toward him. Those days, and sometimes weeks, that I was able to be with my father will forever remain precious to me. He was the most generous and kind man that I have ever met in my life, and I still love him dearly. He always made the most out of every moment, every single time that he was allowed to see us.

A week before my twelfth birthday, which was the age that I had to be to decide that I wanted to live with my dad, my stepfather called my father to meet him with the promise that he was bringing us to stay with him for a while. My dad arrived at the agreed meeting location early, eager to see us, and when my stepfather showed up (without us), he beat my father severely and literally held a gun to his head, forcing him to sign a court agreement to surrender his rights as a father so that our stepfather could adopt us. My stepfather then took my dad to the hospital and threw him out of his truck at the emergency room doors. Following that, my father still did his best to see us as much as possible, even if it meant that he had to sneak over to my grandmother’s house when we stayed with her in order to spend time with us.

When I was fourteen, my dad decided to move to Mississippi to live with my uncle, after he received our promise that we would still want to see him even if we had to travel so far away to do it, all so that he could better his situation in life. After all of the times that my mother had falsely had him arrested, he was a felon, and so it was an arduous task for him to acquire a job, or even to keep one. Moving to Mississippi was his last hope, his last saving grace. We agreed to go see him once he attained a job and got settled in with his own place to live.

Six months subsequent to him leaving, and twelve days after my fifteenth birthday, I was staying with a friend. We had planned to go to the mall that day, and then to a football game that night, when my mother called me crying, telling me that I needed to come home right away because she had some bad news. I was livid, of course, because I abhorred the dreadfulness of being home, and I thought that perhaps one of her beloved dogs had escaped and she thought that it might have been run over and killed, or whatever outrageous excuse she could devise so that I would have to come home. My friend and I began walking to my house, and as we neared, I noticed that my grandmother’s car was sitting in our driveway, so I was afraid that something had happened to her or maybe one of my cousins. I never could have anticipated what I was about to walk into my house and hear.

I stepped through the front door with my best friend trailing behind, and everyone was sitting in my living room, including my grandmother. When she saw me, she asked my friend to go home and told me to sit down because she had something to tell me. At this point, I grew irritated. I told my friend that she wasn’t going anywhere and that they could “kiss my ass” because I wasn’t sitting down either. She repeatedly told me that I really needed to be sitting down, and at this time I started asking everyone to back off and just tell me what was going on. I can still picture my mother wailing in the background, and I remember how badly I wanted to slap her in the face for being so ridiculous (she was prone to throwing nonsensical, theatrical fits). My grandmother finally stood up, grabbed my shoulders, and said: “I’m so very sorry, sweetheart, but your dad died in a car accident last night.”

It didn’t even register with me that this was all real; bizarrely, I imagined that it was some sort of morbid joke and that my father would jump out any second and yell, “Gotcha!” But, he never did. Next I remember calmly replying: “Okay, well, Tanya and I are going to the mall now. I’ll be home in a couple of days,” and then walking out of the front door, never looking back or shedding a tear. My friend was crying for my loss, but I barely acknowledged it. I went on about my day as I had planned, and we said little more of it.

A few days later, my grandmother picked me up and took me to select a casket for my father, and to plan his funeral, all on my own because neither her, my aunt, nor my uncle could handle doing it, and my mother didn’t want to. Can you imagine being fifteen-years-old, picking out your parent’s casket, and making their funeral arrangements? It was surreal and brutal. Those are the only words that come to mind now gazing back, but at that moment, I didn’t have a single emotion flowing through my body. I was like a shell.

When the day of his funeral came, I peered into the casket, and I still couldn’t believe that that was my dad lying there, as if only sleeping. I still didn’t shed a tear. People that I knew, and a whole host of people that I didn’t know, all lined up to take their turns hugging me and telling me how sorry they were for my loss. All crying, while my eyes were still dry. That day arrived and went, and it genuinely felt like just another day for me.

Around one year after that, it was early morning and I was with my aunt driving to the grocery store. As we parked, it hit me out of nowhere, and I began weeping. Weeping for my father and that I would never see him again, weeping for the fact that he had a difficult life—and I felt that it was my fault because I had been born—weeping for the fact that his life was finally good and he didn’t get to enjoy it for long, and finally, weeping because I had been, at least, I thought, so heartless and not shed one tear for him until that moment.

My father is gone. I will never share another birthday party with him (his birthday is the day before mine). I will never share another Father’s Day with him. I will never spend one day with him alive ever again. He will never see his granddaughter, and how beautiful and just simply wonderful she is (a lot like he was).

I don’t feel good about how I reacted initially, but I understand it far better now than I did then, and I know that it certainly changed me. I am still left with numerous feelings of anger, longing, dejection, and these emotions may never dissipate entirely. I’m not saying that I am filled with misery and rage every day, but it was a life-altering experience, of which I will never forget a second. I could likely design from memory the room where all of the caskets were held at the funeral home, the lines in the pavement as I was walking away from my house, how the sky looked, the scent of the air. Every moment of that day is ingrained in my memory for all time, despite how mundane it felt way back then, as I was living it. I took an emotional battering and had to grow up quickly in the process, yet reacted with an initial numbness and pseudo-apathy that I will always regret.

But, I also know that denial is a natural part of mourning, even if it takes a while, and in the time between his death and my realization, I learned what it truly means, how it ends, and how it transforms you as a person.

I wish that my dad could be here today so that I could wrap my arms around him and celebrate him being such an amazing father. Yet, I can’t. So, if you can, throw your arms around your fathers on this day for me and let them know how much you love them. Cherish every moment for as long as you can.

Additionally, for those who grieve for their fathers today as I do, just be sure to remember how lucky you were for the days that you did have with them, if you can, because that is what I endeavor to do.

Happy Father’s Day, my friends. Spend your time wisely.

Author: Krista Milburn [@Femitheist]
NOTE: The first instance wherein I wrote about my father can be found here.

NOTE II: I share these kinds of stories for a few reasons. Firstly, because what happened to my father serves as one of the primary motivators for my desire to help people, and I hope that it may motivate others as well. Secondly, I don't want the awful events that my father endured to merely be forgotten, or to amount to nothing, even if his story only functions as an example of problems which need to be taken seriously and change. Thirdly, because I love my father, and I wish for others to know how wonderful he was. (And so on.)