Today at work we were asked to talk about our most defining moment. We ran out of time, which meant that everyone was not able to present, including me. But it got me thinking for the remainder of the day. I was grateful for the reprieve because I’m not sure how much I would share. Hours later, it’s still on my mind, probably because I’ve not given it this much thought in a long while.
My first defining moment was the loss of my father in my life. And it was a long goodbye with him in and out of my life for at least a couple of years before he was out of my life for good. His entanglements with alcohol and crime made a few unwelcome appearances in my childhood before it was exit stage left for decades. However, in his absence he lived very vividly in my imagination and dreams. I dreamed of him coming back and rescuing me from my life with my mother and stepfather. I dreamed of him taking me to the library again, and going fishing together. I would day dream that he would suddenly show up at my high school graduation. All of this dreaming and imagining kept me from seeing the actual situation with my father-that he was not this person anymore. I unconsciously built walls in my awareness to not fully know how bad it was with my father. He had been the only safe parent for me, and then, even he became unsafe. I could not know this for decades. I think my heart could not handle it until I had my own sense of safety, and that would not come for decades.
When I was still living at home, some of my aunts and uncles would talk about my father occasionally, usually by mention of his latest stint in jail. I would immediately leave these conversations. I did not want to know anything about my father that had to do with any criminality. At the time, I could not have articulated why this was. Now I am aware that I did not have the wherewithal to know back then.
In my thirties I heard from my father when he was hospitalized and he thought he was near death. We talked on the phone for a long time, and that conversation was a dream come true. I had always imagined we would talk as adults and find similarities and we did! I learned he studied labor issues in third world Latin American countries in grad school in the 1970s. He learned I worked in labor and employment matters. We learned we both loved poetry and creative writing. I immediately started dreaming of being pen pals with my father, and visiting him in Texas every year if he made it out of the hospital. But he was still in active addiction. He didn’t find recovery once he left that hospital. And just like when I was a child, he proved to be unreliable. We would make plans to talk. but I would call him and he was already drunk. I thought the solution was to call him in the morning, but I still found him drunk in the early a.m.
I had to accept that my father was still an active alcoholic. I had to accept that the father I knew and had as a child was gone. That person was not coming back for any extended period of time. He could show up for a few minutes in a conversation, but that was it. I had to accept that my father was never going to be there for me because he cannot even be there for himself. Most importantly, I had to learn that I could love him from afar. I could love the memories of him and who he was for me at one time. But seeking it out was not going to bring it back. I had to bury that dream for good. The most important lesson I’ve learned from my father is acceptance. I have had to learn to accept the bad with the good in my life. I finally accept that it is not healthy for me engage with my father in any way, and I accept that it is likely we won’t ever speak again. I don’t love it, but I accept it. I recognize, finally, that there is nothing I can do to change him.
I’m so glad to see you taking care of yourself in this way. Good work! It’s hard to accept that a parent is a flawed human being — no one’s perfect no matter how much we might want them to be — and you’ve definitely done well to think it through. Sometimes there can be sorrow with this process as well — grieving for the loss of the parent we wanted and needed but will not have. Be kind to yourself and gentle with yourself. Cinda