First Father’s Day without dad
I’m going to take off my writer hat for a moment and get a little personal.
I never knew my dad. When I was a child, my grandparents took me in and legally adopted me. As I was growing up, I often wondered about my dad. Who was he? Where was he? If he knew me, would he be proud of me?
Meanwhile, I had a close relationship with my grandparents. They raised me as one of their own children (alongside two of their children who were still living at home, in fact) – but I didn’t really appreciate how difficult that was for them. When their two youngest children moved out, I was probably around five or six. They were basically raising another kid when they should have been thinking about retirement and how they wanted to spend their ‘golden years.’
I lost my grandma and my mom a few months apart in 2002 and 2003. After that, family was just me and my grandpa.
I wondered about my dad. I felt a growing gap in my life, the longer I didn’t know anything about him. I felt like some part of me was missing.
All along, though, my grandpa was there. He spoiled me rotten. He was the one who talked my grandma into taking me in. He would take me for long drives on the weekends, where we’d chat about everything and nothing. He let me tag along when he was working on his cars, or his boats. He convinced my grandma to get me a puppy, after I’d been pestering them for one for years.
As an adult, he always had my back. When I moved into my first house with a decently-sized yard, he bought me a ridiculously unnecessary riding lawnmower. When I asked him to pick up flowers for my DIY wedding, he got the most beautiful bouquets and centerpieces. He’d come visit and bring me flowers or little gifts for no reason. He was always doing something nice.
When I moved to Boston, a thousand miles away from home, he couldn’t stop worrying. A small-town girl from Indiana in a big city like Boston, all alone? He used to ask me what I’d do if I got sick, or needed help with something – I wasn’t just down the street where he could bring me soup or take care of me. He’d call me and leave almost the exact same message every week or two: “Renee, this is pappaw. Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. I miss you and worry about you. Call me back. Love you.”
I tried to get back to visit him as often as I could, but that wasn’t often – especially in those first few years. From 2005 to 2012, I was there maybe twice. In more recent years, I made it a point to get out to see him more often. I think I was there once a year for the past five years, although I might have missed one. Try as I might, I could never get him to venture out to Boston to see me. I think he was worried about the city, and a little set in his ways.
When I visited him last August, in the midst of a cross-country trip, I was forcefully reminded of the fact that he was getting older. He’d been diabetic for decades – and not a very good one, he was constantly swinging from one extreme to the other, low to high, instead of regulating his food and insulin properly – and as he entered his 80s, that was starting to manifest in more serious health issues. On top of that, he’d fallen a few times. But he was stubborn and independent (I wonder where I get it?) and he insisted on living on his own. I was getting concerned that something more serious might happen. It had become my turn to worry about him.
As we left his place after that last visit, I asked my husband to drive – I was feeling unbearably sad all of a sudden. As we left his house behind, I was completely overcome with the feeling that the visit we’d just had was the last time I would see him. I broke into tears, and I cried for a good twenty minutes as we drove farther and farther away.
Sure enough, a few months later, at the end of October, I got an email from my uncle: “Have you heard about dad?” That’s all it said, and my first thought was: “Oh dear, something has happened and he’s in the hospital. I wonder how serious it is? Should I try to get out there to visit him now, or will it blow over?”
Well, dear readers, as you might have guessed, it wasn’t a hospital trip. He’d missed a date with his girlfriend (yes, he had the sweetest girlfriend, even though he was in his 80s!) so my uncle went to go check on him. He found my grandpa in his favorite chair, in front of the television, almost as though he’d fallen asleep while watching the Westerns that he loved – as he had so many times. But this was a sleep from which he’d never awaken.
It wasn’t until I went back to Indiana, in those hectic days as we planned how we’d lay him to rest, that I realized the thing I should have seen years ago. As my grandpa would have said: “If it was a snake, it would have bit you.”
All those years I spent wondering about my dad; poking at some sort of gap in my life like you can’t help sticking your tongue into the gap where you lose a baby tooth, wiggling and feeling that strange empty space; all that time and emotional energy I’d spent was completely unnecessary.
All along, the man who raised me – who loved me, picked me up and brushed me off when I fell and skinned my knee, taught me to drive and then gave me a car, who worried about me when I moved so far from home – that man was right there. I didn’t need some imaginary fantasy of a father – I had the best dad a girl could have asked for.
This will be my first Father’s Day without him. I miss him so much.