Yesterday & Today

September 30th, 2012


My father died yesterday, and thank god it was a relatively easy passing into that other plane. I can’t help but feel like a bereaved imposter, though, when people try to comfort me. My father left our family when I was 11, and he cut me out of his new life until about about 10 years ago when his wife died and he realized he was pretty much alone in his 80s. So there were decades upon decades when I never received a call, a birthday card, a Christmas gift, an encouraging word from my father. Decades when I got married, had kids, went to college, got a job, drove myself to succeed and my father chose to miss all that. My youngest brother and I got off relatively easy in this fucked-up family reality show; my other brother was so permanently emotionally damaged by being “erased” by my father that if he comes to the funeral it will probably be to spit on his grave. I don’t know how to describe what happened to my mother. She lost her innocence, I guess, and bitterness moved into to fill its place. I resisted resuming contact with my father when he called me after his wife died, simply because I didn’t see the point, but in the end, I was a dutiful daughter, phoning and sending cards when my conscience nudged me, exchanging inane pleasantries with a kindly old gentleman who was a total stranger to me. At one point, I tried to confront him about how abandoned I’d felt. The Truth would make us free! But unlike in fictional therapy sessions, he was just confused by my anger and not at all remorseful. That’s when I realized that the much-vaunted closure that everyone talks about on tv shows and Oprah Magazine doesn’t always happen in real life. Sometimes there are loose ends hanging when someone dies, sometimes nothing makes sense, sometimes you don’t get your fair share, sometimes life is messy and won’t fit in the cubbies we label for it. So I stopped trying to make my father into the one I wish I’d had. I can’t say I learned to love him despite that, because I didn’t. We dealt in falsehoods mostly. He told me how much he loved me because that’s the role he’d decided to play, and I pretended to believe it. It was too late for love to happen, but that is never what we want to hear. Of course, I’d prefer that a Dr. Phil epiphany had occurred on both our parts, but what I’m starting to understand so clearly is that my father needed to be loved, not to love. He needed a wife to baby him, not three difficult children who needed help becoming adults. So no big fireworks or writing in the sky, no big reveal, but it’s a good enough epiphany, and in my mind, a fitting epitaph for the childhood I never had and spent too many years regretting. And as the tears pass through me like sudden squalls with no warning tonight, I hope that maybe something is healing, that maybe I can start to put the ghost girl of that phantom childhood to rest along with my flawed real-life father.

10 Responses to “Yesterday & Today”

  1. mary mcdaniel says:

    I am so sad for you.Be aware,in your sadness, that those of us who have always had our fathers in our lives have not necesaarily escaped parental angst. My father is 90, the patriarch of our rural sc community, and most recently told me to shut up so he could tell my brother something. I am the caretaker, the “druggist” of 13 different medications, the cook, the driver, everything… except the one that is respected. Girl, we all have issues. . . What looks good to the outside world oftentimes is so not! I love your blog, by the way!

  2. nikki says:

    Thank you!

  3. Donna M says:

    Beautifully written, thank you. This really speaks to me. The swirl of words around us (magazines, books, TV shrinks, etc.) would have you believe that having a heart-to-heart talk or an ongoing relationship with a difficult person brings resolution. I’ve yet to find this to be the case. These days I find myself saying “it is what it is” pretty darn often, and that’s where I find the peace. People generally believe they are doing the best they can and for all the right reasons. Very rarely do they have an “aha” moment about how much pain they might have caused you. And who knows – maybe someone feels that way about me. Even though it still hurts, I try to spend more of my time moving on in terms of my thinking and self worth, and less time making the other person see the “error,” at least in my eyes, of their ways.

  4. claire says:

    you have a book based on this entry alone.
    it’s SO well written and powerful and raw and i could read it all day.

  5. nikki says:

    Funnily enough…it flowed out of me in one big slippery birth pang. So unlike by usual struggles to write.

  6. So I left a redemption story in the comments on a post you wrote after this, before I’d scrolled down and gotten to this part of the story.

    Now I realize how inappropriate that comment on that post was in light of what you reveal in this one.

    I’m sorry. Sorry all around. Sorry for your ruined childhood, damaged mother, and clueless father. Some things can’t be made right, only dealt with as they are.

  7. Tori says:

    Trust me, the ghost girl will stay with you to a certain extent. It may be part of what made you today. I’ve had close to the same latter experience with my mother who passed 3 years ago. No special fireworks for us either but the silent changes in us individually made the difference….for me anyway. I’m at peace with our changes and non-changes……..time does help.

  8. Constance Costas says:

    Beautifully put, Nikki. The psych-media we’ve all consumed over the past decade has done a good job of raising our collective Emotional Intelligence, but can’t fix the unfixable. Well said. Grief is a peculiar thing. It doesn’t operate on a tidy sliding scale of increasing emotional coordinates. You’re grieving the father that was–and the one that wasn’t. The childhood you had and the one you didn’t. Either way, it’s grief and you’ve got every right to it. Thinking of you now, as I do often.

  9. nikki says:

    Thanks, Constance!

  10. stephanie says:

    This post and the other post about the man that others knew but that you never did are felt here with deep familiarity. I am so sorry for your loss loss of what was and what never will be. Our fathers have a huge impact on our lives whether they actually participate in them or not. Thank you for putting into words a grief that haunts me even now as I attempt to have a relationship with a man after 30+ years of absence. I have told myself all kinds of stories to reconcile the ones he never had (or has even today) the courage to tell me to explain his absence just so I could move on and assure myself it had nothing to do with me. I can say “his loss” all fucking day and it doesn’t ease the pain that is real to me. Wishing you strength and peace as you navigate this new place with an old loss.

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