When my older daughter was eight, I calculated that she’d spent more time with my husband than I’d spent with my father over my whole life.
Thinking about it made me cry a little from pride and self-pity. I was happy to give both of my daughters the security of being raised by a loving father but sad for the child-me who longed for attention from her own daddy.
Dad met me when I was three month old. He returned from his last tour of Vietnam delighted to see his new daughter. He brought me a toy cat–gray plush with green glass eyes–that is somewhere in my mother’s house today.
When Dad’s career in the Army was over, he went to law school. By that time, there were four kids under five. Though my father was in grad school and working part time, he was our active caregiver. Mom worked part time at night, so he did our bath-and-bed routine.
It’s funny to think of The Major washing squirming kids and putting them to bed before he went into his den to study torts or contracts for hours.
Completing law school meant a new house and a new practice. We moved to a mountain town in Tennessee that wasn’t welcoming to a Yankee lawyer who says “oot and aboot”.
Stress and bad advice led to my father moving out when I was seven. Mom had taken the four of us kids to visit family after Christmas, and when we got back Dad was packed.
Reports of these events differ, but my memory is of seeing Daddy’s suitcases by the front door, Christmas tree in the background. I wasn’t the oldest kid, but I was the one they treated like a grown up. “When your mom gets out of the bathroom, tell her I’ve gone.”
I’d been and remained a Daddy’s girl. I stuck up for him, defended him, and treasured every phone call and visit. I know I was horrible and unhappy after a visit. I regret this, but my excuse is that I was a child burdened with adult confidences I was too young to carry.
Growing older doesn’t always mean growing up. I feel very strongly that you aren’t really All Grown Up until you come to terms with whom your parents are—both their nobility and their failures.
I’ve gone full circle from worshiping my father, to being furious at him for the situation he left us in, to (what I hope) is a mature acceptance of what happened. The last step required letting go of blame and bitterness and the feeling of being a seven-year-old girl abandoned at Christmas.
I treasure our time together because there’s been so little of it and there is so little left. I loved my dad when he didn’t deserve it and hadn’t earned it. But that’s what love is.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. Love, Anne.