The Father I Could Never Have
Father’s Day is just around the corner and while many of you will be making plans to mark the day I will let it pass with little notice. You see, I have no father. I tell you this not to gather sympathy. I only wish to share my story and perhaps give those of you with fathers one more reason to appreciate what you have had.
Until Thursday, Write On!
~ K. L. Parry
The Father I Could Never Have
By K. L. Parry
When asked about my father, I answer: “I don’t have one.”
I was thirty-five when my mother showed me a letter from my father, written about the time of their divorce in 1964 – I was five then. It went something like this: “If I can’t have our family whole then I want none of it.”
To say the letter put me off is an understatement. Frankly, I was angry that she had not revealed it sooner – my father’s distance, a long-standing mystery to my sisters and myself. Had I known his sentiments from the beginning it would have saved me gallons of tears, hours of prayers and years of pining for the father I could never have. However, it did explain my mother’s reluctance to speak of him and why she never encouraged us to make contact.
At fifteen I remember having asked her about him. She surprised me with an address, which made me think he had ours, which brought forth another question: Why had he never written? Of course, I now know the answer but back then I still held out hope for something more.
I sent him a birthday card.
That card initiated one of the few visits I had with my father, and the first one in nine years.
But let me start with my earliest recollection involving a trip to the dentist. This was during the conflict in Vietnam. My father, an enlisted man serving in the Air Force, had received leave to return home. My mother in celebration made him a special dinner, which included a vegetable foreign to me – asparagus. I refused to eat it, was subsequently punished then sent to bed. That evening, woken from a bad dream, I crept into their bedroom. I did not get far before my father ordered me back to my bed. In the dark I tripped and fell nearly knocking out my two front teeth.
Though I cannot recall him saying so, I believe he felt badly – he drove me to “the golden arches” for a treat after leaving the dentist’s office. Though my mouth hurt something awful from the bruising and dentist’s prying, I carefully enjoyed my first McDonald’s French Fry.
That was one of two fond recollections of my father.
A year later I saw him again – the memory: a photograph in my mind, pictured him with his new wife. It was an image I buried and forgot as I prayed for God to bring “my daddy” back. I repeated that prayer every night for the next nine years until the summer before my fifteenth birthday – the year I sent the card and the year I received a response – my father wanted to see me.
It was the third week in June 1974 – school was out for the summer. My father had arranged for my two sisters: Cheri, Cindy, and I to spend the summer with him in New Mexico.
I remember waiting his arrival – envisioning our reunion; his arms around me so tight it would squeeze the air from my lungs. I anticipated the joy his mere presence would bring, relieving every fear, and every worry my teenage self had. I imagined he would tell me some crazy story explaining why he hadn’t seen me – and it would be true! And, I would know just by the look in his eyes how much he had missed me and worried about me and loved me all these long years. Oh, God how I wished for that to happen!
But like most fantasies, real life rarely measures up.
When my father, flanked by his wife, did arrived there were polite hugs and a few joyful tears. However, once we’d all packed into the car the mood abruptly changed and an uncomfortable silence settled over us. The conversation – what little there was – came strained and forced. Only the most general of questions were asked receiving cursory replies.
We drove straight through stopping for gas, food and twice at a roadside bar where my father ducked in. I was grateful for the breaks – a chance to get away from the tension in the car and privately confer with my two younger sisters.
Thus began the longest two weeks of my life – in the company of a man who would forever remain a stranger to me. Never were we allowed alone time with my father to discuss his life or ours, and for the most part we were left to occupy ourselves as best we could.
There was one exception, one glorious day when my father minus the wife, took us to Juarez, Mexico. We shopped, we laughed and my sisters and I ate lobster for the first time. I had thought the day a turning point in our relationship but once we’d returned to his home, it was as if our day had never been.
Going back to when we first arrived at my father’s home, it was made known that his wife could not have children. It took no time for her envy of us to become evident – it showed in her every glance, was heard in her every word and should have had a place set at the table. Perhaps that is why my father would show no joy in our company while she was present.
Two weeks into our summer visit and after a discussion with my sisters, I asked that he return us home. My father readily agreed.
That summer I came to realize my father would never be the one I wanted. I could not penetrate the wall that stood between us or pass through the guard his current family made. The infant’s bond I nurtured with baby pictures and recollections from distant relatives fed only my delusion. It was past time I accept reality.
Never again did my father contact me, though over the years we had occasion to meet: at each of his parent’s funerals and then again in 1991 when my youngest sister moved to Texas. This happened after my Grandfather passed, leaving among other things, a house that sat a mile from where my father then lived. It was Cindy who accepted the offer, selling off the bulk of her belonging to minimize the strain of the move – Grandpa’s house was fully furnished. Barely a month after her departure she tearfully called, begging that I come for her.
The next day Cheri and I left for Texas.
I cannot state for certain my father’s motivation or why he wanted one of his daughters to move into our Grandfather’s home, though I later speculated it was to ease a guilty conscience for having kept most of our inheritance from us. He openly expressed to me his unwillingness to share what should have been his alone.
I never saw my father on that last trip nor have I seen him since. I don’t know where he lives or even if he survives. I think it for the best. To learn of his conscious decision to draw away from me was difficult – to be reminded of it brings only pain. So, I choose not to hurt and when asked about my father, I answer: “I don’t have one.”