The eleventh anniversary of my father’s passing was a few days ago. I knew I wanted to write about him, but interestingly, I found myself avoiding writing anything so I wouldn’t have to look too closely at the life of my father. I am taking a deep breath and forcing myself to dive in.
Daddy was born in 1929. He was his parents second child, born 14 months after his older sister. Not only were his parents both alcoholics, their relationship was dysfunctional with more than a pinch of violence thrown in. The marriage didn’t last long, but both parties continued their unhealthy patterns and brought new adults into the family who intensified the violence and dysfunction.
When my father and aunt were still very young, my great-grandparents decided that the safest place for them was as far away from their parents as possible. Daddy was sent to military school and my aunt was sent to boarding school. Later in his life Daddy credited that military school with saving his life and he chose that site as his final resting place.
Daddy was pretty blasé about his upbringing and we were told about episodes of violence with a casualness that belied the horror of what he and his sister endured. The time his mother chased his sister around the house with a hot iron; the time he and his sister were fighting over who would answer the phone so he slammed the heavy receiver into her face with enough force that teeth were knocked out; another time when he and his sister were fighting so he tried to drown her by standing on her head in a wading pool. In addition to the constant physical violence, there was also sexual misconduct that I never heard the details of, but I always knew about.
I have always been the one who was the most like my father. As a result, I unintentionally would push buttons that caused him to lose control of his temper and I would be disciplined with an intensity that was disproportionate to any “crime” I may have committed. Through the years I have had a lot of mixed emotions about his discipline, but I have always had a surprising level of sympathy for my father’s level of pain.
Maybe it’s because I am so much like him, I always felt bad for the childhood and the violence he endured. I can remember as a young girl crying when I tried to imagine what it had been like to be sent to military school at the age of six. Even when I was a teenager, which I consider the most narcissistic stage of human development, I can remember telling my mom that the reason Daddy wouldn’t go to therapy was because he probably had a very real fear of never being able to stop the pain once he opened himself up to it.
Dad did his best to live and function in society, but he was hindered by his past. He never saw how healthy relationships functioned so he was unable to behave in a healthy way for any significant period of time. He cheated on his wives and he alienated his children. His friends were all people he worked with and I was never sure if they were really friends or if they were underlings trying to earn points with the boss. But it was his life and he appeared to be as happy as he knew how to be.
In November of 2006 I received a call from my step-monster telling me that Daddy was in the hospital. He’d been sleeping a lot so she took him to the doctor and they found his body was riddled with cancer. He was immediately admitted to the hospital and his deterioration was quick. I drove to Oklahoma, where he lived, to see him just five days after I received the call.
By that time, Daddy was in restraints in his hospital bed. You see, the cancer that had traveled his body had also made its way to his brain. Those tumors caused his mind to shuffle through the different eras of his life. When he would land on a time from his childhood, the large muscular man would fight and lash out in ways that he had been unable to as a child. It makes my heart hurt to this day to know that living through that horrific childhood once wasn’t enough: my father had to live through it a second time and that just wasn’t fair.
Mercifully, less than a week after I visited, Daddy suffered a fatal heart attack. No code was administered and he was allowed to finally rest. He is buried at the military school that was the closest thing to a loving family he knew growing up.
I was never close enough to my father to say I miss him. What I miss is the potential of what he could have been if he had been nurtured instead of damaged by his upbringing. I miss the laughter we didn’t hear often enough and the twinkle in his eye we didn’t see often enough. I hope that wherever he is, he has found peace.