Fatherless for the Holidays

19 12 2014

373833_204277649654867_1135091092_nIt’s nearly Christmas, and, while I’m looking forward to spending lots of time with family, I’m also reminded of the one person I will not see this year. It’s been more than two years since I’ve seen my dad, and over a year since we last communicated. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have never imagined this future.

Five years ago, when I came out and told my family that I am gay, my dad was the last person I told. After my mom’s horrible reaction, I was petrified of losing another parental relationship. So I waited. And I schemed. I planned to introduce him to Bethany a few times first as ‘my friend,’ so that she could win him over with her personality before this reality distorted his perception of her. Eventually, I met him alone. We went for a chilly walk outside, my ears rang with the sharp sounds of crunching leaves and leftover snow, and I told him. His response was, “Whatever makes you happy. I love you.”

I was floored by my Dad’s acceptance, knowing how judgmental he can be of other people. He initially didn’t even like my high school sweetheart because he had long hair and an earring. But my dad had just gone through his own experience of being an outcast. After throwing away a great relationship with a woman who loved him, he wound up marrying a young woman in Malaysia, who is also younger than 2 of his 3 children. He lied to her own father about his age, then he lied to us about her age. He knew what it was like to feel judged and ostracized.

521536_401359169946713_95406638_nOver time, my dad’s acceptance of Bethany helped to strengthen our strained relationship. Bethany and his new wife, “Meg,” were able to talk about being new to the family. His new wife was very mousy and shy, and I struggled to connect with her. They had two young daughters together, just a year or so apart, and I never knew how to act around them. Bethany spent time doting on their youngest, knowing that I really don’t like babies. I waited patiently for the oldest daughter to begin walking and talking, which is when kids become interesting to me. I looked forward to spending time teaching his girls the way I taught my niece, Claudia.

379872_194295867319712_720454205_nBethany and I got married. We invited my dad and his family to our wedding reception, along with all of our other family. He did not come.

I began to notice that Meg seemed to grow even more distant. When we would visit to see them, she would find an excuse to leave the room, returning only when it was time to say goodbye. She was never warm to me, but something had changed. My dad stopped playing the guitar, which used to bring him so much joy. I knew that she was Muslim, and my dad’s drinking seemed to be getting worse than usual, along with his general depression. I really thought the joy of children would have changed his life for the better, but I suspected that their marriage was not doing well.

That Thanksgiving, I called my dad to let him know that we were coming over to visit, like we always do on holidays. He lives only a mile from my mom’s house, and I typically make my brother go with me to spend time with our dad two days a year. But when he answered, he said they were not home.

On our way out of town, Bethany and I decided to stop by my dad’s house to say goodbye, at least. His truck was parked out front like it always is, and I walked up to the door and knocked. I heard rustling inside and waited. Nobody answered. I knocked again, and my call was ignored.

Over the next few months, my dad frequently ignored my calls. On a rare occasion, if I called him in the afternoon when I knew he had been drinking already, he would answer, and we would talk as though nothing was wrong. He became less and less responsive, and I began to grow irritated.

My relationship with my dad has always been a bit one-sided. He does not call you, unless he needs something. Next fall, he needed me to draw up another scheme for him to develop property and finally relieve his years of debt. He drove out to Ypsilanti to see me, to talk about what he wanted me to do, but did not bring the girls or his wife. He winced whenever I asked about them. After that, I never heard from him again.

I began asking aunts, cousins, friends, if anybody knew how he was doing. I was his closest family member, and he had stopped talking to me. I was very worried about his mental state, and fearful that he was not talking to anyone at all. Indeed, none of his sisters had heard from him either. But then I heard back from an old family friend, Carolyn. She knew exactly what I was talking about.

Carolyn and I had a long conversation, and she told me that my dad confessed to her that Meg did not like us being around the girls. Because we are gay. I was floored. Even so, I still didn’t understand why HE was ignoring me. I’m his daughter. He loves me. Or so I thought. I tried to put myself in his shoes, and understood how hard it would be to be forced to choose between your daughter and your wife. I just didn’t understand why he never talked to me about it, in all the time that had passed. Why didn’t he just tell me?

I asked Carolyn to reach out to my dad, to have another conversation. She did. She urged him to call me, and to tell me the truth. When he didn’t call, then I called him. The reaction I got was a complete gut punch. He was angry at me. Angry because I had LIED and told people that Meg didn’t like that we are gay. He claimed that everything Carolyn had told me was NOT true, and that I was spreading vicious rumors. At that point, all reason had clearly left his body. I was furious at him. For lying to me, for avoiding me, and then continuing to deny the reality. He lives in a distorted reality, and I try to blame it on the alcoholism.

392008_204277769654855_263811023_nToday, I think about how lonely my dad gets this time of year. He’s no longer allowed to celebrate Christmas because his wife is Muslim and forbids it. He drinks to forget, which is also forbidden. Last year, my dad cancelled his phone number, and he picked up his family and moved to somewhere in Florida without telling a soul. I don’t know if I will ever get to see him again, or to say goodbye before he’s truly gone.

Most of all, I think about those two little girls of his. I feel sorry for them and the life they have been given. I hope he doesn’t do as much damage to them as he did to me. I wonder if they’ll even remember that they have 3 half-siblings from their dad’s previous marriages, or if he has been forbidden from mentioning his past in front of his new family.

61053_399925590090071_1086442852_nBefore my dad moved, I wrote him a long letter, forgiving him. I told him that I understood his dilemma, and I still loved him. I told him that I wished for him to be happy, whatever that takes. I wish that his happiness could include me in his life, but I have no control over that. It took me 12 months to heal the hole in my heart. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, to live a joyful life surrounded by such amazing people who love me. I know my dad still loves me out there somewhere, but around the holidays, I still wish I could stop by and hear him playing James Taylor songs on his guitar.

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