Monday, December 11

The Stranger I Called Dad (Part 1)

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Vague Memories

Just a small toddler trying to learn to walk and grow,  I don’t recall the day he disappeared from my life.   No pictures hung on the wall, or standing framed on the shelves with all of the other pictures of great memories of all of the important people in our lives.   As I grew older, I wouldn’t even remember what his face looked like, no flashbacks of what he would look like when he was happy or sad.

There were no phone calls, no drop by visits, any birthdays or holidays remembered.  He was never brought up or ever discussed in our home.   For many years, I never raised the question about him, for fear of hurting my mom and for fear of the unknown.  

In my mind, I would wonder, I came to my own conclusion that he must have passed away, because that would be the only reason why a father wouldn’t be there for his daughter.

As a happy, energetic child, full of life and never ending smiles and laughter; I had no clue that the man that wasn’t there would highly impact my life down the road.

School Days

It wasn’t until I started elementary school that my curiosity of him would kick in; this is where I would see that other children had both a mom and a dad.   Being exposed to other children having the luxury of mom and dad; really started to get my mind wondering and wandering.   I would see both mom’s and dad’s bringing their children to school, attending concerts and plays that we would put on, and other extra-curricular activities.   I was always the one brought by mom, grandpa, uncle or another attending family member.  

Grateful for all of them, that showed their love and support; but nothing could replace my desire for the presence of my own dad.

A few of my friends had parents that were divorced or separated, but still had the access to their fathers.   Their parents weren’t happy together, but it didn’t stop them both from being a part of their lives even if it had to be a separate times.   This was also another reason to make me believe that the dad I longed for was no longer standing on this earth.

I dreaded special occasions such as Fathers Day!  Back then, teachers were not so sensitive to the fact that not everyone had their father in their life.   So it was always assumed that the craft and card you made would be for your father.   This always made me uncomfortable, as other children would make their crafts and cards that said “I LOVE YOU DAD” , “Happy Father’s Day” or ‘TO A SPECIAL DAD”  I would sit quietly hoping nobody would ask to see mine, because my card always said “ Happy Grandpa’s Day or Uncles Day”

My love and appreciation for my grandpa and uncles was and still is very strong, however as a young child, I didn’t want the other kids to know that I didn’t have a “real dad”

I would sit through Remembrance Day assemblies at school, day dreaming, and wondering if he was in the army and maybe lost his life that way.  

Not an ounce of courage to question the fact that I didn’t even know his name.

The Family Next Door

I always enjoyed going to my Papa’s house.   I would spend so much time there before and after school, while my mom would work hard to take care of me.   I learned so much from Papa, he was a early riser, and always had much of his day to day tasks completed before the break of dawn.    A God fearing man, he lived by the guidelines of the bible.   He walked the walked and talked the talked.   Everyone that came in contact with him loved and respected him.   It would always give me comfort when I would get in the yard of his house, and I could see him through the window, sitting in his favourite chair, waiting for our arrival.

Next door to his house lived a widowed older woman.   She and her late husband, were from down South in the United States, but also had a place to call home in Canada.   She would be between both homes throughout the year.   She was a friend of the family.    When we would see her we call her auntie out of respect.  A kind woman, her walk and talk let you know that she was up in age, but still going strong.

Often times I would be playing outside at my Papa’s house and this woman would be sitting outside on her porch or doing something in her yard.   She would call me to the fence quite frequently and ask me to help her with something in her yard, carrying in groceries, or the best part would be when she would tell me stories about her life and her own children.  

Upon my return each time from her house, my mom would question me as to what she wanted me to do and what she was saying to me. 

When I was eleven years old, I begin to see less and less of this kind soul.   Her age was taking a toll on her, and her body was becoming weak and frail.   I remember the last time I seen her, my grandfather had taken me over to visit her.  She wasn’t doing well, and when I left, she called me over to her and hugged me and told me that she loved me, and to be good to my mother always.    I didn’t put too much thought into what she just said or did, I was eleven and she was “old”  and I didn’t always understand what the elders were  saying.

When I was twelve years old, she passed away.  At that time, I had no clue that the woman I called auntie for several years, I should have been callingGrandma.

The Big Surprise

Months have passed since the sweet old lady I adored had passed away.   There started to be a lot of activity at her house.   Her children from the United States were there to take care of her business and clean up the house and prepare it to be sold.  

She had eight children; I remember her telling me that one day.   I have only seen a few of them in passing.   They were friendly but distant.  They like everyone else in my life new something that I didn’t know.

Daily I would continue to go back and forth from my house to my grandpa’s house.  I would see these people outside, driving by and so on.   One of her sons in particular I would see more often than I would see the others, or at least I would notice him more.

He was a tall man, he stood about 6’3, and he looked as if he was very athletic.  He had black hair, a moustache and mysterious brown eyes.  Whenever I would see him he would wave and smile.  Occasionally he would ask me how I was doing or comment on the weather.

Like it was yesterday, I remember playing outside skipping and this man was just leaning on his car watching me.   I don’t know how long he was watching me before I realized it.  I waved to him and then felt uncomfortable and I went inside.

A few days have gone by and on my way to see my grandpa after school, this man was at my grandpa’s house talking to my grandpa in the backyard.  

Later that day, my mom sat me down and wanted to talk to me.   I had no idea what she was going to say, because I could see pain and discomfort in her eyes.   Then she said the words that made my heart drop and my body go numb.  “I want to talk to you  about your dad”  An awkward silence between the both of us lasted for what seemed like hours, but was probably only 30 seconds. 

I got up from where I was sitting and sat on another seat because I didn’t want to look at her when I was feeling all of these emotions.   In my mind, I was thinking she was finally going to confirm my suspicions that he had died in the army or something like that.

That is not what she told me.   As she began to speak, I swallowed hard and remember trying to fight back tears, fearing what she was about to tell me.

She began to tell me about this wonderful man she had met.   He was from the United States, but his family also had a home here in Canada.   She knew him for about ten years.   They dated and were engaged but never married.   He moved to Canada, and they had a home together.  His work was still in the U.S.  Some nights he would stay in the U.S.  at a family member or friends house to save the early morning commute; which was an understandable thing to do once in a while.  

She didn’t give me any further detail, regarding what exactly happened.   I was assuming it was because I was only twelve and she didn’t feel I needed to know all of the ins and outs of things.

She carried on telling me that, things were not going well with them for a sometime, and they ended the relationship.  This happened when i was six months old.   This explains why I had no memory of him.

I was feeling saddened by the information that was exposed to me.  

Next she proceeded to tell me that, he has made contact with her recently and he said he wants to see and get to know his daughter.

I didn’t know how I felt about this. 

She then went on to tell me that, my father was the son of the little old lady next door that I have come to love.   She told me he was the man that has been so friendly to me lately, he was the man that has been watching me ride my bike and play outside.

He now wanted to be a part of my life.   I was taken back to the first few times, that I noticed this man.   I remembered that he stood out to me more than all of the other people that were around the house.   I remembered him watching me, but at the time I didn’t know if I felt comfortable about him. 

He already knew who I was, waiting for the moment that he could reveal who he was to me.

Instant Dad

About a week after I digested the news that my dad was alive and well.  I finally was officially introduced to him as my father.  This was difficult for me to deal with.  I was trying hard not to be fed up with my mom, and the rest of my family that have been keeping this news from me for years.   I was also starting to realize why the little old lady continued to draw me close to her.   She knew I was her grandchild; yet a muzzle had been put on her from revealing who she really was to me.

I had feelings of hate, anger, bitterness, sadness, joy, happiness, excitement all wrapped up in one.  The emotional rollercoaster was a bit much for a twelve year to handle.

Thankfully, I was able to just go with it.  I never really said much to my mom about keeping it from me.  Like everything else, I just tucked it away deep inside me, and when I would get upset, that would be one of the first things that I would vomit out of my mouth.   I didn’t like when I did that, but I was just as hurt as I was happy. 

I met him, he was very nice to me, he gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.   He wasn’t nearly as emotional as  I was.   However, this stranger did try to instantly become my dad.   He won me over with a card and some gifts, and the sudden appearances to some of my soccer and baseball games.   I wouldn’t know he was coming, I would just happen to look up and he would be there, smiling and cheering with the rest of the parents and fans.

This made me happy, and I would become happier as the man I desired to have in my life became closer, visiting with me at my home and my grandfathers.  After several months of this I was promoted to being able to cross the border and visit with him  at his house on some weekends.

He had a wife and five other kids.   When I met them, I started to realize why mom didn’t reveal all of the story to me.   My dad had been living a double life.   I had two older brothers, and younger brother and two younger sisters.  

His wife and children were not as welcoming to me as I had hoped.   They were actually quite rude and unfriendly.   They treated me like I was an ailment they couldn’t wait to get rid of.   I was scared, I wanted to spend time with my dad, but they were making it almost impossible for me to do so and enjoy.  I went there steadily every few weekends, and then the novelty wore off.   I would speak to him much less, he would cancel weekend plans at the last minute, and before you know it, months passed before I would see or hear from him.

This felt worse to me than when i didn’t know him at all.   What did I do wrong?  Was the question I continued to ask myself.    He is my dad, he said he is here for me and wants to make up for last time, and now he is gone again.   He has even abandoned the work he was doing at his mother’s house next door to my grandpa’s.

Disappearing Act

As time went on my need for him changed.   It didn’t matter if i heard from him or not.   He would randomly appear and disappear.   This has now become the relationship I had with him.   As I got into my later teenage years; I would decline his invitations, for me to come visit, and would refuse to go to the phone at times to speak with him.

I didn’t want him to play dad at his own convenience.   I wanted something similar to what his other children had.  I wanted him to be in my life, to be there for me, to care, and love me and not stand me up or allow his wife and children to treat me like a second class citizen.

From time to time I would break down and let him pick me up for a visit.   I never went easily though, I would always make it clear to him that I was not happy with him initially.

The Tragedy

At the age of 18, I thought like many other 18 year olds.   I was now an adult, I was able to do my own thing, and it didn’t matter who was for me or against me.   I pretended I didn’t care that my father was a stranger to me.   The way he jumped in and out of my life was just the way things were, and I accepted it as much as I could.  

I didn’t know why I was hurting so much over someone who didn’t really want to be part of my life.   My mother was the one that took care of me, always, she was there through my good and bad times, my sickness and health, she is the one that worked hard to make sure that I always had everything I wanted, and needed in life.  My grandpa and uncles were the greatest male figures I could ever ask for.  I should have been completely happy to have that kind of love and support.   Still I felt I was lacking something, the desire for my real father to truly show up and step up was eating away at me.  Even worse because I now knew who he was.

A few weeks before my 19th birthday, he made plans with me.   He wanted to pick me up a few days before my birthday and have me spend it with him and his family.   I was reluctant at first, not wanting to go but not wanting to say no.   I agreed that I would come and he kept in contact with me almost daily until he was supposed to pick me up.   He was suppose to pick me up when he got off work that day.  It was a Friday and he was to get off early.  

I anticipated the day, and was ready early.   He was scheduled to be there by 4:30 pm.   He was late, with border traffic I allowed for this.   When his tardiness went from thirty minutes to an hour and so on, no courtesy calls or nothing.   At the two hour mark I decided to make plans, because even if he does show up now.  I AM NOT GOING ANYWHERE WITH HIM!

I made plans with my boyfriend at the time, to come get me so we can do something.   I was furious, but played it off to my mom and boyfriend like it was no big deal.   I went out.

After an hour or so of being gone, my mom and my aunt showed up at my boyfriend’s house.   This was a surprise to me,  I was trying to figure out what was going on.

My mom had that look in her eyes again, like she needed to tell me something but didn’t know how to do so.

They came in and sat down, and my mom told me that my father was in a car accident on his way to get me, that is why I didn’t hear from him.   He hit another vehicle, those people are not hurt, but my father was killed in the crash.

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