I’d been his daughter for as long as memory could stretch. He was a stranger to me, no more than memoried glimpses of a man profiled in glare of a brightly lit kitchen, head buried in hands, elbows resting on a Formica table. I knew so little of this father who jumped off the edge of my life when I was two years old, yet the void where his presence once lived consumed me. His absence amplified the spotlight of birthdays and school concerts, transforming them into blinding events missed and unseen.
Abandonment lashed me in ways eyes would never see. My innocence produced the streams of wonder: Did he remember that I was? Had he forgotten about the days leading up to my birth and that he’d fought with my mother over what my name would be? Was he alive or was death the cause of his silence? Later, more sophisticated considerations surfaced. Would drinking nail polish remover kill me? Would he attend my funeral? I hoped so. I was his daughter, after all.
I spent hours sitting on my grandparents’ patio, closely inspecting the tiny cracks of my sun-warmed skin as if they held the answers to my burning questions. My mother’s Blue Willow dishes had fissures after spending one too many months in attic storage. She called it “crazing.” I must be crazed, too. Despite this tragic conclusion, my father eventually materialized, courtesy of the family court system, and a meeting with his crazed kid was scheduled for the first time in 11 years.
I don’t remember the season of the day, but he drove a fancy car—a foreign brand comprised of letters instead of words. I tugged on the hem of my hand-me-down shirt, experiencing that sensation of unease without attribution. He moved across the parking lot with a confident stride, set on a path to cruise past me as if he hadn’t seen me. I was unnerved by his ability to ignore me standing there in my secondhand clothes perched right at the fringe of his vision. It was our entire story.
We hugged; he sobbed tearlessly. We caught up on a decade of niceties over deep-fried ice cream. I was surprised he was a smoker; I had never heard of Lucky Strike. He pulled a baby picture from his wallet, solemnly vowing that he had looked at it and thought of me every day. I was suspicious by nature, hopeful by desire.
It was that time in which I was teetering on the threshold of adolescence. I’d finally been integrated into the mainstream with this acquisition of a father. I hushed the intrusive screams that never let me forget our newfound bond was rooted in a court-ordered initiative. Like any proper lady with no self-esteem and a surplus of desperation, I offered up immediate trust with no table stakes. I asked no questions about his extended hiatus and there was nothing to forgive. Thanks to my lack of standards and expectations, the terrain of our relationship was smooth.
We lasted less than a presidential term. He dissipated from my life as heart-wrenchingly as Scottish mists. I spent the next few years stubbornly trying to herd him back into my world; I was his daughter and he was alternately contrite and vapor.
As a child, I pined for this shadow. And now, after years of patio contemplations and court orders, I was pursuing him and continually casting him in a role of a play that he wasn’t interested in appearing or even attending. I held visions of how the scenery of our relationship should look and how our lines should be recited. He wasn’t doing his part and it was killing me.
It was an unremarkable day when the peace and insight was placed so quietly and without cause within me. I stopped clasping what never wanted to be held.
Sometimes, children are just by-products of too much wine consumption or other errant choices and then foisted upon unwilling or unable stewards. My father never wanted to be a parent, he didn’t feel connected to me, and he didn’t love me. He had to be terminated from the job he never wanted; his apathy and poor performance had damaged the business of me for far too many years. And with that decision, I released him with total and unrequited love and zero attachment.
It’s been about twenty years since the axe came down. I’ve learned that relationships flourish when they sprout forth from organic earth. My father and I were cut from stilts and sand. Lessons—the ones only time, gain, and loss seem capable of providing—have taught me that the path to being doesn’t speak to my value. My collection of contributions, once present, is the treasure.
He is my father—a biological contributor to my physical formation, but I no longer need to be his daughter. I suspect we’re both relieved.