I miss you and I’m so embarrassed. I’m embarrassed that I’ve spent seven years and $150,000 on not one, but two, creative writing degrees, and I still can’t come up with a more descriptive and involved way to say it. And I suppose there’s a difference between being concise, and being at a total and complete loss for words.
I don’t know which one I am yet.
When I think of my dad, I think of all the 4am rides to the rink in your Buick, which Grandpa gave you. Every single day was the same: you drove as I cuddled up in the passenger seat, underneath a fleece blanket, and squawked at you to turn the heat up, while we listened to the country or oldies station. You never came inside. Not once. I think when I was 17 it occurred to me to be angry about it. Mom came inside to watch every practice she came to. You went inside and watched every single one of Zack’s hockey practices. But when it was my turn to impress, you’d rather sleep in the car. Maybe that caused me to “forget” to say “thanks for the ride, Dad” a few more times than I really meant to.
Thanks for the ride, Dad.
When I was really young, we joined Indian Princesses* together. A sort of father-daughter girl scouts camp that I wish I had more vivid memories of. It didn’t occur to me at the time just how racially insensitive it probably was to paint our faces and braid our hair and glitter-paint fake leather fringed vests, as we ate sloppy joes with our dads in cabins with fully functional plumbing in the woods in Wisconsin. I don’t even remember what we did there, beyond once a year camping trips where we bartered dollar-store trinkets with each other while our dads drank Sam Adamses and talked about the Bears around a bonfire.
One night, all of the daddies and daughters were gathered in a cabin. A woman was there to tell ghost stories, and she prefaced it by saying, “Even your daddies are gonna be scared!”
I hated scary movies. I hated roller coasters. My cousins made fun of me for covering my eyes during the entire Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios when I was twelve. I walked right up to you, Dad, and reached up for your hand. I don’t remember saying anything specific – I like to think I didn’t have to. Because you scooped me up and drove me home.
When I think of what a father’s love means, I think of that story. I was scared, so my daddy took me home. Daddies protect their daughters; and while I’ve always liked to be able to say that I can muddle through most anything on my own, it was always nice to know that my dad was right behind me, waiting to help pull me up after every misstep.
The thing is, Dad, you’re not behind me anymore. And I know I’m not done making mistakes. I have to protect myself now, and while I’m 27 and I suppose it’s time to cut the metaphorical cord anyway, it sure is terrifying knowing that the person who you could always count on saving you just isn’t there anymore.
And even more than that, he decided to just not be there anymore.
That’s what keeps me awake at night, Pop. It’s not that you’re gone; a lot of girls’ daddies are gone. But Tracey’s dad died of pancreatic cancer. Jen’s dad died of thyroid cancer. They both fought long and hard to stick around as long as they could before they had to say goodbye to their little girls.
And my dad didn’t want to say goodbye to me.
Jen and Tracey knew their dads were leaving. They savored those last few days and hugged them hard before they left.
I didn’t know my dad was leaving.
It was a regular Wednesday, I’d just finished a shift at the bar, and as though it was the natural next step of life, Mom called to tell me that you just weren’t there anymore.
Maybe I had a little bit of time to get used to the idea, because really, you weren’t there a lot while I was growing up. When you weren’t away on business trips to Eastern Europe, you’d be held up in the Wilmette public library, or you’d be out on one of your long drives. You never told anyone where you were going or when you’d be back, and in the days before cell phones, I’m sure you can imagine the kinds of expletives that Mom would holler out while pacing the kitchen floor.
You never wanted to go anywhere with us. Getting you to leave the house wasn’t so much an issue; you’d be happy to drive me wherever I needed to be or even take me all the way out to the good ice cream place in Skokie, where we’d sit by the train tracks and bitch over off-brand Blizzards. But getting you to leave the house and then socialize with the outside world was like pulling teeth.
I must have been in middle school, and as we did every spring break, Mom, Zack, and I were getting ready to go to Orlando to visit Grandma and Grandpa. I truly don’t remember the last time you came on that trip with us, so I’m not sure what put the idea in my head that you would this time, but the second you told me that you would be staying home all week, I collapsed into a heap of tears. I cried, I screamed, I threw things, and I hollered an embarrassing amount.
That was the first time I told you that I hated you.
I hope you know I didn’t mean it.
Several months after you died, I found myself back in my LA grind, stuck in traffic, and sobbing, if for no other reason than I knew I’d be stuck in traffic, and alone, for at least the next hour, and I could.
You know how Mom always has conversations in the shower? We’d always laugh outside the bathroom door in the morning, as we eavesdropped on one-sided conversations Mom was planning to have, hoping to have, or wished she’d had.
I do that too, but in the car. I started talking to you that day, Pop. I started telling you how I missed you, how I hated my new job, and how I hated that I couldn’t call you and tell you about it. I sobbed that I hated my life without my dad, and how it wasn’t fair.
And finally, for the second time, I hollered into whatever universal void might be listening, that I hated you.
I hope you know I didn’t mean it.
I really hope I didn’t mean it.
I love you, Dad. More than anything or anyone. But I really, really hate what you did. I was mad for a really long time. Inconsolably angry. I’ve never in my life considered myself an angry person, but from the second Mom told me what you did, all the way to now, and I’m sure, far into the future, no other words will do. I’d always chalked it up to my general anxiety disorder, but truly, my entire life, I’d always felt that something truly terrible was going to happen; something remarkably upsetting or life-altering.
I’d surely thought I’d hit whatever terrible thing I was waiting for when I was 19 and Jess had to pull my head out of the toilet of the unisex bathroom at Abbott Hall as I tried to purge the three a.m. bean-substituted crunch wrap and god only knows how many red cups full of Busch Light.
Then I thought I’d finally hit that terrible moment when, three weeks after I moved to LA, Shawn called and dumped me over the phone. I sat in my car, sobbing and listening to The Decemberists. I can still see the fingernail marks in my steering wheel leather. I called you immediately and you asked if I wanted you to hunt him down and break his kneecaps.
I guess I have to sit back and consider myself pretty lucky, to an extent. I’m well aware that there are girls out there who didn’t have 25 years to spend with the greatest dad in the world. I’m well aware that there are plenty of girls out there who’ve never even met their dad.
My heart aches for those girls just as much as it does for my own sob story.
There’s nothing on the planet more important or influential for an impressionable young girl, than her daddy.
So I guess all I can say right now is, thanks Dad.
Thank you for all of the early morning rides to the rink, and for waiting for me while I took my sweet time changing for school in the bathroom. Thanks for telling me I was overdoing it with the bath and body works body spray in the 9th grade. You were right: I smelled like an old folks home. Thanks for picking me up from school when I fainted in the nurses office, and thanks for sucking the splinter out of my finger when I wouldn’t stop screaming about it. Thanks for signing all the failed math tests that I was too afraid to show Mom, and on that note, thanks for not telling her when you caught me ditching class junior year. Thanks for always getting me a blueberry muffin at Dunkin Donuts on Sundays after church because I didn’t like doughnuts and you didn’t like church. Thanks for teaching me how to park a car: I’m sorry I made you watch as I side-swiped a mini-van in the Centennial Rink parking lot. Thanks for not making me go to sailing camp when I had my period, and thanks for not asking any further questions whenever I hollered about cramps. Thanks for always buying the biggest tub of popcorn when you took me to the movies, and thanks for always (no matter how begrudgingly) letting me switch the channel from the Bears game to Wild and Crazy Kids. I forgive you for taping over Matilda with the Bears Vs. Packers. Thanks for staying up with me when I was afraid of the dark, and thanks for carrying me on your shoulders until a truly unreasonable age.
I spent so long being so angry at you, Pop. And I wish I could say I was sorry about it. I wish I could say I’m not angry anymore, and that almost two years after you bowed out, I’ve reached a relaxing place of acceptance.
I really wish I could.
Not long after you left, a dear friend, who also lost her dad at a young age, reached out to me. Judi reminded me that missing your daddy never goes away. Ever. That it’s too exhausting to keep waiting for that day, somewhere off in the way, way future, where missing your dad to the point of sobbing alone in the dark just stops.
It’ll never stop hurting.
And I get that… but maybe, if I’m really lucky, someday it’ll all start to hurt just a little less often.
I love you. I miss you.
Thanks for everything.
Forever and ever,
*Author’s note: In my googling of the organization, I’ve found out that the name has since been changed to Adventure Guides and Princesses.