Did you know that when I was a little girl all the other kids used to ask me who my dad was? “What does he do?” “What’s his name?” “Why doesn’t he ever come pick you up?” “Do you have a dad?”
More often than not, I told them you were dead. For some reason I always said you died of lung cancer; I think it was just the first thing that came to mind when someone asked me how you died one day. After you actually died when I was 13 I carried so much guilt for saying that, for years. Maybe I still do. But it was the easy answer. It was the answer that nobody questioned. That no one could use against me. I remember the meaner kids, the ones who knew you weren’t dead. “You’re dad left because he didn’t love you.” I’ll never forget that one… I never thought it was weird to grow up with mom and whatever guy she was dating at the time. But when I hit elementary and middle school and the questions started coming I quickly realized that most kids, especially in the south, had dads in their life. I was the “weird one”. The “freak”. The fatherless daughter…
I don’t know what bothered me more; the questions they asked or that I didn’t have the answers for them? I don’t know. I asked mom about you so many times. But she was only actually with you for a year when she became pregnant with me and you were kicked out of the house for drinking too much shortly after I was born. She didn’t know you for all that long. Still she claimed I would’ve loved you. Despite all the hate I’ve heard her spew about the many bad men she’s encountered, you are the only person she never said a single negative thing about. She told me how charismatic you were, how you could make anyone laugh, and how people always loved you. She said I had your eyes and your kindness. She said you had an incredible smile. She said you were a good man. She also said you were in a lot of pain and just couldn’t stop drinking and doing drugs. She told me that your son, my brother, Richard had died tragically at the tender age of 18 after a drunk driver hit him head on. She said you just could not get it together after that happened. That it took away a piece of you that it never came back. She told me when she discovered she was pregnant that you looked at her scared eyes and said “You have no idea how much this is going to change your life. You’re going to love this baby so much.” You had already felt, and lost, what she was about to gain.
She told me that when I was an infant you would take me outside along with the morning paper, sit down, cross your ankle over the other leg’s thigh and carefully lay me in the little hole that that crossing created. She said you would read the paper to me for hours. She said you absolutely adored me.
I remember spending hours on the Internet, scouring ancestry sites, and social media trying to find you. I remember just wanting to meet you, even if it was only one time. I wanted to know you. I never felt any ill will towards you as I imagine many other fatherless daughters have felt towards their fathers. I knew I couldn’t understand how badly Richard’s death made you spin out of control. I knew you were an addict. I have always known, in my heart, that you were sick and in pain; not careless and unloving. But that doesn’t change the hole that you’re absence eroded through my heart. That doesn’t change that I will never know who my father truly was. That doesn’t change the fact that I’ll never be able to look at your face and pick out which of my features I got from you. That doesn’t change the fact that you’ll never walk me down the aisle or hold my children the way you once held me.. That doesn’t change the way I feel and have felt for years. I know you loved me..
Why couldn’t you visit every now and then? Why couldn’t you call before I was 12 and you were too inebriated to understand or speak to? Why couldn’t you get your shit together for the child you still had, who was still living, desperately craving a relationship with you? Why couldn’t you show me you loved me as much as my mom tells me you did? Why couldn’t you just be there? Even if you did drink too much. I will always be undeniably half you, even if I don’t know what that half is. I have parts of my personality that are the exact opposite of my sister and mother. From mom’s descriptions, I got them from you. My laid back personality, my gentle spirit, my ease with people. Why couldn’t you let me see these things for myself?
Why couldn’t you be there to protect me? Maybe if you’d sobered up you and mom would’ve withstood the test of time. Maybe she never would’ve dated anyone else. Maybe all the things I endured never would’ve happened. Hell, regardless of that, I would’ve felt blessed to even be shuttled back and forth between houses if that meant I got to know you. Why did you take away my chance to know you? To know what I came from? What I’m made of? Who I take after? Where my family’s from? Everyone on your side is dead except your first daughter and no one’s seen her in years. God knows I’ve tried to find her but have yet to even come close. Maybe I would know her had you just stayed in my life. Don’t get me wrong dad. I’m not mad. I’m sad. No, I’m devastated. Want to know a secret?
If I don’t think about it for too long I can almost avoid feeling like I can’t breathe. I can almost pretend that this lifetime of bad memories (that my inner child is convinced you would’ve stopped from ever happening) never would’ve happened. I can pretend I don’t have “daddy issues”. I can pretend it doesn’t hurt and I can even speak about it like it’s just another fact. “I don’t have a dad. Who needs one when you’ve got two moms?” I’ve became a master at hiding this pain. It all started in a school yard in the first fucking grade. I was angry and sad I didn’t know you. Angry that I didn’t have what other kids did. I grew up envying my friends who had these awesome, close relationships with their fathers. Nothing sick or twisted, just mutual love and adoration. I knew nothing of that. I knew only sick men and an occasional, rare good one. Maybe if I’d gotten to know you I wouldn’t have suffered for years at the hands of others. Maybe these maybe’s are just some fairytale I made up in my head because if I idolize you and memorialize you in my mind then I won’t have to be angry at a man I wanted so badly to know my entire life. I wanted my dad so badly that I never admitted it to a single living soul. I only spoke to you twice when I was 12 and I was so excited you called; but you were too drunk to talk and be understood. Then a few months later while I was in Florida at grandma’s you happened to call and when you found out I was there you tried to see me. My grandma said we had to call my mom and mom said no because she was afraid that you would be all messed up on drugs or that I would absolutely adore you and leave her. I still haven’t completely healed from the fact that this opportunity was taken away from me. I know she had good intentions. No one could’ve known you’d die only a few months later. And yet, you did. I missed my chance. No adult reunion, no knowing my parent once I was old enough to find you myself, no second chances. You were just gone. You are just gone and there’s not one fucking thing I can do about it. Will this hole in my heart ever heal dad? Is it crazy to pray that you send me a sign that you’re up there somewhere watching over me? I’m typing this letter and bawling my fucking eyes out at 25 years old over you, a man I only met briefly when I was 3 years old. This is why I don’t talk about this shit, write about this shit, or even pause to think about it. When Ry and I first got together, I nonchalantly told him about the time I spent 4 days in Florida hunting down your ashes so I could have at least one piece of you and gain some closure. I told him I had to leave empty handed because it wasn’t a priority to my piece of shit step dad and he wouldn’t drive one hour out of the way to the crematorium. He cried. He said he could sense this overwhelming sadness in me and that as a father, he couldn’t imagine not knowing his daughter. I reassured him that I was fine and that you were something I had already emotionally dealt with. And you want to know the sad part dad? I buried this so deeply that when I said that to him I truly believed it.
Well, I’m not okay. I miss you and I don’t even know you. I mourn the relationship I never got to have. I miss the father I never got to bond with. I cry for the memories that will never be mine. So if you’re up there somewhere, please send me a sign. Because even at 25, you’re still on my mind.
by Ashley Hebner
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