There was a knock at the door. On the other side was a man. Scruffy. Dirty. Wearing a large backpack. Unclean.
I clung to the babysitter in fear. She asked who it was.
“It’s my father.”
This is my first physical memory of my father. I remember the fear. Unlike my siblings, I have no memories of the physical violence my mother endured at his hands. Yet this memory speaks to what I don’t remember. Why was I so afraid if I didn’t remember?
My mother talked openly to us about the abuse she suffered. Not the details, but the fact that it occurred. She attributed it to his mental health and drug abuse. I’ve always been aware of the fact, but have no memories of the violence. Yet I was afraid of him.
Other memories of him don’t involve fear. They are glimpses of activities and places. Riding in a convertible. Waiting in the car while my mom went to his hotel room to talk to him. I don’t know if these memories took place over more than that one visit to Milwaukee.
We visited him at least once in Pennsylvania. I remember playing with his band equipment in my maternal grandmother’s basement. This was after my mother had remarried. My step-father was not on the trip with us.
Limited memories of a father I never really knew. That trip to Pennsylvania was the last time I saw him alive. He sent a birthday check once. He called a couple times. The last call was disturbing and my only real glimpse of the darkness.
He called from Hawaii. He told me he was living there and dating a married woman. I felt a deep sadness for him. A grown unhappy man struggling with his demons. Sharing those demons with a child he didn’t know. Looking back I wonder if he was drunk when he called.
My last attempt to contact him was when I was graduating from high school. I sent him an invitation through my paternal grandmother. I didn’t know where he was living. Please come see me graduate from high school. He never responded.
Many years later, after he died, I learned that my half sister was born that day. A half-sister I only knew about because my brother went to our paternal grandmother’s funeral a few years after I graduated.
Somewhere along the way, I forgave him. He was as good a man as he could manage. I wish he sought the therapy he needed and maybe he did. Sometimes I wish he had kept in contact with us and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I feel like it was probably for the best that he wasn’t there.
His absence allowed us to bond with our step-father in a way that may not have been possible had he remained in our lives. We grew up in a stable home with loving parents. I can’t envision a scenario where he is involved in our lives and there is stability.
There are unhealthy parts of me that are a result of him. My first serious boyfriend was an alcoholic. I walked away when I figured that out. There is a level of paranoia about drinking that escalates when I’m dating someone. I’m not sure I will get to a place where that doesn’t happen. I’m not sure I want to.
I’ve never done drugs. Not even pot. And I couldn’t date someone who does. Drugs have always seemed like a riskier proposition than alcohol. No drug addict ever intended to be one. They just wanted to try pot or cocaine or heroin or whatever their drug of choice happens to be. Every addict starts out by “just trying”.
I keep it with me. I’m a child of an addict. I’m at a higher risk for addiction. I’ve avoided drug and alcohol addiction. I have not avoided the addictive behavior. I recognize that.
The fear of my father is forever linked to my first physical memory of him. Fear of becoming him has shaped me. Fear of loving someone like him has shaped me.
I forgave him. I accept my fears and will continue to carry them with me. Forgiven, but not forgotten.