Monday morning, I got a call from my mom letting me know that my Dad had passed away the night before.
I hadn’t seen him since I was 19. I had moved to Arizona, and he and my mom came to help me “settle in.” Mentally he was gone by then. I remember getting dinner with he, my mom, and Drew, and feeling embarrassed by how crazy he sounded. Something about cell phones. This is probably the last memory I have of seeing my father.
My father was an addict, but I didn’t know that growing up. And while there were signs, I didn’t know the extent of it until one day during Christmas break of my first year of college, when my Mom burst into my room in the middle of the night. She had to tell me then, tell me everything, because he was out of his mind, threatening her with violence, threatening to check out of the rehab he was in and come home.
Rehab didn’t stick. Whatever drug he was doing left him paranoid, out of his mind. But I didn’t see most of that; I was away at college, and then away in Arizona. My mother finally left him shortly after I moved to Arizona.
He’d tried to contact me after that, but I didn’t trust him. He tried to pretend as though nothing happened, and I finally confronted him after he tried to blame the split on my mother. He gave me a bitter apology, and after that, his contact became sporadic. For years, I had nightmares about him finding me. He’d been physically intimidating with my mother, threatening her, and I knew about his temper.
Every six months or a year, he’d still try to contact me. We would text, and I would usually respond. Until he started pressuring me to see him. I’d always say I didn’t feel ready yet, because I didn’t. Because I was still afraid, and I didn’t know if he was still using, and he never really apologized or acknowledged what had happened.
In June, he sent me a facebook friend request with a short message: post more baby pictures. I didn’t know he was sick then, but he knew. He had lung cancer, and he’d stopped treatment after it spread. He knew he was sick, dying, but he didn’t tell me. I ignored the friend request. It sat in my inbox, popping up occasionally on my fb feed. He never sent any other messages.
I don’t know why. I don’t know why he chose to keep this to himself. To not give me a chance to say goodbye, to have closure, for him to meet Eleanor. Maybe if I didn’t want to see him when he was healthy, he didn’t want me to see him just because he was sick. Maybe he was trying not to manipulate me into seeing him. Maybe he was being prideful and hurt. I’ll probably never really know why, and now I’ll never have that closure.
In a weird way, those messages that gave me anxiety were also reassurances that he was alive, and that, even if for only the times when he sent them, he was probably sober. And that he still cared about me despite everything. Just as they were upsetting, or made me angry, they were also comforting.
His death has made me reflect more on who he was, and as a result, who I am. During my childhood, he wasn’t using. He was involved. He was, by all accounts, a good dad.
I don’t have a great memory. Lots of moments from my past are fuzzy, and sometimes it seems like the bad is always easier to remember, because it stands out. Even before, when he was sober, he still had a temper. He would explode over small things. One time in high school, I spilled a container of guacamole on the steps before a party. He screamed and cursed at me, red faced, in front of my friends. I ran to my room, crying, hands covered in spilled dip, humiliated and ashamed. My friends didn’t know what to say.
I’ve spent a long time in my adult life having written him off, thinking I had mourned him a long time ago because, in many ways, he was no longer the same man he was when I was growing up. But these past few days I’ve thought a lot about the person I am now, and the memories I have of him. For a long time, the fourth of July was a difficult holiday for me because of all the good memories I had with him. We’d buy the fireworks weeks in advance, travelling over the border to Pennsylvania or New York. It felt secret and dangerous and fun to pick out the giant packs, to try a new firework in the hopes that each year it would top the last. He’d let me set them off, hold bottle rockets in my hands. We’d light them and run, and my Mom would either hide inside or sit, perched, worried.
He would drive me around in his S.S. Monte Carlo, burning rubber, playing the Doors or Queen. Sometimes we would go through the car wash and pretend a monster was eating the car. Sometimes we’d take the T-tops off.
When I was very little, he’d take me to the Staten Island Zoo, and he’d hold me up over the alligator cage, perched up on the edge, holding me safe, but sometimes feigning letting me go.
He took me on my first roller coasters, at Hershey Park. The Cyclone and the Super Duper Looper. We rode the Cyclone twice and the Looper three times. I was proud of myself for being so brave, for riding a big girl ride even though I was young, for not being afraid.
My Mom was always caring, loving, safe, kind. She was stable, there for me. She was my yang, my light. But my father taught me how to have fun. To be adventurous. He’s the reason I’m not afraid of rides, he’s the reason why I tried sky diving and wasn’t afraid to move across the country. He’s why I could get tattoos and piercings and take risks and scuba dive and go on adventures. He was my yin, and between the two, they balanced me. They probably balanced each other.
Towards the end of their relationship, both their personalities magnified. When intensified, my Mom was over-bearing and anxious, my father, destructive and abusive. When my Mom finally left, she regained some of the balance within herself. I don’t know if my father ever did.
I spent so many years feeling like the father I knew had died, but a part of me had always hoped for some sort of closure. A part of his death still doesn’t feel real, that somehow he didn’t really go without saying goodbye. Having to truly mourn him has made me reflect and appreciate some of the better times, and for what he was able to give me. Despite everything else, I was lucky to have a dad like him growing up. I’m thankful for the darkness, the balance, the fun he gave me. I love my adventurous side, and I hope that’s something I can pass on to Eleanor. I’m excited to take her on her first roller coaster in a few years.
Rest in peace, Dad. When I think of you, I’ll try to remember all of you.