I’d love to tell you all the warm and fuzzy tales about my Dad and our relationship, but that would be utter bullshit. There aren’t any. Growing up, I remember him as always busy – working or playing golf with his friends, or going out to various functions. He didn’t sit around the house much and he certainly wasn’t interested in playing with his girls. I always wanted him to love me and he probably did, but not enough to pay any attention to me.
Still at age 11 when my Mom and Dad started having fights and my Dad left, I was devastated. My world came crashing down around me and reality took a big bite out of my ass. Daddies didn’t leave. They stayed and loved and protected their little girls, watched them grow up, and then walked them down the aisle and passed them on to their husbands. They didn’t leave!
My parents’ separation was very ugly. I remember the screaming and shouting and seeing Mom chase Dad through the house with a cast iron skillet and with a tennis racquet. It scared me to death. I begged them to stop fighting and my father not to leave but of course he had to. He was caught having an affair with his secretary and in our very small town this was very big news. My Mom moved my 2 sisters and me to another town 250 miles away and we only saw Dad occasionally for the next few years.
When I stayed with him in the summers I always worked, either as a bus girl, maid, or porter or sometimes at the front desk of his hotel. It kept me busy, but it created long and lonely memories. I remember once overhearing one of his employees commenting that I seemed to be a very sad girl. She was right. He didn’t know how to give me what I needed most – his time and attention. I was in his life but not part of it.
I went to college in the town where he lived and worked for Dad part time while I was in school. Having him in the same town was an advantage because I got to see him occasionally, I had a job, and a lot of people in town knew him and watched out for me. It was a disadvantage because a lot of people in town knew him and watched out for me. I learned to be very sneaky – or so I thought until he ended up having to extricate me from a couple of embarrassing situations. He never said anything except, “Try to be more careful next time.” I think in some ways I was too much like him for his comfort. I wanted him to love me and only seemed to get his attention by acting out. I acted out frequently.
We disagreed on almost everything. He was a staunch conservative Republican who boasted he never voted for a Democrat in his life. I was and still am a liberal Democrat and I never tired of reminding him that at every election I was proudly and deliberately canceling out his vote. In fact, that was one of my prime motivating factors for always voting.
When I moved to Chicago the first time, because I was still rather shy and not very assertive, Dad decided I needed something to bring me out of my shell and prevent me from being eaten alive by all those big city folks. So, he made me go to a Dale Carnegie course. It was a good thing for me. Those were the type of things he did for me that indicated he might actually care for me. They didn’t happen very often.
When I went back to college and got my 2 master’s degrees my Dad gave me a party for my graduation and he even told me he was proud of me. It was the first time I ever remember hearing him say that. I didn’t believe him.
He was married twice after my mother. The first stepmother gave a new definition to the term wicked – the secretary with whom he had cheated. Unfortunately, she lasted over 10 miserable years. She finally left for another man. She thought he had money and she had big plans for him. I heard he dumped her. Karma!
My second stepmother was wonderful and she took good care of my Dad. He still wasn’t interested in his girls, but since my sisters insisted, she encouraged him to get to know his grandkids. Since I didn’t have any kids, there wasn’t much reason for him to see me. They lived in Florida for the last 15 or so years of his life. In all that time, I was invited there once and it was more like a command performance. It was his 75th birthday party and I was told to come, given accommodations and plane fare and then summarily dismissed when the big party with all his rich friends was over.
I dutifully sent Father’s Day cards, birthday cards and Christmas cards and he dutifully sent cards and money on birthdays and Christmas. Occasionally we talked on the phone but there was never much to say. Generally we talked about my 2 sisters and their kids. It was really the only thing we had in common.
He died July 19, 2000. I cried briefly but more because all hope of ever having a warm happy relationship with my father was gone forever than because I was truly sad he was dead. His picture sits on my mantle, but it doesn’t evoke any strong emotions.
The ironic thing is – I look just like him.