It was just your run-of-the-mill standard Monday morning. I had actually taken off work to take care of some birthday preparations for my “middle” and to get some housework done. November 17, 2014 around 9:45am, my cell phone rings. It’s a long distance number, but familiar.
“It’s me, Tammy. I’m calling about CW. He’s really sick. I’m sorry.”
CW was my dad.
I remember bits and pieces of the rest of the brief conversation and parts of it replay randomly from time to time for no apparent reason. Here is what I do remember: he had been sick for a while. It was lung cancer, thanks to 45 years of smoking Camels. Treatment had been unsuccessful and now pneumonia and life support. I didn’t know and he purposely wanted it that way.
My parents divorced when I was young and I didn’t have a relationship with my father that amounted to much. There are truly people in this world who just aren’t programmed to be great parents. He was not really “parent material,” you know? He wasn’t abusive or cruel. He didn’t abandon us. He just could not let anyone close to him. Very few people got “inside the walls.” Despite his stoic personality and demeanor, I idolized him as a young girl. That pedestal he was on was gothic. I mean we’re talking Greek-statue-in-the-temple big. He was larger than life and everything revolved around CW.
He was an artist, a talented beautiful soul. But he was, for whatever reason, self-loathing and pitiful. He soaked up all the attention in the room, loving it and hating it at the same time. A brilliant fashion designer and part failed business man, he was a masochist. As a little girl and teenager, I struggled trying to get “inside the walls”. What do I need to do to impress him? How can I do better? Why doesn’t he love me?
It all fell apart when he married Wife #3 in the early 90’s. She made sure that there was no chance of any relationship between the two of us. I gave up fighting her on it and stood down. I stopped trying to drag him into my life. I went to college, graduated and got engaged. I mailed him an invitation to my wedding. We didn’t get a response and he didn’t show up.
That was it for me. I was done.
Years went by and we didn’t speak. Then, when we had our first son, I decided to send him a birth announcement. Break the ice and extend an olive branch.
I sent him first birthday and second birthday invitations.
A second baby came, and the same thing.
I made sure to send him the annual Christmas photo card and birthday invitation every time. The whole time knowing full well that Wife #3 was probably throwing everything directly in the trash.
Then one year, when Dylan was 2, we got a package on Christmas from “Secret Santa” with an Atlanta return address. The wall was starting to show signs of weakness. I kept sending cards and a few photos several times that year, chipping away at the wall. The next year, another secret Christmas gift.
In the summer of 2014, I got a Facebook message from a family friend who lives in Atlanta. “Lori – I ran into your dad at Costco. He doesn’t look well. I thought you would like to know.” I did nothing.
The next call I got was 4 months later about him being on life support, with hours to live. He died on a Wednesday morning. I got a text. That was that.
For all you fathers out there, here is the moral of that story: a daughter needs her father. The relationship between a father and daughter plays an incredibly important role in her journey from toddler to adulthood.
She needs you to demonstrate a loving and healthy marriage. Treat their mother with respect.
She needs you to be involved in her life. Not just present but involved.
She needs you to be a positive male role model.
She needs to you teach her how to pray. Deeply sincerely pray.
She needs to learn trust from you.
She needs you to teach her about love, playing ball, changing a flat and saving wisely.
She needs you to tell her she’s beautiful inside and out.
She needs you to walk her down the aisle and give her away. If at all physically possible. Do this.
She needs you to teach her what to look for in a partner.
She needs to never ever question your love for her. I questioned that love from my father long ago. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
Since his death that November day, there are a few of the things I’ve wanted to say to him I never got the chance to ...
I wish you could have met Reece. He is just like a little version of Papa Hooks. He has his same smile and his walk. I think he is going to have your talent for drawing because he finds solace in sitting and drawing for hours. He's winning art awards already. You would really love him. He loves Star Wars, just like you.
Dylan has such a huge heart and great laugh. I think you would get a kick out of his silly little personality. He talks a lot and can tell the tallest tales out there. When he found out you died, he wanted to go buy a balloon, write a note to you, tie it to the string and send it up to heaven for you to read. I bawled when he asked me to do this with him. He loves cowboy movies, just like you.
Oh my God – Emma! Dad, she is so awesome. Silly, smart, prissy, and just like me, I can only imagine. I look at her and see what you may have seen in me 40 years ago. The sass is strong with this one. How could you not want to be around something like her?
I’m sorry you chose to miss out on all of this. I'm sorry I didn't try harder but trying harder is a two way street. I became a pretty great person despite what you may have thought. Despite your valiant efforts, I still loved you dearly. Even though that rather large pedestal turned into a stump over the years, I loved you. Unconditionally. Because that’s what little girls do.