Alright, so let me make sure its clear that Dad wasn’t perfect. He made a lot of mistakes. A lot. But…his mistakes were on a different spectrum. He pulled himself out of the hole that he was born into and made something of himself. His only downfall was that he let his mental illness take control of his emotions and cloud his ability to have relationships.
In “The Beginning”, I wrote about my dad beating me for writing on the wall and flipping the couch over with my mom still on it. That is the first memory I have of him and its the last one I have of him for a few years. It wasn’t until later on, maybe when I was like 5 or 6 years old that I remember him again. It was a great memory that hurts so bad to think about because its a short encounter with him that would be the last for a long time.
I was asleep at my Mamaw’s trailer in a shitty, white trash trailer park . My mom was not around or hadn’t come back for me that previous night so I was asleep on the couch. My cousin, Larry, was there and my Mamaw. **Larry and I grew up together like brother and sister because his mom left him at Mamaw’s a lot too. He basically lived with her. ** Anyway, I was sleeping and heard a knock on the door. I got up and answered the door. Yeah, I know…why is a 5 year old answering the door in a bad part of town but give me a break, I was five. Standing in the doorway, in the dark, at the top of the steps, is a large man with black hair and a big green duffel bag slung over his shoulder. I’m staring at him and he smiles and says he’s my dad and asks if my mom is there. Of course the answer is no so he asks to come in and sit with me. I’m just happy to meet my dad at this point so I, of course, let him in (I know, I know. Don’t say it). So, here is little ole me and this huge man sitting in my filthy trailer, me in my nightgown and him wearing his Marine green uniform, before the sun even comes up. His duffel is sitting on the floor in front of the small table and I’m sitting across from him. He asks if I want to eat breakfast together. I had to tell him we didn’t have anything to eat so he gets my shoes and we walk together to the corner store and grab one of those small boxes of cereal, ya know the ones that are supposed to be a single serving, and some milk. We walk back to the trailer, me still in my nightgown, mind you, and sit at the table eating cereal. I don’t remember the conversation or if there even was conversation. I remember him smiling at me a lot. I also remember him sitting on the couch with me watching cartoons after I was done eating. Not long after the sun came up, maybe an hour or so, he told me he had to go and hugged me and said he loved me. He left that tiny trailer that morning and I didn’t see him again until I was in the 4th or 5th grade. Not that I remember, anyway.
Dad grew up with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother. His dad sexually abused him and my uncle and beat the shit out of them every chance he got. When my dad was in high school, he had grown out his hair and dropped out. Apparently, from how Dad told it, my grandfather beat him like he was a grown man and told him to cut his hair and get back in school. Dad said that was the only good thing that man ever did for him. So Dad finished high school and started dating my mom. Dad was only two years older than her so she was only 16 when they started dating.
One day my dad went to visit her at her house. There was a guy standing outside of their house screaming and hollering for my mom’s cousin Henrietta to come outside. The guy was drunk, according to everyone who was there and told the story. My dad walks up and asks the guy to go calm down and come back when he’s not so heated. The guy tells Dad to fuck off and mind his own business. Dad said he obliged and left. He said he went somewhere and had a beer and came back with the hopes of seeing my mom. The guy was still there acting a fool. My dad walked up to him and asked him, again, to go cool off and come back later. This is where the guy loses his shit and hits my dad. He says he told Dad to mind his own business and starts to fight with Dad. Now, I don’t know how big this guy was but he had to be pretty ballsy to mess with my dad because Dad was six-foot-three-inches and not slight of build at all. Anyway, Dad said he lost his mind at this point and went into a blinding rage. He grabbed the guy by the sides of his head and threw him down to the ground. I guess, according to everyone there, Dad ripped the guys ear off when he did this. Dad said he blacked out and doesn’t remember anything except people screaming at him that the guy had a gun. He remembered feeling the guy trying to get something out of his pocket or pants and so Dad just continued to sit on the guy and punch him until he stopped moving. Mom says the guy had a gun in his pants and would have killed Dad if he had stopped long enough to let the guy get the gun.
The man ended up in a coma for a week and then died! My dad’s rage killed a man. How he didn’t go to prison, I don’t know. I guess because it was self-defense but wow, I was shook when they told me this story. According to Dad, the guy had like 5 brothers that all wanted to kill him so he joined the Marines and left. He said when he got out of the Marines he was ready to take on all 5 of them.
I tell both of these stories to tell you the two sides of Dad. On one hand, he was a gentle, loving man with a kind heart that would do anything for his family. On the other hand, he had a temper that couldn’t be matched by anyone and could lose control over the smallest little thing. When you live with someone like this, you want to be around them but you are always worried that you will say or do something to set them off. It’s a hard way to live, in constant fear of pissing off the person you love the most.
When I went to live with my dad, it was unbelievably wonderful. He had a nice car, owned his own home, went to work every day and came home to a meal prepared by a loving wife. I went to a school where I wasn’t picked on for my clothes anymore. Not that I didn’t get picked on but it wasn’t for the money or lack thereof. Dad would take us on trips to Bush Gardens or Sea World. He signed me up for ballet and tap dancing. I had a Barbie Dream Home in my room and lots of Barbie dolls. He took me clothes shopping multiple times in a year and gave me toys for my birthday and Christmas instead of using those days to give me the clothes I already needed. Rose and I had makeup parties and I’d model my new clothes for Dad as he sat in the living room telling me to go try on the next outfit. He had to see every single one. He cared about me and my happiness. I was the happiest little girl on the planet.
We upgraded our house not long after I moved to Dad’s. He bought a nice house and then added onto it. By the time he was done, it was a 3000 square foot, single story, home with a recreation room, a guest bath with a marble jacuzzi tub, and a huge back yard. This is the house where my life changed, yet again, and everything good that was just within my grasp was snatched away and replaced with hatred and torture.
Rose, I’ve told you, deserves her own posts so I won’t go too much into it other than to tell you this woman was physically, mentally, emotionally, and torturously abusive to me. She beat me, kept me in fear for my life, and always used my fear of her to get me to pamper her like she was a queen. My dad didn’t know this was going on because he was always out of town with work. See, when you get promoted and work your way up the food chain like Dad had, you end up spending a lot of time away from home to nurture the business. Looking back, I honestly think Dad stayed away so much, in part, because Rose and he were having marital issues to include her sleeping with our pastor. But that’s another story.
Eventually, though, Rose couldn’t hide the abuse from Dad and it came roaring out of her while he was home one day. She started screaming and chasing me around the house, telling Dad that she would “kill that bitch”. That’s when Dad decided to pack a bag for me and take me with him on the road. I went to a hotel with him and he went to work all day and I stayed in the hotel and watched tv and went swimming in the pool. Until Rose called me on the phone and made me believe she was coming to get me because I was supposed to be grounded.
I got so scared that she was coming there that I threw my Dad’s shoes in front of the door and took off running to the front desk, begging them to call my daddy because I was scared that my step-mom was coming to get me. I cried and cried and must have looked really silly being so upset about my step-mom coming to get me from the hotel. But, eventually, they reached Dad and he came back to the room and called Rose, who hadn’t even left the house and was just trying to scare me, successfully. They got into an argument and the rest of the trip was cut short.
Maybe just a few months later, Rose convinced my dad to put me in a Christian children’s home. This wasn’t a place for kids with loving parents; this was abandoned kids, kids who grew up with people like my mom. I wasn’t supposed to be one of those kids anymore. Yet, there I was, in a group home with kids who needed to be indoctrinated into Christianity as if they were the sinners, not the parents who had abandoned them or abused them or left them to rot in a home.
The children’s home isn’t something I really want to go into in this post but know that it was not horrible, per se. They were very strict with their religion and rules surrounding it. Everything they had, food – clothes – books – furniture – were all donated by the community or the churches they sang at when the children’s choir traveled. The important part of it is that Rose convinced Dad that I needed to be there and he left me there because of her. He let his desire to make her happy override his good judgement. That’s my opinion but, I don’t know the real reason behind it. Maybe he just wanted to avoid the conflict that was happening and skirting me off to a children’s home was the safest place for me to be and allowed it to make his marriage bearable.
Regardless of the reason, the visits with him and Rose were only once a month and Dad was definitely more happy about them than she was. He would pick me up and bring me jeans to wear or shorts, depending on the season, and she would complain that he was breaking their rules and setting a bad example. Dad didn’t care and I was happy for it.
After more than a year, I started seeing Dad change. He was… jolly, for lack of a better word. Then I found out he and Rose had split up and he had a girlfriend. He took me to meet her one day and we spent the day shopping at the mall for clothes that I could actually wear at the home. Then a few months later he picked me up and asked me if I wanted to go home. I thought he was talking about a visit but he was talking about forever. I was so happy that I bolted out of the truck and ran up to the room I shared with six other girls and started throwing my stuff together frantically. The staff were trying to stop me and I just kept telling them my dad was taking me home. They pleaded with him and told him that he was making a mistake (they were losing the money he was paying them every month, after all). I got my shit in the truck and we drove off with my Dad telling them to fuck off, if I recall correctly.
Fast forward to the apartment and my soon-to-be step-mom, Cynthia.
Dad was so happy with Cynthia. She made him feel good about himself. He didn’t have that with Rose. Rose still caused problems because she had my brothers and used them against Dad at every opportunity. But, Dad and Cynthia were silly in love and didn’t let her come between them…much.
I rebelled a bit after being locked up in a children’s home for over a year so I got into some trouble. I started smoking and hanging out with the headbangers in my school. Then I started running away. I think it was a total of 3 times that I ran away from home. Not because I was being abused or mistreated in any particular way. I was just unhappy and I think I was very jealous that Dad was so happy with Cynthia and didn’t have the same affection for me that he used to when he was with Rose. He used to spend time with me and hang out but when Cynthia was around, I didn’t exist. Plus, I was always in trouble for something stupid. Lying about using the phone or not getting a good grade in Algebra. One time they even drug tested me because I had lost weight because I refused to come out of my room long enough to get into trouble. It was easier to just hibernate in my room and be safe than to come out and say or do the wrong thing. So I didn’t eat and didn’t visit. I just stayed in my room and listened to music. Which ended with me losing 20 pounds. Go figure.
There were a couple of incidents where Dad lost his temper with me and hit me over the head with the cordless phone or backed me into my room and pummeled me with my pillows (instead of his fists) but, for the most part, I was just grounded, all….the….time. Typical teenage life.
Anyway, I went to visit Mom one Spring break (I wrote about it in my “Mom” post) and decided to move back to Orlando and live with my mom. That didn’t go over well with Dad but I was a teenager and I didn’t care about anyone but myself then.
I left Dad to go live with my mom who wasn’t around so I stayed with Rick and my brothers. Dad didn’t talk to me much. He was pretty hurt, I guess. I would have been too. Wasn’t until Rick called my dad because I was sneaking out of the house and going to see my boyfriend who was 23 years old. Dad came to Orlando and tried to scoop me up and take me home but I proclaimed my love for my boyfriend and told the cops, who had been called to help force me to go home, that I was pregnant. Dad changed right then. He promised to take me home and let me go to school and take care of me and the baby. So I did.
Dad let my boyfriend visit me and sent me to a high school for pregnant girls. There was a daycare and everything for those who had already delivered their babies. The only negative I can point out is that Cynthia and Dad tried to get me to give the baby up for adoption…to them. I could never have done that because I would see MY child call someone else Mommy and Daddy for the rest of their lives. So I told them no and I think Cynthia was hurt but I just couldn’t do it.
About five months into my pregnancy, I told them I wanted to get married. Dad was pissed, again, signed the papers, and dropped me off at my shitty new apartment and never spoke to me again for almost three years.
When my oldest child was three, I got in touch with my dad and we reconciled. I spent a couple of holidays at his house and my oldest got to meet him.
But, it didn’t last long. I got that call that killed a part of me forever. My dad had committed suicide. He had shot himself in the chest and died at work. The man who had rescued me from a horrendous future and done everything in his power to make sure I turned out different than my mom and his parents had ended his own life.
He was such a contagiously happy person that I was shocked that he had been so low as to kill himself. Where did this come from? Why hadn’t anyone ever told me? He had attempted suicide before and I didn’t even know. Apparently he was so unhappy that he was caught crying in his truck just two weeks before his death, holding a gun in his lap. He had called me two weeks before his death and apologized for being a bad father to which I vehemently argued he was not.
What could I have done had I known? Probably nothing but it hurts to think that I could have tried. He had been seeing a mental health provider that had told him he had a long road to recovery and I guess he wasn’t prepared to do it. All the shit he had gone through and the low self-esteem he had for himself just wouldn’t allow him to be truly happy.
I tell my family all the time how much they would have loved him. His boisterous laughter. His super smile. The way he’d call me a creep when I said something smart to him. Frying up steaks on Sunday mornings for breakfast. Modeling clothes for him just because he wanted to see how good they looked on me. Riding around singing Funky Cold Medina in his truck.
I miss him. I miss him so fucking much it hurts like he just died yesterday and its been 23 years.
Don’t let your thoughts and emotions do you in like they did to my dad. The devastation you leave behind is everlasting and you’ll never know how much you were truly loved and missed because you’ll be gone.