The Most Time I’ve Spent On Father’s Day In 24 Years

I don’t celebrate Father’s Day. I have to remind Dave about dates, so he’s always late sending his Dad a card, because I never know when Father’s Day is until it’s here.

I’ve written about Dad a little bit here. Some people shocked me in comments by pointing out the obvious affection in these posts. But there’s also this. Since Mom and I moved out in 1987, Dad and I have been estranged. Before we moved out, I dreamed of being estranged. Life has turned out pretty well for me, I think because we are estranged.

One of my big projects this year has been to organize and digitize old photos. I spent countless (OK, about 40) hours alone in the dining room poring over the pictures. I had to decide which ones were good enough to digitize, carefully remove them from the albums, clean off the years of grime and fingerprints, and put them in chronological order.

This task dragged on for months, so I tried not to spend too much time really looking at the pictures and reminiscing since I knew I’d be able to do that after the pictures were digitized. But ignoring the nostalgic pull of the pictures proved impossible. Furthermore, I was overwhelmed by the photographic evidence of a bond between me and my Dad. A bond I guess I spent years denying because it made my life easier.

Here we are at my first birthday party. Apparently I was too young to adequately articulate I don’t like pink.

Here I am apparently slapping Dad in the face for fun. Here I am adorably grabbing for my birthday balloons.

On Dad’s lap at my second birthday party.

By my third birthday, I’d already graduated from Dad’s lap, but the look he’s giving me is still precious. And he’s also not wearing the same damn yellow shirt.

I noticed a big reduction in the number of pictures after my third birthday. I asked Mom about it, teasing her that documenting the second child’s life is less important. But Mom reminded me Dad lost his job around that time and she had to work full-time. She didn’t really have time for pictures after that, thank you very much.

So that’s when things really went down the shit hole. The family lore includes a tale of my trying on shoes when I was three. When Dad asked me how the shoes felt, I apparently responded by kicking him really hard in the shin. So I always thought my relationship with Dad was strained from an early age.

But these early pictures weren’t shocking. I don’t even remember these times and all young children go through a Daddy phase. The next picture really surprised me. This is my Gram on my Mom’s side, Dad, and me in my First Communion get up five years after the last picture. When I uncovered this one, I don’t know how long I sat staring at it in tears. I was in third grade. Clearly I already hated Dad by this point, right? Huh.

The next two pictures are from middle school. Dad and I spent several days after a big snowstorm building a complicated, three-room snow fort in the backyard. Let’s face it, Dad built a snow fort. The second picture I took from the hallway window on the second floor of our toasty house after I’d given up manual labor in the freezing cold. Dad kept working by himself to finish the fort.

I cried when I saw these pictures. I cried in part because I let myself feel bitterness at not having the kind of father all kids deserve. I was so relieved to be free of Dad at 14, that I never allowed myself to grieve being essentially fatherless. I also cried in part out of sadness for Dad, who clearly loved us but could not stop the destructive behavior that drove us away.

Unfortunately, this post doesn’t end with an emotional reconciliation. Dad’s not capable of having a relationship with me. The few times I’ve tried to reach out to him, he’s made me sorry I did. The last time was pretty recent and the freshness of it must have fueled my emotional response to these pictures.

I looked through the pictures a little with my Mom when she brought them down in March, but I could feel myself getting tearful, so I did most of it by myself. At one point while Mom and I flipped pages, I thought “Dad loved me.” But I must have said it out loud, because Mom’s surprised response was, “Of course he did.”

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8 Responses to “The Most Time I’ve Spent On Father’s Day In 24 Years”

  1. Abby
    Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    “I dreamed of being estranged. Life has turned out pretty well for me, I think because we are estranged.” “Dad’s not capable of a having a relationship with me. The few times I’ve tried to reach out to him, he’s made me sorry I did.”

    I haven’t gone back to read those past posts you linked, but I have a feeling we are very, very much in the same boat (if the lines above are any indication.) Being Abby, I did put on emotional armor when it came to the fact that my dad was more dud than anything else. I’ve turned out fine and don’t really mourn the lack of his presence, but I do mourn the fact that I was cheated out of that extra parent, out of that “typical” relationship that so many other people have.

    I’m resentful, but at the same time I suppose I’m grateful that I learned life lessons early one–no one is perfect and you can’t change people. I’m sorry that you were gipped out of a real father figure, but I also feel like you’re the sort of person that can use that negative energy for something positive–such as a blog post to sort things out :)

  2. Frelle
    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    my heart aches for little girl you and for you now. What an emotional piece to write. Thank you for digging deep for this and laying your heart out.

  3. Stacie
    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    This had to be difficult… you were right to record it and remember. I think you got your Dad back a little. Thank you for sharing. Over from TLATLB.

  4. Runnermom-jen
    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    I’m so sorry. That last line made me cry…when your mom said, “Of course he did”.
    Thank you for sharing these memories with us.
    P.S. I think it’s kind of funny your dad was finishing the fort while you were taking pics of it from INside your house…sounds like something MY kids would do 😉

  5. Ixy
    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    What poignant memories and yet having read your previous posts about this, it seems you did the right things to minimize or cut off ties. Unfortunately we don’t often get the Hollywood movie happy ending we deserve. Thanks for sharing this and I hope it helped you to write about it.

  6. Terry @WriterlyWanna Be
    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    I know he loved you, it is so visible in those pictures, he adored you…and I am guessing by your line “could not stop the destructive behavior” is what makes that hard to believe. So I am inferring addiction, but I could be wrong. It is hard to see that those stuck in addiction love us. That life consumes them. Hold on to those moments in the picture. I am sorry for your pain, but think your brave for recording this and allowing your writing to express your feelings.

  7. Let Me Start By Saying
    Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    Even if it got bad, even if memories muddle, even if things don’t get better, you know for a fact – and have solid photographic evidence as proof – that you were loved and loved in return by your dad. This is such a beautiful gift. Because not everyone gets that, even for a short time. You are so lucky to have done that digitizing to as to discover these images.

    This may be my favorite post of yours yet.

  8. Katie
    Friday, October 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Tracy, I don’t know what to say. I wish I had some words of wisdom or some kind of appropriate response. This post touched me. You sharing this part of yourself touched me. I’m sorry that your Dad couldn’t be the dad in those pictures always. I’m sorry that your obvious connection with him was broken beyond your control. I’m happy you have these photographs to hold onto. They don’t take the place of having your Dad in your life, but they are a connection to what you once had.

    Thank you for sharing this. It was beautifully written and bittersweet.

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