I was 15 when my father left, almost 30 years ago. I came home from school one day, and my mother was there, which was shocking in itself. She had gone back to work as a reporter for our local weekly newspaper, and was rarely there in the afternoons, so I instantly knew something was amiss. She sat my brothers and me down and told us our father had left for awhile to think things over. I knew I'd never see him again.
A little backstory. My father was not a good man. Charming, yes. Handsome, I suppose. He had many friends and I sometimes adored him. However, he was an abusive drunk, and the words he said to me still ring in my ears sometimes. Loser. Fat. Stupid. The words he said to my mother were worse. Dingbat. Whore. Bitch. I watched her cower from him in fear, and later in my life learned that he, more than once, placed a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. But he was my father, and when he was sober I thought he was the greatest man on earth. He taught me how to ride a motorcycle, appreciate good music, and how to throw strikes in softball. He took our family camping and waterskiing and drove 95 miles an hour in his Triumph convertible as we screeched with delight in the back seat.
I wasn't sad that he was gone, which caused guilt of its own. Weren't you supposed to be sad when your parents split up? Hope that they get back together? All I felt was relief that I wouldn't ever again be hollered at and slapped for drinking "his" iced tea. Or for walking through a room too loudly while he was watching television.
The man was gone, but his legacy lingers to this day. My mother went on to marry another man who was not much better (not a drunk, but certainly not a kind person), I think because the damage my father did could not be undone. I went on to make some pretty terrible choices of my own, because a little girl believes what her father tells her. Loser. Fat. Stupid. My first husband treated me like dirt, but it was my normal so I accepted it. Loser. Fat. Stupid.
I found out recently that he died in 2010. There was no cause of death listed, and also no next-of-kin. He was 62 when he died, and I have to assume it was from the chemical abuse he inflicted upon himself. I will always wonder if he ever thought about the three children he left behind. Did he care what happened to us? To my mom? As a parent, I cannot conceive of walking away from my children and never looking back. My only regret upon learning of his death is that I never got these answers.
Sometimes I think about what life would be like if my father had been different. If he had been a caring man engaged in his children's lives. I cannot conceive of what it is like to be close to a father. I wonder if he ever considered the lifelong impact his actions had.
All I can do now is be mindful of how I speak and act toward my children. It's taken deliberate action on my part to NOT yell. NOT belittle. NOT hit. But I think the cycle is breaking. I never want my kids to think I did not love them with my entire being and believe they were the best children ever born. I hope I am doing okay.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.