I am soooo loving all these Father’s Day photos I’m seeing today on social media! So many of them are from way back when. It makes me think that for a lot of us this day brings back a lot of memories and makes us quite nostalgic.
In my case, I don’t have a lot of memories. (Dear LAWD this isn’t meant to be a sad post! Just an attempt to share a story of mine that we all may know we aren’t alone). My father died suddenly when I was 23. But even before that, I didn’t know him well. Friends, this has typically been a part of my life I rarely discuss. Mainly because I didn’t know what to say or think, it made me uncomfortable, I feared others’ judgement about it all, and I just generally felt it was no one’s business.
But maturity, along with countless great stories told to me about him, changed my perspective entirely. Not just that, but old pictures I saw, and then, as I began to meet others, specifically, foster parents and children up for adoption, plus other friends in similar shoes, I felt like there might just be value in transparency.
My father’s name was Daniel, the third child of five. His parents survived the Great Depression and lived in the midwest. They were both steadfast and traditional in the way they raised their children, five little ones who all grew up to be stunningly beautiful and talented each in their own ways. In my father’s case, his talent was football. He played in college at a small private school, and was picked up in the early 1970s by the Oakland Raiders.
He and my mom met when they were in their early 20s and had me right away. His mother told me once that she had never seen him as happy as when he held me as a baby.
Trying to piece together his time in northern California is sketchy at best. He was with the Raiders for a season or two, then was cut. Mind you, the early 70s in that part of the nation was hippie and psychedelic, in every way. Mom claims he came home”different” and suspected drugs, but no one could ever confirm. He just seemed off in some way, and she believed he was using heavy drugs. Clearly, that doesn’t do much for a young, struggling couple with a small child, and they divorced. From then on, throughout my childhood, he sent letters to Arkansas (where we moved) from Iowa, and he came to visit a few times, but beyond that, there wasn’t a lot more contact. As a child, it always felt awkward around him, but I could never get explain why.
I remained close with his mothers d his three sisters. She sewed clothes for me, constantly wrote me letters, and called often. My mom’s father watched what was happening from afar, and without ever being asked, stepped into my life at every single turn. My Papa Gene was there for me in ways I have a hard time putting into words. You know, it’s a feeling really. Like a deep knowing that someone has your back, someone cares, someone is watching so that if you happen to fall, you know they’ll be there to get you back up and get you on your way. Of course, at the time, a child doesn’t think about these things. They just know who’s there. And who’s not.
When I was a teenager, my father’s parents came to Arkansas to tell us that they believed my father had significant mental issues and was being treated, and thus, we wouldn’t be hearing from him for awhile. Well, I hadn’t heard a lot from him anyway. We got in the car and mom said, “I hope the doctors know what kind of drugs he’s on. I’m not convinced it’s not still drugs.” It felt like too much for me to process.
At that point, I learned to just stuff it. Shove it under the rug. Everyone else had a dad around to take them to the lake, escort them at Homecoming, take pictures at prom. For me, it was ALWAYS my Pops, my Papa Gene.
When I graduated high school and then college, Pops was there. When I got my first TV job, he came to help me get settled. Strangely, the only TV offer I got came from a station in Sioux City, Iowa. The very place my father STILL lived with his mom.
My grandmother and I saw each other often. She desperately wanted my father and I to have a relationship, so she would cook dinner and have me over. The awkwardness never went away, though. And it was there, in Iowa, I got the phone call at my desk in the newsroom. My father had passed, and I needed to get to my grandmother’s right away.
He ended up having a massive heart attack. We laid him to rest, and I recall it all being dreamlike and surreal now that I look back. That God placed me there, in that city, during that time, at that exact moment, to see the end of his life here on earth. A curse? Or a blessing?
This Father’s Day, I believe it was a blessing. A holy, spiritual moment, that his time was up, and I was there. I type through tears, because what I would give right now, this moment, for a candid, real conversation with him. To ask everything I never got to. For him to meet his grandchildren. For it all to be “normal.” But what is “normal” anyway?
I harbor no resentment anymore, no feelings of “abandonment” that I understand so well through my work with foster children. I know that deep down, he adored and loved me, but something about this earthly life shut him down and left him unable to show me and others. I know the hurts and the heartbreak that life WILL yield to all of us. I just wish I knew what hurt him so deeply.
I love him. And I am so thankful to him for getting me here to earth so that I can flourish and thrive and live and love! I know he’s watching every day. And so is my Pops. He died in 2009. He used to always encourage me to find solutions instead of complain about problems, and he said to me constantly, “to thine own self be true, my dear. That way you will never be false to another.”
This blog post is dedicated to every father out there fathering, every grandfather doing the same, mothers who are both mom and dad, men who step in to father whenever needed, and to the fatherless, who might feel little hope. Know that angels are watching over you.