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I don’t remember the day he left. The story I have of that day has been retold to me by my mother. It’s not so much the leaving as the not showing up. I was four years old and my biological father had weekend visitation with me since my parents had divorced when I was a year old. Let’s be clear about what the true nature of his “visitation” was. His second wife, a person whom I still love deeply, would make the three hour drive to the small town we had moved to when my mom remarried.
My biological dad was this invisible figure whom I have very few memories with. The memories I do have of this time include playing on the floor with a Lite Brite, having a giant doll birthday cake, and the smell of mint Skol. That was the only part of him that has stuck with me. I remember finding a can of his tobacco hidden under the mattress during one of my visits. The moments that fill this time and space are full of my stepmother, her voice, her hair and painfully void of my biological dad. After the birth of their two daughters, there was a divorce and a remarriage to another woman. I always imagined that his new wife saw a picture of me and said “No, she is not what I want for a step daughter”. It’s one of the many lies that shaped who I would become.
The story goes that I waited by the window with my bag, waiting for someone to come for me. There are many tearful commercials and country songs that have recreated this exact moment and I always pictured myself as that child. The forgotten one. No one ever came, not that day and not again for many years. I cried. I asked why. In true mother form, my mom told me that some people just make bad choices even when they love you. Then I subconsciously decided why…I am unlovable. There is something wrong with me.
I grew up with the only family I knew from that point on. My mother, stepfather, younger brother and sister. As the years passed, I asked why. My mother kindly shielded me from the nasty details of who my sperm donor was until I was much older. I did not know that he had hit my mom, threatened to kill her, threatened to take me forever if she ever left, was an alcoholic, and a cheater. I created in my mind the type of person I hoped he was. At 13, I wanted him. I wanted my real dad, someone who would love me the way I saw my stepfather love my younger sister. I felt I had missed out on the adoration of a daddy. I asked my mother to help me find him. She did.
I started having visitation with my sperm donor at an age and time in my life where I felt confused, insecure, ugly and unloved. I was sure this would make it all better, and for awhile it did. There were promises of new homes with new bedrooms. I had six new siblings I desperately wanted to know and love. It was short lived. Being a teenager meant I wanted to see my friends and spend weekends making bad decisions. I was also learning to talk back with vigor and it wasn’t a quality that was admired by most adults. My biological dad had no patience for a mouthy teen. He was mean and still drinking. I stopped visiting.
My life moved on with one cheating boyfriend after another. I had a knack for attracting men who would hurt me and lie to me. When I was in my early twenties, married with small children I went to a life training program. I knew I was fucked up and I wanted to fix it all. I wanted someone to acknowledge that there was one person who had screwed me up forever. That I was destined to feel unloved and there was one person who needed to be blamed. They wanted to talk about letting go and forgiveness. I didn’t understand why I should forgive him and let him get away with what he had done to me. I pretended to let it go. I was given a stretch during this training to make amends with three people. There was one person I knew I had to contact.
When we met for lunch one spring afternoon, it was clear that the only person who had changed was me. I heard a lot about his other children, his job, his fourth wife but nothing about having regrets. He was drunk when we met and made a lot of promises I knew I couldn’t hold him to. We planned to meet again and a couple weeks later I called his phone to make arrangements. I remember this call so vividly because it was the most painful moment I have ever experienced. The phone rang and he answered. I asked when we were planning to meet for lunch and where he wanted to go. He said “Who is this?” The reality of this relationship weighed down what was left of my heart. ”This is really how it will be for the rest of my life.” I wanted to say “This is your oldest daughter, don’t you remember me?” I think I awkwardly choked through the rest of the call. I hung up and bawled my eyes out on the patio of a coffee shop. We never met for lunch.
I gave up on ever having a relationship with my biological father and I also committed to never forgiving him. Ever. He didn’t deserve my forgiveness. That would be an injustice to all the pain he had put me through. I was sure he needed to suffer for all he had done to me. For every moment he had missed. For choosing those other kids over me. At the time, I didn’t realize who was suffering.
My paternal grandfather got very ill four months ago. I had kept in minimal contact with him and my grandmother through all the years of not having their son in my life. I went to see my grandfather on his deathbed and say my goodbyes. My biological father was there. It had been ten years since I had lost all faith in him. I made every attempt to avoid eye contact and act nonchalant. He approached me and asked to speak to me in private. Part of me wanted to say no, I wanted to make him feel as embarrassed and insecure as I had felt my whole life. Instead we walked together to a dark hallway where he said the two words I had given up on ever hearing. I’m sorry. He asked for my forgiveness for not being there for me and for the pain he put my mother through. We both cried. I drove home and was sure I was having an out of body experience. Wasn’t this what I had waited for my entire life? Didn’t I feel like a new person? It was and no I didn’t. I realized a painful truth about forgiveness that day. It is not about the person you forgive but about letting yourself forgive so that you can love yourself again. I could have felt this 30 years ago. My life didn’t change. There was no earthquake or Christlike light shining through the clouds like I had hoped. There was just love. A clean slate. A realization for me that my dad was a human being who had fucked up and finally admitted that he understood what he had done. There was a new relationship. There was a thirty-four year old wife, mom, writer, daughter, sister and friend who woke up the next day with two loving fathers in her life. There was forgiveness.
Mandy is a 34-year-old aspiring writer who has dabbled in massage therapy, slinging coffee, raising babies and now works for her and her husbands online apparel business. She loves to travel, cook, read, write and spend time with her family.
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