Every Father’s Day I mourn the fact that I do not have a Father to call or send a card to. My father is alive, but he is not someone I would want to contact. In some ways this is worse than loosing my father all together. Every Father’s day I am plagued by guilt and the memories of my childhood.
As a child I did not have a positive father figure in my life. My own father was a schizophrenic with a temper and a drug addiction. His lucid and calm moments were few and far between. Typically he was either on an extreme high or an extreme low. This pattern was pretty consistent, but still traumatizing to those around him. I was the oldest of my father’s four kids, and at eleven years old I became my younger siblings surrogate mother.
When my mother left my father’s behavior became intensified. His highs lasted three or four days at a time. He would stay awake for days, sleeping little or not at all. In the beginning of the high period he was happy and optimistic. He made plans and was excited about the future. My father was a welder, and a good one at that. During his highs he always came up with some type of invention or new concept or art piece. The optimism would quickly change to frustration and paranoia. Everyone was against him. No one wanted him to succeed. He would keep me and my three younger siblings awake at night, screaming at us if we fell asleep. He wanted us to hear him talk all night. I remember being so unimaginably tired, and than having to go to school the next morning.
I remember one terrifying day when went and stayed at one of those cheap motels. He left us there alone in the room promising to come back with pizza. We were so hungry and excited for him to come back. We waited all day and than all night. The little kids kept asking me where daddy was. We were all so hungry. I felt terrible. I tried not to cry, but inside my heart was breaking for them. The next day we woke up and my father was still not back. We were supposed to be out of the motel by 12 noon that day. I started to get calls from the motel front desk. I lied and told them that my dad would be right back that he was being held up at some appointment. A man started calling from one of the other rooms in the motel, he knew that we were alone. He kept calling and saying “where is your dad?”. I told him to stop calling . He said he was going to come over there! I hung up on him. I was so terrified! I had no idea where my dad was. Finally at five that night he showed up. My heart sank when I saw that he didn’t bring any food with him, we had gone a full 24 hours without a single thing to eat. I was mad and asked where he had been! He slapped me across the face.
He always thought that I was plotting against him. He used to say that I was making calls to the police and to child protective services. Deep down I was a scared kid with no idea what to do. The fourth night of the high was always the worse, and was usually when the police were called. My father ripe with paranoia and rage accused everyone of plotting against him. He would physically attack my grandfather, who we lived with. My father put holes in my grandfather’s truck tires with a kitchen knife. He would run around insane, eyes red from lack of sleep, dirty from not bathing, and talking wildly while spit sprayed everywhere. He would tell us kids that he was leaving us forever, and we would cry out begging him to stay. Once he even dis-enrolled me at school because of some argument with a teacher. We were just so afraid of the what he he would do next. In the past he threatened to burn down people homes and businesses. My father was capable of ANYTHING!
Finally after that fourth night, if the cops had not taken him away, he would sleep. He would sleep for a week straight and just lay there all day and night completely useless.
We lived walking distance from our little country school. So in the mornings I would wake up the kids and get them dressed. We would walk to school together. If any of the kids had an issue at school they didn’t call my house or my father, they came and got me from class. For example one day my sister had a mental breakdown because she could not draw the picture example on the page and started crying, her teacher came and got me from my class. Obviously she was crying for a different reason other than the drawing, we all felt the extreme stress of my father. I comforted her and sent her back to class. At the end of school we walked home together talking and joking and enjoying the freedom away from our home. Once at the house I made dinner. For a kid I was a pretty good cook. We ate together, we all had a really rich imagination and used dinner time to act out some play we were writing as we went. Sometimes we pretended we were very poor and this was our last meal. We would be dramatic and savor each bite. Sometimes we were rich and British and we had to eat proper and had names like Elizabeth and Charles. After dinner we did homework together. In the evening we all read together. We all loved to read. Reading provided the ultimate escape to all of us. My sister and I would take turns reading stories to the younger kids. We especially loved reading Garfield comics together. We created a safe little world for ourselves just the four of us. My father’s antics and involvement destroyed the serenity of our little family. We dreaded our father. Afraid he would leave us but also afraid of him being home as well.
When I was thirteen we were taken into foster care. The cops were called during one of my father’s crazy periods. After arresting my father the cops asked me if I wanted to go to Valley of the Moon Children’s home or stay at the house with my Grandfather. I saw my escape from this hell and I took it. I made that choice for all my siblings. There were a couple of times that I doubted that choice, especially when I was separated from my younger siblings. Foster care was not much better than my dads. Verbal abuse and emotional humiliation at nearly every home I lived in. My foster family I lived with the longest , the Gilligan’s, was the worse. The foster mother was a horrid women that was emotionally abusive and told me I was worthless because I was fat. My foster father was a drunk and manipulator. When my siblings and I were finally united my foster parents took advantage of our need to stay together. We were not given basic things like clothes, school supplies, or fees for school events. My brother did not even get Senior photos done because my foster mother refused to pay for them. Foster parents are paid good money to have children in their home. They knew we would not tell a social worker because the only solution was being placed in other homes, and separated. When my grandmother passed away she left us each 25,000 for school. She left my youngest brother and sisters money with my foster parents ( me and the second oldest were out of the house by then). My foster parents were supposed to give it to them at age 21. Sadly they never got that money. The Gilligan’s stole that money that was meant for their education. The most infuriating thing about the Gilligan’s is that the community praised them for being foster parents. My foster mother was always the first to tell everyone she was a foster parent, boasting about her generosity. No one knew how abusive these people really were! I felt sick inside every-time someone praised them for being foster parents!
Looking back I spent so much of my childhood surviving and waiting until I was free! My past motivated me for my future. I worked hard in school and went straight to college. I got my Bachelors degree in political science. I want to make a difference and change the politics that allow people like the Gilligan’s to steal and abuse foster youth.I also wanted to see changes to mental health programs. People like my father needed help, which could have helped our whole family.
My entire childhood was void of a good father figure. As a result I have always been drawn to older men . For example most of my favorite teachers and professors in college have been men. When I was high school I competed in the speech and debate team. I competed in a veterans club that hosted a speech competition ever year. It was a serious competition and involved cash prices and levels. I traveled with these veterans around the state and did very well. I grew to adore these older men. I just felt drawn to their unique perspective. When I went to college I moved closer to my mother’s parents. I got to know my grandfather. He was a wonderful, intelligent, and loving man. Sadly I did not get to know him long. He suffered from colon cancer and passed away during my freshman year of college. I was devastated when he passed away. I felt such a connection to him and he gave me so much love. I was also blessed with a wonderful Father-in-law but he also passed away from cancer just a year into my marriage. I have a wonderful step father who loves my mother unconditionally and supports us with love. Still there is that empty feeling ever year around Fathers Day when I think of my own father.
I have forgiven my dad for all that he did. He is mentally ill. It does me no good to be angry at him. Sometimes I feel guilty that my dad does not know I am married or that he has a granddaughter. I wonder if I should make contact with him. I think about the past and it scares me! I can not invite that craziness into my life again. I will never allow my daughter to experience these negative things in her life. I want her to love her childhood, not run from it like I had. So as Father’s day approaches I celebrate my husband, because he is an amazing father to our daughter. I made sure to choose a man that was nothing like my own dad. I take the day to remember my father and realize why its better that I not contact him.
For those reading this article. I want you to know I do not usually share this part of my life. I have created a protective facade . Most people think I have lived some ideal childhood and come from a good background. I dont tell them this, but it is the image that I exude. In other words I do not let my past show. I have never wanted to be seen as a victim. For some reason it angers me when people say good job for overcoming everything! I dont need others to tell me that. I do not need others to feel bad or tell me that they cried for my story. I am sharing this part of my story and identity because its important to me that people see the whole me, not just the facade I show to the world. My past does not define me, but my past did help shape me. It shaped my parenting, my devotion to maintaining a good marriage, it shaped my passion for my family, my dedication to social politics. My past has given me the drive to overcome obstacles in my life. My past is also what gives me pause on Father’s Day every year.