Here it is so many years after your passing, and I am finally able to write these words to you. It was so easy for me to blame you when I was young; blame you for leaving us, for the scary financial place you left us in, for hurting Mom so deeply, for your lack of interest and total lack of participation in my childhood. I don’t have one photo of you and I together- it’s almost as if we weren’t even related…until I look in the mirror and see so much of you looking back at me. I shed many tears over your emotional abandonment, have had to work through a great deal of hurt and pain. I never understood you really- I only saw the stern military man, ‘The Colonel’, as Mom always called you. I was terrified of you, in awe of you, revered you, and I so desperately wanted your love. I will never forget the phone conversation when I proudly told you that I was going to be a music major at Florida State, pursuing my dream of becoming a band director. You told me that I would never work- such a contrast to Mom, who always told me to follow my heart, that I could be anything I wanted to be. Maybe your words were just what I needed to hear to spur me on to success. I was bound and determined to prove you wrong- and I did.
I am fifty-three now, and the years have softened my outlook- or perhaps at least added layers of empathy. I have made my own mistakes, my own choices, and I find myself thinking of you with compassion and understanding now rather than anger. With the vast wisdom of hindsight, I think of the impact of a long career in the Army, of fighting in three wars- how could that not change a person irrevocably? You grew up in a completely different time and place than I did, had completely different pressures placed on you. I realize after all this time that you truly did the best you could with what you had to work with emotionally. I don’t know that I could have done any better given the same circumstances. It’s all too easy to make those pronouncements when you haven’t walked in someone’s shoes.
My relationship with you has colored so many parts of my life, some in ways I will probably never understand completely, no matter how hard I try. It shaped some of my major relationships, especially those with men and authority figures. In many ways, it eroded my self-confidence early on, knowing I could never really please you- at least that was my perception. I know that I would have had a very different life had I grown up in your household with your constant influence. I have often wondered what it would have been like and how I would be changed from the woman I am now.
However, I am not that woman and will never be. I grew up in a house filled with love and laughter, and for that I will always be grateful. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and so I will also be grateful that you were my father, even if most of your gifts to me were only genetic. I like to think that I have your determination, your work ethic, your courage, along with your high forehead and strong jaw. I didn’t know you well enough from our brief annual visits to know any more that we might share, but have to depend upon the stories that were shared with me by Mom and my siblings.
I guess what I wish that I could tell you is that I forgive you…no, not even that. You don’t need my pardon, and I don’t need to give it. I only send you peace, and I honestly hope that you have found that peace. I am my mother’s daughter, and I will always seek joy in my life. I refuse to hold onto anger and judgement. I am my father’s daughter too, though, and I am still trying to understand what that means. No matter what, I will embrace and learn from the parts of you that are integral to the fabric of who I am. Thank you for helping to bring me into this world- intentionally or not..I am so grateful to be alive. I believe that part of our responsibilities as children is to learn from our parents and try to do better. I will keep doing my best to do just that…and I believe you did the same.