A Father Isn’t Necessarily A Dad

Blue jeans, white truck. I hadn’t seen you in a year. We sat side-by-side on my living room couch, staring ahead at a Christmas that was three days old. You fidgeted, laughed nervously as we spoke hesitant, forgettable words. Five minutes later, without checking your watch, you slapped your knees with a “Well, baby girl…” and told me you had a party to go to. You wrapped me in a familiarly unfamiliar hug. For hours, every movement I made smelled like your cologne.

Grandpa was better at this than you.

Unbeknownst to his second wife, Grandpa would visit as often as he could, pulling up weeds and bringing us fresh greens from his garden. He would tell my grandmother he loved her, cultivate my mother’s green thumb, remember my birthday. He would plant an “I’m sorry” over and over again until it blossomed into a lemon tree and then a fig tree, and then a plum, and an orange, and a peach, and an apple, all lined up in a colored row behind our garage.

But when I was younger, when all the missed birthdays and Thanksgivings, dance performances and piano recitals couldn’t keep you from being fresh to death and sick as cancer, all I wanted was for you to fit. Into my life, into my arms, better than my favorite sweater. I would gush at the cool way you’d stretch out your “he-eeys,” smile at how you’d turn down the car radio no matter how often I spoke, screech when you’d let me beat you in Putt-Putt golf. Brush it off when you’d refuse to pay child support, but hand me $100 for a pedicure. Cringe at how you’d make a fuss over me in public, but drop me off at your girlfriends’ houses as soon as there had been one too many hours of us. You were a dazzling mix of youth, vanity, and selfishness that was as awe-inspiring as it was cruel.

But these memories are as old as the diced-up Polaroid of you that I fed into my mother’s shredder: for most of my years, our time was an annual obligation around Christmas time. “Honor thy father and mother,” my mother would insist. Besides, you were a fighter, she said. You would have aimed your horns at my accusatory words like a bull to a red flag. So I smiled politely as you struggled to remember what grade I was in and what school I went to and threatened my nonexistent boyfriends. And each time you left, I would wait for your white truck to turn the corner at the end of our street before I quietly shut the door. Love is mean, love hurts. A young, hard lesson made harder and then easier once I understood that this was not love. So in 2008, my senior year of high school, when you apologized for not being there to raise me, I was prepared. Headed out on Sunday, said he’d come on Monday. Your white truck turned the corner, and I haven’t seen it since.

Out of the hundreds of days and times that I have listened to ‘Blue Jeans’ by Lana Del Rey, I have wondered why I have never gotten sick of it — until I realized that it made me think of us. All that patience and loyalty and forgiveness are some of the prettiest, yet saddest sounds I have ever heard. Because with time, I have become just as flawed to you as you are to me: impatient with you, disloyal to you, and even worse, unforgiving — a fact which, I recently realized, would mean I would never get over you.

So in writing this, I give to you what Grandpa reaped. I don’t know what you are chasing, if you are still running, or if you have even found what you are looking for, but know this: it was worth it. You have taught me two invaluable things, if not more: 1) that every day that I free you of my disgust and anger and blame is a day that I choose not to watch you fall short of loving me and 2) that complacency is just as much a disease as dissatisfaction. And so, because I am half you, I will embrace restlessness and chase whatever my heart desires until I am too tired to run. Then I will shed you, settle down, and be for my husband, for my son, for my daughter a love until the end of time. TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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