I was five years old the very first time my mom sat me down on the couch to have a serious conversation with me. As she sat across the coffee table from me, she looked me straight in the eye and said: “Vaneza, your dad has done something bad, and you will not be able to see him for a while.” Not only was I confused; I was devastated. We were supposed to play with Barbie’s together next weekend! How could he just leave me? My five-year-old brain swirled trying to take in the news and disappointment. But this was only the beginning.
Since my parents had separated when I was only a baby, I grew up visiting my dad on the weekends. I looked forward to Saturdays, meeting in the McDonald’s parking lot, and going over to my dad’s house. Together we played Barbies, restaurant, or any other game I invented. He made my favorite lunch to perfection-boiled hot dogs with a side of ketchup, or a ham sandwich-cut only in a triangular shape with a side of chips. He bought me my first red bike, and stood ready to catch me as I wobbled full speed down the neighbor’s hill. He pulled the stinger out of my finger when a bee stung me as I swam in the plastic pool in the backyard. I truly loved those weekends with my dad.
As I grew up, I became more aware of my dad’s occasional absences. My mother and my family tried to protect me as best as they could, but I always found out. Every once in awhile, my dad would somehow manage to be arrested and would wind up in jail. Sometimes he was away for years, and other times it was only a few months. Each time my mom sat me down on the couch, I instantly knew he was back in jail again. Disappointment would course through my veins, and I would head straight to my room, tears flowing down my face. But no matter what my dad had done, I always forgave him time and time again. We would write letters to each other during his time in jail, and I would update him on my life. I often sit and re-read the countless letters he wrote to me. They always ended with “I love you Chicken Butt! See you soon!”
As I entered my teenage years, my dad was there for me in different ways. He taught me how to drive, and didn’t freak out when accidentally ran a stop sign. We would binge watch “Untold Stories of the ER,” freaking out about how crazy of an episode it was. He was there to see me get confirmed, and watch me graduate high school. He even went with me to San Francisco to visit the college of my dreams. And when I received a full scholarship to that college, he was there to celebrate with me on my great accomplishment. He was the proudest father in the world.
Unfortunately, as I entered into my young adult world, my dad wound up in jail again. Our letter communication was strong, and I typed him letter after letter, updating him with every minute of my life. I even went up North to visit him while he was in jail. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he stood, in a bright orange jumpsuit, behind a glass wall, looking absolutely shell-shocked that I was standing right in front of him. Tears poured down my face as I walked in, and I placed my hand on the glass window between us. He put his hand on mine, and laughed when he saw that I had finally gotten braces at the age of 20. “I’ll be out soon!” he promised. And as I left the room, I really counted on that promise.
On November 2nd, 2016 my father passed away unexpectedly from an accidental drug overdose. The pain that seared throughout my body when I found out is inexplicable. And as I struggled to comprehend and absorb his death, I realized there were two options. I could either be pissed off at the universe for taking away my best friend; or I could thank the universe for the short time we had together. And though it’s far from easy, I try each and every day to do the latter.
My dad was my best friend. He was my partner in crime. He was the person who sang Adele’s love songs at the top of their lungs with me. And despite the fact that he was a struggling alcoholic, besides the fact that he was in jail so many times, despite the fact that he couldn’t support me financially-I loved him simply because he was my dad. And that is unconditional love. And I am eternally grateful, that I loved him the way I did.