As far back as I can remember I longed for my father’s approval and affection. He was my hero, my Dad. In middle school, I would initiate conversation just to tell him about my day only to be met with little or no response. He never seemed to have or make time for me. I desperately desired my father’s love. As a result of the rejection I felt, I began my journey for many years as my father’s “unseen” daughter.
It’s not that my dad was a bad man or father. He was a good man and provider for our family. But as a result of his difficult childhood, he was unable to show emotion. His father was killed when he was 13 and mother passed only a few short years later, then his sister in her early 20’s and one of his brother’s died in a house fire at a young age as well.
At 17 he went into the military and served 20 years. He served his country as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam for two tours. At one point, his helicopter was shot down and he saved one of the soldiers by dragging him over enemy lines to safety. He was a true war hero.
The advantage of a military life is that you are taught discipline and to suppress emotion which wasn’t difficult for him as he had really become a soldier at age 13 when his father died and his grandmother’s delivery of the news was when he peeked into the living room in the middle of the night…his grandmother saw him and said to his mother, “Aren’t you gonna tell the boy…his dad is dead”. No tenderness and no mourning…just getting on with life and being a good soldier.
THE UNSEEN YEARS
We moved from place to place until he retired in the middle of my 10th-grade year in high school. Somehow in my adolescent mind, I felt the only way I could connect and be seen by my father was through achievement and being a “good girl” but only to continue to be “unseen” by him. In high school, I worked hard for my grades. I was never one of those students who never studied and aced every test so when I did get my report card and scored well I wanted him to be proud of me…which didn’t seem to matter anyway as he never noticed which again left me feeling empty inside.
Of all the years as his daughter, I remember vividly one week that has been forever imprinted in my heart. My three kids and I traveled to visit my parents. We stayed almost the entire week only shortened by one day. My father was the most engaging he had ever been with me. He asked me to go with him to the flea market …then to some yard sales…then to breakfast. It was just the two of us: me and my father’s undivided attention. Then another day that week we went out to wash my “big ole conversion van” laughing together as it had not been washed in quite a while. It was the most amazing time I had ever spent with my dad only to be brought to an abrupt halt when that Thursday morning he woke up not feeling well.
You see, my dad had battled cancer for a few years now. The cancer was a result of the “Agent Orange” he was exposed to while in Vietnam. His immune system was depleted from the chemo and radiation treatments and a simple virus developed into Sepsis so quickly that all of his organs shut down in just a few hours. That Friday is the day I’ll never forget…the father that I had always wanted, passed away. That little “unseen” girl was seen for the first time the last week of his life.
The doctor’s had told him to avoid large crowds…but he had told my mom that he would not “stop living” and stay cooped up in his house forever. So we spent those last few days…talking, laughing and walking through the crowds holding hands bartering for unimportant treasures at the flea market. That one week will forever be engraved in my soul. Why…because I was his last “ultimate sacrifice” and his ultimate expression of love. Those last few days for the first time he was not only my father but “MY DAD”…and I wasn’t only his daughter, but “HIS LITTLE GIRL”.
MY HERO, MY DAD: HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!
…goes to my amazing dad! Dad, I look forward to that one day when we will meet again…when your little girl can run into your arms knowing how much you loved me.
Conversations That Matter