I’ve spent most of my life fatherless. My parents divorced when I was two, and my early childhood became a fractured maze of being stolen by one from the other, then back again. For two years my mother thought I was dead, ironic in light of the car accident during that period that nearly took my life.
I hated hearing discouraging things from one parent about the other. This went both ways, leaving me wondering if it was even possible to know the truth about either one. Her family supported her side; his family supported his. I was left in the middle in the dark.
Eventually they reached a visitation agreement: with Daddy for the school year and with Mama summers and Christmas vacations. I loved him dearly, my daddy who adored me and called me his heart. At the same time I missed my mother as only a little girl can. The summer after sixth grade I asked to live with Mama in Florida. Daddy reluctantly agreed.
I wasn’t far into eighth grade when the call came that Daddy had died. Mama dropped everything and rushed me back toGeorgia. The air in the funeral home hung thick with the sickening sweet of flowers and the pall of loss. It would be years later before I would look back and realize how the atmosphere must have tensed when we arrived.
No one knew what I was feeling—not when I walked mechanically to his side, and not when someone whispered that he’d still be alive if his daughter hadn’t left with his heart. No one possibly could.
We buried Daddy in the Pine Grove cemetery. I wore a blue dress with white lace and a basket of tulips embroidered below the collar. I clutched the tiny white handkerchief with pale blue stitching that Mama had tucked into my hand in the back seat of the hearse. I heard someone whisper that Daddy had died of heart failure. I would spend the next 20 years of my life carrying sole blame for his death.
It took many years for me to fully process my dad’s death. I had to hear it from one of his family members that I hadn’t actually killed him. It came as a shock to me to learn that I wasn’t responsible, that he had died of congestive heart failure due to many other health complications and not because I had literally stolen his heart. At 30 years old the burden of blame I had carried all those years fell like an anvil from my chest. Oh, God. It really wasn’t my fault?
It would be difficult to measure the toll those years of heaviness took on my perception of my self-worth. I had barely allowed myself to even think of him all that time, I who felt like a murderer who certainly didn’t deserve to recall happy memories of a man she had sentenced to death. A lot changed once I realized all that weight should never have been mine to carry.
I’ve spent the past 20 years remembering Daddy for the amazing man he was, recalling snapshots of childhood with him there teaching me, showing me off to everyone, laughing that crazy laugh of his, drinking sweet tea from a jelly jar and telling jokes where he always sat at the end of the kitchen table. These are the memories a little girl needs, even after she is all grown up.
I’ve spent most of my life fatherless. But I am blessed that only three years after losing Daddy I met a wonderful man who guided me along God’s path and became not only my husband but my lifelong best friend.
And I am blessed to have had the Daddy I had even if only for my first 12 years. How I wish we could have had more time, that he could have known my husband and our children. I will always wish I could have spent more of my life as my daddy’s heart. I know I can’t change what was. But I can, and will always, live a life that would have made him proud.
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