Some of my earliest memories contain my father. He was a handyman. He was also an abusive alcoholic, so he would get real “handy” with us as well. One of my very first memories is of him trying to fix a window in the bedroom with a hammer & nails. As he was holding a nail in one hand he missed and slammed his thumb with the hammer. He screamed and cursed as blood dripped down his hand. He then continued slamming the hammer down onto the nail in anger for the next 3 or 4 minutes, missing every other time and crushing his thumb and forefinger as well. He continued to yell obscentites until the job was “done” and his hand was a bloody mess. I watched this from the corner……..I was about 4 years old.
His anger and abuse (verbal, mental & physical) continued to get worse and came to a head about a year or so later when he threw me across the room into a full length mirror and stomped on my brother, nearly killing him. My brother was about 6 or 7. Our crime? Jumping on the bed.
This seemingly horrible incident was actually a blessing in disguise. It was the catalyst that led to us getting away from him.
My mother still allowed him supervised visits with us, which ended up being very short-lived.
I remember standing at the large bay window with my overnight bag on my shoulder, staring outside waiting for him to show for our visit…..for hours…with tears in my eyes. He rarely showed. I remember feeling my excitement spike each time I caught glimpse of a car coming toward the house. This happened over and over again until my mother couldn’t take it anymore, so she ended it. We never saw him again. Well, just once….
A couple of years later, my father grabbed us from the parking lot of our apartment complex as we got off the school bus. Getting kidnapped by your own father at 7 or 8 years old is a really scary and confusing thing. I was not only crying because I was so scared of him, but I also thought I would never see my mother again. I vividly remember him looking over at me and angrily yelling:
“Do you want to keep crying like a little prick?… Or do you want to have some fun?”
“Fun.” I sobbed. It seemed like the only acceptable answer. Besides, I didn’t know what a “Little Prick” was. Sounded bad though.
He drove us to his apartment, a dark, dirty & gritty pigsty with holes in the walls and a dirty mattress in one of the corners, somewhere in Cleveland.
I thought this horrible place would be my new home…… forever.
For some reason he decided to take us to the dinosaur exhibit at the natural history museum. It was there that he finally made a call to my mother. (at this point it had been hours later and her kids never got off the school bus, I can only imagine how terrifying that was for her.) I watched as he unscrewed the payphone receiver and dicked around with the wires a bit. He was either trying to bug the phone, or fool himself into thinking he was. I can’t remember what was said or if I spoke to my mother or not, the rest of that evening is a blur.
The next thing I remember was him driving us home. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing my mom again.
That was truly the last time I ever saw my father.
My mother truly did an incredible job raising me, however it was difficult to not have that male companionship and guidance. Although I know that his influence in my life would have drastically changed who I now am. I had a few friends with incredible fathers which sometimes intensified the feeling of lack, but at least I was able to gain a glimpse of what a father really was.
After becoming a dad myself, I began to think about my own father – who I had not seen or heard from in over 30 years. If I was thinking of him, was he also thinking about me?
It dawned on me how easy I would be to find. I was all over the grid. A simple Google search would show my LinkedIn bio or at the very least one of my websites – all of which contain my contact info. This frustrated me because it led me to the conclusion that he didn’t want to connect. But why? Maybe he’s all fucked up, but what’s he got against me? Wouldn’t he want to see what I am doing, or how I am doing? Maybe wonder what I look like? We have the same blood running through our veins. But for over 30 years, nothing…
I had these feelings fairly often but only spoke of it here and there with my wife.
Around 2011 I received a random package in the mail. It was addressed to my brother and I. I didn’t recognize the name or address on the return label. I took the box and dumped it out on my pool table. As I did this, my heart stopped.
The box contained old pictures of my father as well as new-ish pictures of him with people that I didn’t know. He was old, maybe seventy-five, with more wrinkles and grey hair but I recognized him immediately. It also contained old audio tapes with no labels on them and some handmade knittings, doilies and trinkets. They were all so familiar, I think I remembered them from the house we used to live in.
My heart sunk. My original thought was that he had passed away and maybe some nice person packed up some random drawer in some random room he was renting in some random house, found his next of kin and sent them his belongings.
My wife just stared at me from across the room. I was frozen, and heavy-hearted. I slid the pictures aside and saw the last component of this package. It was a 200 page, hand-written letter, from my dad.
It began with:
I really don’t remember what the rest of that first line read, because it was immediately followed with a grudge-filled rant about how horrible it was that we were taken from him. He used the most vulgar words imaginable about my mother – the person who single-handedly raised two boys on her own while getting her Masters Degree with very little outside help. Certainly none from him. I couldn’t read any more of the garbage and I was only halfway through the first page.
As 200 tattered sheets fell to the ground, I cried.
I cried for my childhood, I cried for my loss of a father and mentor, I cried for the shattered hope of any reconciliation, but most of all – I cried for him.
My wife flipped through the letter, 20 pages at a time, just glancing at the words on the pages. She would turn to me every few seconds and say, “He’s still bashing your Mom”. He bashed her to the end of the letter. This is what he had to say to his son after 30 years of silence…and at the very end, a phone number for me to call him.
A hate letter, was his legacy to me.
I felt broken.
Over the next few weeks there was much debate from friends whether or not to call the number. Some said not to call and that I was better off without him and others said to just call because “What could it hurt?” The sad truth is, had there only been a single sheet of paper that said “Jonathan, please call me.” I most likely would have immediately called without even blocking my number.
In the end, I didn’t call. This seemed like closure. Enough closure for me anyway – or at the very least all the closure I was needing, even though there was still a piece of me that felt hollow or missing.
I now have two children. When my son was born, we named him “Chase” so he will always remember to go after everything he wants in his life and to also remember that there will always be different desires in life, always something to go after and pursue, and there is no final destination or “arrival” here on this earth.
When Chase was about a year old, he was giving me a good-bye hug as I left for work one morning. It was a different kind of hug this time. I remember that it was the first time that he had intentionally really “hugged” me. The kind with a good tight squeeze and a true heart to heart feeling. He laid his head on my shoulder and was holding me tight.
He really melted into me. I melted too.
What I felt at that moment is hard to put into words or explain. The hollow piece of my heart filled up. The pain stopped. Just like that. I realized something over the next few days.
I thought that the void in my heart could only be filled by a father. A father I didn’t have and never would have – but I was wrong. With the birth of my son, and through our bond, I have become the father. I have BECOME the very thing that I needed. I became the very man I needed. It is me. It is within, it was never without.
Proving once again, that if something is for you, it will never pass you by.
What do you need, that you yourself can become, today?