Happy Birthday, Dad

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Today is my dad’s birthday. He turned twenty years old exactly one month before I was born. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually celebrated my dad’s birthday with him. And, I need even fewer fingers to acknowledge the number of times my father has wished me a happy birthday.

Let me be clear; I am not bitter. At times, I mourn the loss of the father that I never had, but since my dad isn’t dead, mourning is probably the wrong term. I mean, after all, how can you mourn something that you never had to begin with and it sounds even more silly to pine over a relationship with someone who wants nothing to do with you or your children.

For most of my life, my father has been MIA and when he has made brief appearances, it has never ended well. Our relationship is certainly not a conventional one and the roles have always been reversed. What I mean is that I have always taken on the parental role, while he has been comfortable in the role of a child or adolescent.

I can speculate that the reason he gravitates to the adolescent role is because he was never shown how to be a father. His dad was a “Disneyland” dad and wasn’t very involved in his upbringing. I think my dad was starved for the affection of his father and was disappointed that he never received it. To make up for his absentee father, my grandmother spoiled my dad and became very possessive of him. She remained that way until her death two years ago. He was her puppet until the very end and with her death, came his freedom.

My dad has never been there for me. And that hurts. He missed every single one of my milestones in childhood and adulthood. He wasn’t in the audience of my high school graduation, nor did he visit me in the hospital during the births of my children. He doesn’t acknowledge my birthday and he doesn’t know the dates of my childrens’ births. These are facts. I accept them. I don’t like them. But, I deal with this reality.

When my little sister died of complications due to alcoholism at the age of thirty, I hadn’t spoken to my father in over three years. I was forced to cut ties with both him and my sister due to their addictions. I could not allow them to be around my children because their behavior was nothing any child should be subjected to. It was a behavior that I had seen all through my own childhood; needles, baggies, slurred words and sporadic behavior. But it was one that I was determined to shelter my children from.

The morning of Jaimie’s death, the phone rang at 7:59 AM and I knew something was terribly wrong. The phone never rings that early on a Saturday morning unless something is wrong. My husband handed me the phone, and my father screamed, “Your sister is dead. Jaimie is dead.” I remember thinking, this has to be a joke. She’s just a baby. But, my heart began to sink because I knew that the reality of her lifestyle often times leads to death.  Still, why her? Both of my parents had spent much of their lives as addicts and they were still alive. But my sister, their daughter, wasn’t. How was that fair? It wasn’t. But choices lead to consequences and sometimes those consequences can be devastating to those left behind to pick up the pieces.

Jaimie was my dad’s favorite child. We were his only children and he had always wanted a boy and Jaimie was the closest thing to a male. She was an amazing athlete, as was my dad, so they had a lot in common. She was fit and competitive and was beautiful to watch on the soccer field. Even in the dysfunction of their enabling relationship, she remained his favorite. So when she died in his house, it devastated him. And there I was, “Mother Hen” to pick up the pieces.

Since he was incapable of doing so, I planned and organized my sister’s funeral. He was barely functioning, so my husband and I took over. The funeral was pathetically sad, but I survived. And for a while, my dad came back into our lives. I made every effort to make him feel welcomed, but it didn’t last. Another relapse and and he was again out of my life.

There was a brief reconciliation after his mother passed away, but he was now free to pursue his life without answering to her and so that was what he decided to do.  I still text him on Christmas and his birthday and on Jaimie’s birthday and death day and he still does not text back.

Sometimes, that really makes me want to scream. I have never asked him for anything and everything I have ever accomplished has been without his help. So, why then is a return text message too much to ask? I mean, I love my children unconditionally, so as a parent, I just don’t get it.

Then it happened. I sent my dad the annual text on my sister’s birthday and worded it like this, “Happy birthday to your baby girl. I bet she’s eating a ton of birthday cake.” And much to my surprise, he texted me back. “Tell her I said happy birthday.” Ummmm…what? After a few more texts, I figured out that he didn’t remember his daughter’s birthday and he thought I was talking about one of my daughters. (His granddaughters)

I feel guilty even admitting this, but I was relieved. I mean, maybe he didn’t actually hate me. And if he couldn’t remember his favorite daughter’s birthday, then I shouldn’t feel so bad that he could never remember mine, either.

I would be lying if I said that at times I don’t get mad or sad about my absentee father. I do. It would be nice to have him around to be a dad to me and a grandfather to my children. But I was reminded at Bible study last night just how much my Heavenly Father loves me and boy, is He an awesome granddad to my children.

I am hopeful that someday my biological dad will become part of our family. I think every child desires to have their parents in their life and I just don’t think that desire goes away.

But, until then, I will continue to pray for my dad everyday and send him those text messages in hopes that he will someday reply. And today, on day fifteen of my sobriety, I choose to open my heart to others and experience all that life has to offer.

“One of the most important lessons in life is learning to turn what seems like senseless pain and suffering into something meaningful for yourself and others.” Through all of this pain and confusion, I choose to love my dad. I choose to forgive my dad. Because after all, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. No, thank you. I choose forgiveness. I choose life. You should do the same.

And who knows, maybe my dad will text me back a simple, “thank you,” for wishing him a happy birthday. And if not, that’s okay. I will survive.

Be blessed, friends.

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