July 3, 2011

A Second Chance for Robert

Friday morning, as Charlie stood on a chair at the kitchen sink and “washed dishes” and Simon rode on my back in the Ergo, I read the latest Dear Sugar column.

Saturday I went to the post office and mailed out an extremely late Father’s Day gift to my dad.

The two events are not unrelated.

It’s not uncommon for Sugar’s column to make tears roll down my cheeks, but her most recent advice offering to a father who’d lost his only son broke me wide open. I stood in the kitchen with my grief burning in my body and I sobbed right there for both of my kids to witness.

I’ve done my fair share of bitching about illness and fever and teething lately but the month of June was so much more than those things that have led me here, to this place where I am once again a grieving woman. Father’s Day, for example. I think it may be the most bittersweet day of the year for me. On that day, I smiled and laughed and I meant it because my boys have a wonderful father who loves them and they will never have to question that. I have loved watching Roy grow into his role of daddy and I am so proud of him. All of that is tempered by my relationship with my own father. It’s practically non-existent and it feels like it lives only in my mind. It doesn’t feel real. Only the grief does.

And so while everyone posted on Facebook about how much they love their dads, I had nothing to say aside from a shout-out to Roy. I posted a video about forgiving our fathers but there was no response. Either no one saw it or no one knew what to say or no one wanted to talk about the places that hurt on a day that’s supposed to be celebratory. I’m okay with that. I do love my dad. He’s half of the reason why I’m here today. But we don’t have a relationship. And that I am not okay with.

I will never be okay with it. It’s the grief that keeps on grieving.

Simon’s middle name is Robert, which is my dad’s name. We knew, as soon as we found out I was pregnant again last year, that if we had another boy, his middle name would be Robert as a way to honor my dad. I wonder sometimes what it means to saddle a baby with the weight of a relative’s name. Will he develop a brain tumor like my dad did? Will he live in a way that my dad couldn’t? Will history repeat itself or will he write his own story? I asked Roy these questions today. I needed answers that were once clear but had become muddled.

“It’s a second chance for Robert,” my dear sweet amazing wonderful husband replied.

And it slapped me across the face like it does every once in awhile, the realization that I will never have a dad like the one in Father of the Bride, that my kids will never have a grandpa to play with, that there is a person sitting in a crappy nursing home in Waco, Texas, who is half of the reason why I’m here today and yet he is lost to me. Forever fucking lost to me.

I don’t know what to do with that. It’s been almost 30 years since his essence was taken, leaving this shell behind, and I still have no idea what to do with this howling emptiness inside me. I try to silence it, by sending out Father’s Day gifts and writing cheerful cards that say things like, “Charlie is 2 now! He’s such a smart and sweet boy. Simon is 7 months old and is crawling and pulling to a stand. We wish you were here. We love you.” It’s all bullshit. What I want to say is “Charlie is 2 now. Why didn’t you call? And what about my birthday? Why didn't you call? Do you even realize that you have a 32 year old daughter and two adorable grandsons? If I tell you I love you, will you say it back? I hope you’re not suffering. Are you suffering? I don’t think I can bear it if you are.”

(I know he is suffering.)

My dad will never have a second chance. I sometimes have to sit with this and let the enormity of it pass over me. I don’t know what to do except breathe and feel the screaming space inside me.

My dad will never have a second chance. So we gave his name to our second son because it’s the best we can do to give him the impossible.

My dad will never have a second chance. He will remain in the nursing home with the big picture of John Wayne over his bed and in his fragile and damaged mind he will drift away to happier times. This is perhaps the only thing that makes his suffering okay, the fact that he can escape it.

My dad will never have a second chance. And someday he will die, just as someday we will all die. Of course, we don’t know when. He’s defied our expectations by hanging in there for much longer than I think any of us expected. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen him. Charlie was six months old. It was Christmastime. In less than three months, I would be pregnant again with a little baby boy who would be given his name, a little boy he has yet to meet.

My dad will never have a second chance. I understand this, and that is the place from which my sorrow speaks. There is wisdom in that sorrow, and understanding, and compassion. And yet, like Sugar said in her column, I would give it all up to hear him tell me he’s proud of me and that he loves me.

And this is why I find myself here this morning, reaching for healing, despite the fact - no, because of the fact that my dad will never have a second chance. After all this writing and this spilling of my sad, sloppy guts, I still don’t know what to do with all this reality.

And so I will sit awhile. And breathe.

(All pictures in this post were taken by my dad in his college days, pre-illness.)

(If you don't already read Dear Sugar, you should start. Her column is one of my favorite things about the internet.)


Sara said...

I wish that I had something profound to say....but I am so emotionally taxed that there is nothing profound left in my brain. So, I will say I am sorry friend. I am very sorry that this is what is on your mind and you cant change it....I think you are amazing and fabulous! xoxoxo <3

Becki said...

I don't know what to say, except that I'm sorry this all hurts so much. I wish I could do something, but I can't - except for be here whenever you need to talk. *E-hugs!*

Amanda said...

Wow. I don't have a dad either, but not for the same reasons, for sure. How complex and sad to have lost him, and to also feel abandoned by him. He should have called on your birthday. I'm used to the feeling of hating my dad because he forgets my birthday. I don't know how I would deal with it, if there was a medical reason for him being an asshole. I'm sorry honey. You must feel so confused and lonely.

Leslie said...

Sara and Becki, thank you. I really appreciate that.

Amanda, yes, he should have called. But he hasn't called in years. I don't expect him to. And yet when I sit and really think about it, I really want him to, even though at this point he may not even really remember I exist. I have often wondered which is more difficult: a dad who is an ass because he chooses to be or one who is an ass because of a devastating medical condition. I don't have the answer. I wouldn't classify my dad as an ass anymore. I guess I've moved beyond that point. Sometimes, at least.

Erika said...


I know the grief your going thru all too well. 4th of July is the last holiday i spent with my dad before he was killed, I saw the video you posted on facebook and I just simply didn't know what to say.

it fucking sucks big balls that we have to live with this for the rest of our lives its so fucking unfair.....living year by year with the screaming pain, the emptiness.

NO ONE can fully understand what you are going thru, they can sympathize but they can never truly FEEL the pain you feel, even after telling someone the whole story. I feel for you friend I truly do but this is something we are going to have to deal with day by day.

Writing about your feelings lifts the pain off your shoulders for awhile and feels good, expressing love to others also eases the pain.

Remember, you are NOT alone with this daily struggle.


michelle said...

2 years ago this month, my mom went to bed ... she woke up the next morning believing it was 1969. she had some minor memory issues for a while, but a bad uti flipped a switch and the dementia swept in and took over. i lost my mom that day. she's still here, physically, but is now living in a nursing home and completely detached from reality ... the one person who knew me best and loved me most now rarely knows who i am. i've lived with it for a lot less time than you and your family have, but i think i have an idea of how you feel. i get so angry ... this disease stole my mother from me, and left me feeling unbelievably guilty that i feel no love for the shell it left behind. i send you good and strong thoughts.