A “Dad-Shaped Hole” in My Heart

Father’s Day approaches, and although I rejoice in the wonderful Dad that my daughters have, I take no such joy in my own.

He was an unsolvable mystery to me. He married my mother when she was seventeen and they had me when she was nearly nineteen. My only impressions of him as I grew up came from family members who shared stories of his selfish, immature treatment of Mom during their short marriage. He seemed unable to connect emotionally with others, and from an adult perspective, I wonder if he may have been somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Soon after my birth, my mother divorced him and married her next husband. He was the one I would think of as “Dad” until that marriage dissolved when I was about six or seven years old.

My father checked back in briefly when I was fifteen; traveling from Memphis to Tulsa to sue for my custody when my mother temporarily gave my guardianship to my manager. I was a professional singer living in Oklahoma with my manager while my family stayed in Washington.

He strode into the courtroom, acting as his own attorney, and seemed totally oblivious to the realities of the situation (no, my mother was not giving me away) or any emotions I might have about meeting him for the first time. He lost his case, but my manager graciously invited him to her home to meet with me. I sang for him for the first and last time in my life, and tears came to his eyes.

Silly me; I thought we might have connected.

Later, I received a bus ticket to travel to Memphis to spend a week with him and his latest wife (he married multiple times) and I must admit, I was hopeful. My strongest memory of this ill-fated expedition was meeting his wife, who immediately gave me a gift. It was a set of shorty pajamas in bright colors and I was thrilled. I wore them when I went to bed and made sure that they knew that I was delighted with the present.

The next morning, she scolded me for “flaunting myself at my father,” making me feel foolish and ashamed. My father said nothing at all. I called Mom, told her I would be taking the next bus home and left, never to see him again.

I find myself wondering how much emotional damage and insecurity his wife suffered in that marriage. He and I spoke a few times over the phone through the years, (I suspect Grandma made him do it.) but he had no real interest in me or his beautiful granddaughters and I eventually wrote him off.

“Ignore me if you like, but my daughters will never deserve that,” I thought.

When he committed suicide in prison at the age of 59, it was as if a stranger had died, leaving the “Dad-Shaped Hole” in my heart to be forever unfilled.

This piece was originally published at Story Circle Network’s One Woman’s Day blog.

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