I remember thinking how jealous I was over the years growing up hearing that word. “My daddy is helping me with my math homework.” “My daddy is driving me for ice cream.” “My daddy is going to build my science fair project.” What was my daddy doing? Busy getting married to a new woman before the divorce with my mother was even final. I was 12. Before then, I didn’t think that anything was wrong in our family. I remember the Christmas that I found out that Santa didn’t exist when I saw my mom and dad running with gifts from a hidden closet and putting them under the tree. I remember when I would sit next to my dad on those few Sunday dinners when he would join us (when he wasn’t busy with “work”), and he would let me sneak a sip of his Meister Breu beer even though I was only six years old. I remember when he would come home late at night and I would wait up knowing he stopped at Walgreen’s for bags of candy that he and I would eat until the bags were finished. I remember when he took a paddle to my older half-sister and hit her so hard on her elbow that I thought he cracked her bone forever, as I cried cowering at the stairs. I remember how he had us kneel in a corner for the smallest infraction of rules he made up on the spot. I remember how he had my mom call me from a block down the street as I played with a friend, forcing me to return to the house to change the television channel for him because he didn’t want to get up and walk the five feet to do it himself (before remote control devices existed). I remember the callouses on the bottom of his feet that he would have me cut off and I choked down the vomit when I was eight, nine and ten years old for being forced to do such a deed, while my mother did the dishes in the kitchen nearby.
Life is made up of memories – they can be happy ones that you cherish your whole life or traumas that you don’t know how to get rid of. Somehow I have forgotten any of the happy thoughts – or there are so few in my life that they are drown out by the din of the traumas. Like the day my dad left. Imagine not knowing that your parents even had a problem, and then one Saturday morning your parents get into a raging fight. Over what, who knows? I’m twelve and they are yelling half in Polish. My dad storms out of the house into his leased black Cadillac sitting in the front circular driveway. My mom yells to my brother, “Go get his clothes! Go get his clothes!” My brother, a year older than me, dutifully goes to the bedroom on the first floor and grabs a bunch of white underwear from the top bureau drawer and runs them over to my mother. She takes them and throws them at his car as the white clothes go flying in all directions. He screeches out of the driveway, causing black tire marks that remained there for months, another memory etched into my mind. No, really a trauma. As I stood at the family room window watching this unfold, I began to cry. Was dad coming back? It didn’t seem like it, and, of course, he never did. Except the one time he returned with his lawyer.
Apparently he had been watching and waiting for my mom to leave – to run an errand. One day, about six months later, the minute she pulled away, he and his lawyer rang the doorbell. Eight chimes. My mother had instructed us never to let anyone in. No one. My dad begged, yelling through the intercom, that he just wanted to come in for a minute. My older brother’s naïve reaction was what’s the harm? It’s our dad. I said, no, we were instructed not to. And it crossed my mind, even as a twelve year old, that if he wanted to come in, he could wait the ten minutes for my mom to return and she will let him in. It also scared me a bit that he was with a man I didn’t know – his lawyer. Who knows what they wanted? To try to take some things from the house? My mother thought it was always to take my little sister as a hostage of sorts. You can bet it wasn’t that. His new wife would never want to take care of a kid. He had some albums. Maybe he wanted those. Maybe to take some of my mom’s jewelry. Who cares? But I told him we couldn’t let him in and to wait for mom to come home. Instead, they took off. I’m sure not too many children have a memory like that embedded in their brains. They say to learn how to let go? To learn how to forget your dad trying to steal “things” from your house but not interested in visiting with his children? How do you forget such selfishness? Such greed? Such anger and hate? Instead, it becomes a part of your DNA. You realize that it is part of who you are. You can’t escape it and then you begin to live off of it. You have to.
About two months after that, my dad came to get us for one of the few visitations he fulfilled. He would take us for an hour to go bowling – a bowling alley where he could get us in for free with a friend. After we bowled, we were driving on the expressway – it was mid-July and the thermometer was high in the 90’s, typical weather when you think of Christmas. My dad passed out our belated holiday gifts that he had never gotten around to giving us. Actually, you could see it was junk he had collected over the months that was free. My brothers got some airplane stuff. My sister got some stuffed animals. And when I opened my box, I got puppets. Wooden puppets you play with on strings. My brothers laughed so hard, I thought they were making fun of me – maybe of him. It was then that he told us that he had a new wife. I began to cry in the back seat. I couldn’t handle all that was happening. We were pulled over on the side of the expressway when he gave us the gifts and a Chicago police officer pulled up behind us. My dad said to act like I was sick. Act? I didn’t need any acting lessons. I truly felt sick about all that was going on. My dad told the officer that he stopped because his daughter in the back felt sick. The officer took one look at me and immediately believed him. My dad said she’s getting better, though, so we’ll be off. And he took off for our house.
When we got home, my brothers told my mom the news about dad’s new wife and they went out to play two-square on the patio. I stayed inside and watched my mom cry for the second time in my life. It was the finality of it all — no hope of reconciliation. That there was someone else more important in his life and it would never be us. I wondered how my brothers could just laugh it off. Why was it such a trauma for me?
My mom didn’t work and wanted him to support us, as he should, especially having married such a wealthy woman. My dad and his new wife would have none of that so they moved to Las Vegas. He told me later it was to get away from all of us. One day, right before they permanently moved, he took us to another free place – ice skating lessons at Michael Kirby’s. Just as I got off the ice, he hugged me so tight and was crying, I think. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, his mouth smothered into my shoulder, but something about that he had to move. He had to leave. I was so shocked he was doing this in public. It violated the code that my mother ingrained in us – no public display of what was happening. I just stood there. It felt so odd that my dad wanted to hug me. I was about 14 now and it was the first – and the last – time he hugged me. What should have been a great memory stands out as just another trauma, adding to why I never learned how to be affectionate.
No, my dad – he’s not the one.