As if a magician had waved his magic wand, my father vanished into thin air when I was four years old. He and my mother decided to go their separate ways after four years of marriage. As a child, I didn’t understand what it meant for a marriage not to work or the concept of “irreconcilable differences.” All I knew was, for the first three years of my life, I had a father who wrapped me in bear hugs and kissed my cheeks until they burned from his facial stubble; and then one day, he disappeared. While still a small child, I’d ask my mother about his whereabouts and she’d tell me that she and my father were now “separated.” I wasn’t sure what that meant either. Would he come back some day? Had he gone off on a trip? Was this something grownups did from time to time?
The years bled into one another and he never came back. When I turned eight, a letter from him was delivered to my grandmother’s house which was where my parents had lived during their marriage. At the time of its delivery, we no longer resided at my grandmother’s so my grandmother, in turn, brought the letter over to our house. My mother assembled my sister and me and read it to us. I hung on to every word she spoke: How were his daughters? He was sure our little faces had changed a lot since our babyhood and wondered what we looked like now.
Listening to my mother reading his questions, I perked up, thinking that, finally, we’d get to see Daddy; but Mom shook her head. She told us that someday, when we were grown, we would have the freedom to search for our father; until then, life would go on without him. She never actually came out and said she wanted nothing to do with our father, but her apparent disinterest made her feelings clear. Two or three times after that, she came home with stories about how she’d had unexpected run-ins with him. One encounter happened right outside our home when he happened to drive down the street we were living on and my mother happened to be outside at the same time. My sister and I were inside our house, completely oblivious that our Disappearing Daddy had, “Poof!” reappeared and that our parents were sharing a brief conversation that would once again end with my father going his way and my mother going hers.
Each time my mother recounted the stories of these random “Daddy-sightings,” I couldn’t help feeling disappointment and frustration. In my mind, a “Daddy-sighting” had become an impossible event—like pancakes raining from the sky, or Hell freezing over—and it seemed like I was never around for the action. I wondered why we hadn’t been brought outside to see him; why arrangement hadn’t been made for us to spend time with him at a later date; why a story was the only thing we were given to show for Dad suddenly popping up and quickly disappearing again. I swallowed my helplessness and the feeling that he had been right within my grasp yet had slipped through my fingers. The memory of him was like a ghost haunting the back of my mind. There were times when I wondered if he ever existed at all or if my mind was playing tricks on me; but then I’d look at old photos of him holding me and remember times like when he and I made mud pies in the backyard, and I’d know for sure that he was real and not imaginary.
In our house, Father’s Day was a holiday we never paid much mind to. While the rest of America made the effort to run out and buy cards, cakes, and hideous, yet well-meaning, neckties for their dads, my sister and I were used to treating the third Sunday of every June like any other day. Ironically, Father’s Day often falls on, or within a day of, my birthday; but, I had accepted at a very young age that there was nothing for me to celebrate on Father’s Day. I focused instead on being happy because June meant birthday fun but it pained me that I felt excluded from Father’s Day participation.
When I was about 15, my mother was on a mission to find my father. She wanted her divorce papers signed and finalized and wouldn’t give up until they were. She interviewed several of my father’s old friends and they shared scraps of information about the last time they’d had contact with him. Some provided addresses where he might still be living. We stitched the clues together, hopped into our car and took off on a wild goose chase to find him. Empty-handed, we returned home, no closer to locating him than when we started. Eventually, my mother was able to have the divorce finalized after the passing of so many years and the grounds that my father failed to contest it.
In 2005, after 21 birthdays and 21 Father’s Days had passed, one amazing event triggered a chain reaction: my boyfriend of one year popped the question. Although I was ecstatic about my wedding day, which was planned for the following year, I couldn’t help feeling bittersweet about the idea of walking down the aisle because the question of who was going to escort me had always bothered me. I carefully observed the weddings of my girl friends who married before I did, taking close note of their escorts. One walked down the aisle with her uncle and another was flanked by her brother and mother because her father was deceased. Somewhere, deep in the crevices of my heart, I’d always held out hope that my father would be the one to walk with me down the aisle on my big day. I had no idea how this was supposed to happen because I still had no idea where he was.
Six months before my wedding, my mother and I were strolling through the supermarket doing some light shopping and I resumed discussing with her how badly I wanted my father to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. She listened quietly, pushing the shopping cart we were sharing while I talked. Finally, my mother came to a standstill, reached into her coat pocket and removed a slip of paper. I could see that a telephone number was written across it in her neat handwriting. “I’ve been told that this is your father’s cell phone number,” she said, placing the paper in my hand. I stood there frozen, holding the scrap of paper in my palm. I’d had so many false starts before: Internet searches I’d paid for that always turned up nothing and hours spent digging through public records online. After all of that, did it really boil down to this one moment? I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I fished my cell phone from my purse and, standing right there in the grocery store, I dialed the telephone number. When I heard the groggy male voice fill my ear, my heart pounded so hard, I could barely breathe. “Yes?” the voice asked.
“Dad?” I heard myself respond. Not waiting for an answer, I plunged headfirst into the conversation and started talking a mile-a-minute. “This is your daughter Kesha and, well, I’m calling because I’m getting married this year in July and I really want you to be there with me and give me away at my wedding and I’m hoping that you will be able to. Do you think you can?”
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone as I sensed that he was caught completely off guard. “Kesha? Is that really you?” he whispered. “The last time I heard you speak, you had a little girl’s voice and now…”
“Yes. It’s me. I’m 25 now, Dad…and getting married. Can you believe it?”
I think I almost gave my poor father a heart attack because both my phone call and this news were coming out of the clear blue. Turns out he worked long, erratic hours as a souse chef at a hotel and I’d interrupted his sleep. But when he realized who was calling, he was suddenly wide awake. We talked for several hours and he immediately booked air travel from Atlanta, GA, where he was living, and flew to Philadelphia, PA two weeks later to visit my sister and me.
The day my father came to town, I met him on a street corner in Center City Philadelphia. The moment I looked at him, I instantly recognized the flat face and deep brown skin color we both share. He was much shorter than four-year-old me remembered, but his bear hug and the pleasant sting of his facial stubble against my cheek as he kissed me were still the same. We stood on the street corner, wrapped in a tight embrace as endless streams of traffic barreled by. Looking at his face after 21 years felt like a miracle to me. I wanted to laugh, cry, or just stare at him to study every line, muscle movement, and eyelash flutter so that I could burn it into my memory in case he ever slipped from my grasp again. I was afraid to look away in case it was a dream. My sister and I dined with our father that night at an elegant sushi restaurant and beamed when he proudly told the waiter that we were his daughters.
In the months that followed, Dad and I shared many tearful phone conversations in which I told him how much I missed him over the years and asked why he’d left my sister and me when things hadn’t worked out between Mom and him. He told me that he was sorry we’d been hurt by his absence but that things had just sort of turned out that way. It pained me to hear his answer and I won’t deny that I felt anger and frustration at both of my parents’ inability to give a clear reason why my father had been away for the majority of his children’s lives. In the end, though, I had to make a decision to be happy about having him love me now, instead of choosing to cry about the 21 years of his love I’d missed out on.
So, on July 23, 2006, just as I’d always dreamed, he was there on my wedding day. With my father gently holding my right arm and my mother holding my left, I walked in my white dress into the arms of my husband.
Dad hadn’t been there for most of my life, but he was there for the first of my big life-changing events. For that, I thank him.
© 2015, Shalena D.I.V.A.- Author| Speaker| Life And Business Coach. All rights reserved.