Last Saturday would have been your birthday. You would have been 77 – can you believe it? When I was a little girl, growing up without her Daddy, the day was never mentioned. I don’t think I even thought about the fact that one day out of the year would have been your birthday. I think I learned the date from the back of a photo.
What would you have liked to do for your birthday this year? Would you have liked it if your four kids and four grandkids came over? Would we have grilled on the back porch and served up watermelon and ice cream? Or would you not have wanted to make a big deal out of it? My mother says, for your last birthday, you insisted on no cake. So she got you cupcakes. You were 51. A month later, I turned two. A month after that, you were gone.
Could I have talked you into going sailing with me for your birthday this year? You loved sailing. It was one of the few stories I heard about you when I was little. I used to stare at all your beautiful sailing trophies on the shelf in the basement. Did you know that out of your four children, I was the one who would have wanted most to go with you? I got your adventurous streak.
Did you love me, Daddy? My mother didn’t talk about you much. It was like you’d never happened. I want to know everything about you, but it’s hard to talk to the people who knew you, because just thinking about you makes me cry. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to ask the questions swirling around in my mind. Maybe one day, I’ll be ready to hear the answers.
Did you know I was “adopted” last year? All my life, the only thing I wanted was a father. It took me until I was 26 years old, but I found him. He’s not exactly perfect, but he’s good enough for me. It was so strange, how we met. He even said once that maybe you were watching and had some part in bringing us together.
I don’t remember you, Daddy. Not in the part of my mind where I can pull up pictures and replay special moments. But I think there’s a part of my mind that holds my very earliest memories. Only, it’s under lock and key, and I can’t open it. But I can hold it close, and press my ear to the side, and I think I can feel what’s in it.
I feel big arms around me, and my head resting on your chest. I feel safe and at peace, because Daddy is here.
I didn’t know this memory box existed until I found a new daddy and felt, for the first time again, big arms around me and my head resting on his chest. Here I am, a full-grown woman, and he holds my head against his chest as if I were a baby. But this is exactly the thing I’d been craving my whole life, and he understands.
No, craving isn’t a strong enough word. I was shriveling up inside from madness and starvation. The little girl inside me was trapped in a never-ending tantrum because I had no father to wrap big arms around me.
I think some part of my little baby mind knew, when you died, that I’d lost something really important. And that I needed to find it again. And I think that memory was locked inside the memory box. Because when I found those big arms again and that broad chest … it was the strangest feeling. Like a memory, but one I couldn’t picture or replay – only feel. And I wasn’t all shriveled up inside anymore. When I get hugs from my new Daddy, it feels like someone filling me up with sweet spring water. And I drink, and drink, and drink, and it soothes, but I’m still not full. Not yet. Maybe I never will be. I have an entire childhood of lost hugs and kisses to make up for.
I miss you, Daddy. I wish I could say it was because I remember you and the time we had together. Instead, all I can do is miss you because I’ve been so thirsty for everything you would have given me as a little girl. I know you didn’t want to leave. Maybe you’ve been worried about me.
Don’t be anymore. I’ve been lost for a long time, but I’m finding my way. And if you had any part in sending me a new Daddy … thank you. I couldn’t have gone on much longer without him.
Happy Birthday. I love you, Daddy.
Thanks to my sister Sandi for the photos of our dad.