I spent a year in the mouth of a whale
With a flame and a book of signs
You’ll never know how hard I’ve failed
Tryin‘ to make up for lost time
By all accounts, I have always been a daddy’s girl, though I’m sorry to say I maintain a safe difference from both people whom comprise my genetic code.
My history is but a mystery to me, carefully cloaked from sight and prying eyes and prodding questions by years of stoicism and evasion. I know only bits and pieces of my father’s life predating me. I don’t even know how my grandfather died. I know nothing of his marriage to my grandmother. I can’t even recall my paternal great grandparents names.
My mother’s side of the family is much of the same, the gaps left by absentee fathers and the silent nature of my grandmother’s generation and their steadfast belief that not repeating history will keep us from repeating history. But still, I know my maternal family. I know my cousin was adopted by my aunt, though she’s not her birth mother. I’ve heard the stories about my grandmother’s twin sister. There’s the shotgun story. A million adages my grandmother uttered from lips shaped like mine, that I repeat like the gospel Peter spoke himself.
But my father, and much of his family, my family, remain a dense fog, a gray expanse of silence that I have settled down with in my own life.
I am in a place where I’ve moved from childhood, fully flung into being an adult whether I was ready or not. It hasn’t been easy. But I made it. Certainly not unscathed. But at least partially whole.
But still, there are gaps. There are pieces I’d like filled in. There are parts of me I wish to know. I’d like to know my father.
I know that his eyes crinkle around his green eyes when he smiles. And I know when he hugs me, he squeezes me tight, like he did when I was a child. I know he is the only person walking creation that can call me by my whole name without it sounding like nails on a chalkboard. I know he makes the best fried chicken east of California and south of Maine. I know that the first time he fell in love, it was with a 300Z.
But I don’t know his favorite color. Or anything about him as a child. I’ve never even seen a picture. I have only one photograph of us together. I don’t know if he takes after his father or my grandmother. I don’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up or if he was ever in love before he met my mom. I don’t know where he’d go if he got to take his dream trip or even one thing he’s always wanted his whole life. If I had to buy something for my daddy tomorrow, I’d stand in the store without a clue.
The sad part is, that my daddy was around. More peripheral than I’d like at times, but I don’t resent him for it anymore. I know now, as I didn’t then, that it wasn’t all his fault. My daddy was in the picture, but noticeably absent. He’s still a stranger to me.
Even though I’m no longer a child, I’m still his child. And sometimes I wanna ask him questions. And I wanna know him. And I wanna be able to call him and have a real conversation about more than our respective dogs and the weather. I wanna be able to talk to my daddy. I wanna ask his advice. And I want him to know me. I don’t want to be a stranger that shares his DNA.
But there’s a distance. And no matter how we try, it seems so insurmountable. Sometimes, when I’m brave, I try to reach. But my fingertips never touch anything on the other side.
I always wonder, does he feel it too? Does it sometimes make him lie awake at night like it does me?
Having been away from home for as long as I have, the changes become more pronounced. My brother gets taller. The house more worn and dreary. And my father gets older. More salt than pepper crowds the hair at his temples. Smile creases become deep wrinkles. His voice gets more raspy from the cigarettes he thinks we don’t know he smokes. His eyes are less sharp. Every time I go home I’m reminded that time isn’t missing either of us.
But time washes everyone clean
Don’t bail on me
I’d like to think that we have all the time in the world. I’d like to believe that one day I’ll look up and all the distance of all these years will be a memory too dull to even recall. And yet that isn’t the reality. It never is, is it?
The reality is that there is far more questions than answers. The truth of it is that it’s not getting easier to reach; we’re both just getting older and more distant and set in our ways. My father isn’t far from the age where he can start weighing his retirement options. And if he keeps eating like he does, and smoking like he does, there’s a good chance he’ll be gone even before that. And gone with him will be all the things he never said to me.
Sometimes I think I could live with that. Sometimes I think it would be easier to live with things the way they are; I have my father’s temperament and his stoicism. I often folly in the things left unsaid..
But there is another part of me, a deeper part, a buried part, that thinks, that hopes, that maybe if I keep reaching, just maybe I’ll make some contact on the other side. Maybe just once. Maybe only fleeting. But wouldn’t that be enough after a lifetime of silence?
I wonder if I’ll stand graveside and have to be a stranger mourning a man I never knew.
Everyday is another day is another day I’ve missed being a daughter to my father. Every awkward and stuttering conversation is another mile we move further away. Every night like this one that I spend trying to cry silently instead of being able to talk to him is another execution of familiarity.
I know better. And I hope, at his age, he does too. Time is not in the business of infinite chances. And we have so much to make up for. There’s so much distance to cover. And it seems so impossible.
Some days I just wanna curl up in my daddy’s lap like I used to back when I was his daughter. But even that was fleeting, wasn’t it? It’s just a moment, a Polaroid I keep in the back of a mental drawer, buried under a small lifetime of debris. But it’s there.
And sometimes I think, in the end, that will be all I have.
Tell mama I loved the man
Even though he turned and ran
Lovely and fine I could have been
Laying down in the palm of his hand