Riverwide

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

15 thoughts on “Riverwide

  1. Wow. Just wow.You really know how to put your feelings into words. I think you have said what I’ve been trying to somehow figure out in my head when it comes to my own father…Just last week, I sent him a card in the mail requesting to see him. I haven’t seen him since I was 22. I am now 38. I made it a goal to see him before I turned 30… Let’s just say that I am waaay overdo. I haven’t heard back from him, but I made a big step and sent a card with my information on it. Don’t know what I will do if he doesn’t respond. The man lives less than 10 minutes away, and I have driven by his home… yet I still wonder what to do. So many questions…My emotions run the gamut, just like yours. I hope you get some resolution with your father. This post encourages me to find a way with my own. Thank you for this post. You are such an amazing writer…

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  2. I really love your spot more and more. You know this is a beautiful post. But it’s more than just a “post” you are letting us in to your heart and really telling us all the things you should be telling your daddy. If you feel at a lost for words around him. How about you write him a letter when you are missing his fatherly love.You are never grown to your daddy girl. I bet is you asked he’d still say you were his baby….not just his daughter!What you think about that?

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  3. I agree with Go. I think that if you expressed yourself with him he’d be receptive. A lot of this stuff is simple curiosity and I’m sure he’d love to tell you. Its weird when we start looking at our parents as people, with lives before we existed, lol.

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  4. My mother spent many years angry. If you asked her a question about family history, you did so at your own peril. Growing up she focused on the activities and training needed to make us well-educated, well-rounded children–but emotionally distant she always remained. My parents were married for 32 years on my b-day, and my father has been putting together bits information shared by other family members to try and put the story together. Though she is no longer as angry–asking about her family is still an excercise in courage. I pray that you continue to reach out and perhaps even broach asking the questions that might prod him to talk. I have found that some gentle prodding can sometimes open the door on things you thought would never be discussed.

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  5. although this entry is tinged in sadness, i can still see the hope there, so all is not lost. when you stop hoping for a change is when it’s a wrap.beautifullly rendered emotions here. i love how you express yourself.

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  6. I’m about to sound like a broken record…but as usual…I love the way you wrote this! It reads like the start of your book…hint hint. *wink* Please print and give it to your father. As Nikki pointed out…because you have hope…all is not lost. He is probably feeling the same way and just wondering when to have the talk.Make it happen…living in the land of shoulda/coulda/woulda friggin sucks!

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  7. Hmmmm…that’s an idea…printing this and giving it to him.I can’t imagine how you must feel…this yearning to know the man who is HALF OF YOU ARE…This was a really, really, really dope post.

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  8. I agree with Nikki, there is still hope. I think when we are dealing with men father’s age, they were raised where emotions were not really something they had time for.It needed to be job related. Or pay a bill. I would say keep reaching. And at some point force yourself to flat out tell him you want to know more about his past.I sat with my dad at about a dozen lunches or random times sitting in his office near tears wanting to ask him about growing up. I didn’t do until I was 20. So it’s definitely easier said than done.But you’re strong and I know you can do it. Make up your mind to go for it 100 percent every time you go home. The thing that finally forced it out of me was those thoughts you may have after he passes if you don’t ask. I simply did not want to have those.

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  9. Jonzee says…”I have found that some gentle prodding can sometimes open the door on things you thought would never be discussed.”And some Crown Royal can open doors too. Let my tat that makes me sigh every time you touch it serve as a reminder that you can’t live with not knowing. Nor will you.You’re doing it. I’ll buy the bottle.

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  10. Do it, hon. As soon as you can. My father died of a heart attack when I was not quite 19 before we really got to bond and I came to grips with him trying to be in my life. I regret having that wall up, who started it is irrelevant. He’s gone and I can’t talk to him like I want to. You got the chance still. Make it happen and add to your peace of mind.

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  11. Beautiful writing as usual. I know I wish I knew my father better before he died. Whether we want to admit it or not, our parents shape the people we are, its only right that you want to know more. Someone has to take the first step, it might as well be you. At least you can say you tried.

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  12. As long as there is still life, there is hope. If this is weighing so heavily on your mind then that means it’s important. You see where I’m going with this? I never really “knew” my father. He died when I was eleven coupled with the fact that he was married and had another family aside from me my mom and my sis. So…I said all that to say..tell him how you feel only because you CAN.

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  13. Go for it. At least you’ll know you tried and can rest easy. I tried to get to know my absentee father again last year and he disappeared — again. I’m resting easy.

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  14. i didn't learn as much as i know now b/c didn't really make an effort before me and d lived together. i'm glad i did and i'm going to make sure we keep the lines of communication open. he looooves to talk so it's great to learn about my fam in the process. esp w/his 8 bros & sisters and 12 aunts and uncles– yeah!! all that!! that's a lot of history!!

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