I haven’t seen my father since 1986. I was 11 when he left. Even before that, I wasn’t around him much. He worked offshore when my parents were married, so there were long stretches when he wasn’t home. When I was 8 my parents divorced and I rarely saw him for the next year or so. My mother moved when I was 10, so I moved in with my father, stepmother, and baby sister to start school in a new place. My father and I lived there for 6 weeks when my stepmother kicked us out (which happened to be the night my wonderful grandfather died).
This is the day I moved in with my Grandmother. Her husband had just died after a quick, but terrible, fight with cancer but she didn’t even take time to mourn, she just started taking care of me. My Grandma’s property has two homes on it, so my father moved into one home with his brother and I moved in to the other with Grandma. Except for one other time, this was also the last time I saw my sisters until we were all adults (because their mother wouldn’t allow our family to see them).
We had been living with Grandma for several months when my father won a lawsuit against a former employer (for a legitimate claim). He won a substantial amount of money. Grandma had him put $10,000 in a savings account for my sisters and me to have to use toward college. Then she took me to the orthodontist, had them do a work up, and estimate what every single procedure and appliance would cost for my teeth to be straightened. Grandma went to my father and told him the total and made him give her the entire amount, despite his protests that he would just make payments. A few days later, after my uncle had taken out another trash bag full of my father’s empty beer cans, Grandma told him that if he had money to blow on alcohol, he could help her pay for clothes for me. He, and the $10,000 he’d put in the bank for his daughters’ educations, were gone that night.
About 11 years ago, when I was trying to have my first child, I asked a friend to help track down my father. My friend was a private investigator and looked for my father pro bono. I wanted to know if he was still alive and if I had any more siblings. I also really wanted to be able to tell Grandma something about her son. My friend found my father living in Alabama with a wife, but no more children. I thought for a little while of getting in touch with him, but decided against it.
Over the last 29 years, I’ve had every emotion possible in relation to my father. I’ve been furious, I’ve been sad, I’ve been eager to find him, and I’ve been resigned. I knew, even if I found him, that it wouldn’t really matter. He wouldn’t have any answers that would change anything and nothing that wouldn’t just be an excuse. I’ve always felt badly for Grandma who adored my father, her first born, until he proved that he couldn’t be an adult who cared for his own family or overcome his alcohol addiction. She still loved him, but she was beyond disappointed in his choices. Still, I knew she worried about him, because how could you not be worried?
When my older baby sister turned 18, I tracked down her mother and asked to get in touch with the girls. So we started talking on the phone and getting to know each other. We’re more connected now than when we were growing up, and I have two sweet nephews and a sweet niece because of them. We’ve all gotten married, but E (the younger of the two) is the only one who didn’t change her name when she married. Because of that, she’s the one the law firm’s investigator was able to track down most easily. E called me this past Friday after the investigator called her, and told me that our father had died. E had to get to work, so I called the investigator to make sure everything was legit and see what was going on.
Our father’s widow has a lawsuit because he died from an asbestos-related illness. He died from lung cancer, but I don’t have the details because the investigator was only calling us to get our contact information, she didn’t know she was calling to inform us that our father was dead. Basically, his widow was obligated by law to contact us because we are his heirs. She didn’t contact us to tell us our father had died. Almost 3 years ago. In October 2012.
After I talked with the investigator and established that it was my father we were talking about (he had a fairly common name, so I wanted to be sure), I called Grandma. I told her that her son had died nearly three years before from lung cancer. She thought it was ironic that “that woman” could find us when money depended on it, but not for common decency to tell us my father was dead. Grandma and I talked for a little while, but there weren’t many details to share. We have to depend on my father’s widow to call me if we want to know more. I’m not expecting to hear from her. Not when she didn’t call three years ago.
Then I called my mother because the law firm needs to know information about my father from the 10 years they were married. My mother and I thought it was ironic that she would be helping with a lawsuit that would get my father’s widow money when he never paid a dime of child support for me. Yes, we know the money would come to my sister and me too, but the irony is still there.
So much irony, y’all.
I have the same level of general sadness that I’ve always had about my father. He made choices that kept him from watching his daughters become adults, he will never know his grandchildren, and he drilled a hole in his mother’s heart that will never heal. It’s a strange thing to hear that your father is dead and then to be told that it happened almost three years before. You start to think of what was happening at that time, and wondering if you had any kind of “feeling.” Nicholas was 7, Tobin was 2, and of course Tesla hadn’t been born. And, no, I didn’t have any kind of feeling that my father had died. I had no idea.
I do know, however, that if I get any financial gain from the lawsuit, I will buy Grandma something lovely and wonderful.