This days seems to come (and go) every year. Father’s Day. My husband is a wonderful father to our daughter and for that I am thankful. But that’s her father. When I think about Father’s Day, it takes me immediately to my own father. A man gone for nine years now. How can that be? As I read in a blog post from another writer this week, the father/daughter relationship can be complicated. And every year that’s how I feel about this day as well.
In today’s post I’m making an effort to unwrap some of my complicated feelings surrounding this day. I’ve chosen to do so in a letter to my daughter. Words describing to her the grandpa she’ll never meet.
Let me tell you about the man you would have called Grandpa Haynes. He grew up in the same small Missouri town where I spent my own childhood. Some would say he grew up on the “other side of the tracks.” But to me, his early childhood friends and neighbors, who would parent friends of my own years later, were just that. Friends. We weren’t raised to see them any differently.
Your grandpa graduated from high school and started working from that point forward. He had several jobs over the years. He briefly owned a pool hall, managed a grocery store and worked on the railroad, to name a few. It was on the railroad where he incurred a career-ending injury while working in Chicago.
In so many ways, this injury broke the backbone of our family as well. Your grandpa lived with chronic pain for many years. He took pain medication but over time this wasn’t enough. In my mind, I can still see his unique limp, slightly hunched over from the constant nerve pressure he felt in his back.
He was a proud man and didn’t want to talk about the pain but still it took a toll. Further, he didn’t know what to do with himself since he couldn’t work anymore. We lived on a number of acres of family property so he did what he could to keep himself busy caring for the land. He also enjoyed hunting and fishing.
The next parts are harder for me to talk about but they were part of your grandpa’s makeup as well. Sometimes he drank too much. At times around us at family functions but more often, he would drink at a family-owned bar or with friends away from our home. It was not uncommon to have him absent from our home for two and three days at a time because he waited until he sobered up to return. This was in the days before cell phones, so we often didn’t know where he was.
I’m amazed now that this didn’t alarm us. Maybe my mom wondered about his whereabouts early on but if so I never heard about it. While I didn’t necessarily think it was “normal” for dads to disappear for days at a time, it certainly seemed normal enough in our household.
A good friend of mine asked me once if I regretted having the Dad I had. Without hesitation, I told her no. Not at all. As a person of faith, I know God gave me just the dad he had in mind for me. I learned so many lessons from our relationship. One of the main ones being that when you’re family, you love no matter what.
I think every girl needs her daddy. Not a perfect father figure. Your daddy’s not perfect. Neither is your mom for that matter. Sigh. Please always save that role for your Heavenly Father, the only perfect Father we’ll ever have. Your grandpa helped teach me that. No earthly father will meet all our needs but God can!
Over the years, I’ve talked with many women who had absent fathers for one reason or another. What a void that must leave in a heart. I can honestly say I knew my father. The good, the bad and the ugly. For that, I’m thankful.
Also, I have no doubt my dad loved me. I’ll share with you just a few memories I have from my childhood:
When I was three years old, I was riding a tricycle on our friends’ front porch. I fell off and broke my arm. Immediately, dad ran out when he heard my crying. My earliest memories of him are from that day. He gave me a huge hug and said repeatedly, “It’s OK Pooh (his name for me), Daddy’s here.”
At around four or five, when I’d get upset with my mom about whatever little thing, I’d go running into dad and climb up in his lap. He’d wrap his big strong arms around me and say, “Is your mom picking on you again?” I loved my daddy’s lap.
Your grandpa didn’t usually make it to the special events in my life. Again, I didn’t find this all that odd at the time. I just grew up knowing this was my dad. Maybe he didn’t attend these events because he obviously struggled with them. He didn’t like the crowds. Or perhaps he lived in denial that his baby girl was growing up and these milestones served as too great of a reminder.
He only went to church with us one time in my life. Your grandparents were separated by then and it was likely a last-ditch effort to win your grandma back. Although this and all other efforts proved futile. In reality, he’d left their marriage long ago.
But Dad did attend one special event I’ll never forget. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding. Perhaps this letter helps you understand why this fact means so much to me. I grew up having a backup plan of who would escort me on my wedding day. I just didn’t know for certain if he’d show up. For a few years, I thought my own Grandpa Haynes would do it but he passed away before I got married. Then my idea was to snag my two brothers, one on each side, if needed. Dad showed up though! The pictures I have of us on my wedding day are some of the last ones we have together because he died three years later.
The details of his death, little one, we’ll save for another time. Life, pain and bitterness caused my father to make some choices we all regret. Let me just say here and now that my greatest regret of all is that he never got the chance to meet you.
I’d absolutely love to have one more family gathering with his side of the family. He would DJ, playing all that old country music it’s important to me that you know. We’d serve up a big bowl of my aunt’s potato salad. Our Kansas City family would drive in for the day because now that he’s gone, I never see them and I often wonder how they’re doing. Maybe we’d splurge and have Pizza Hut cater the event. He’d request thin crust, hamburger. And you could be there! We’d play Hey, Hey Good Lookin’ (my grandma’s favorite) and let you twirl around with a sparkler in your hand. I’d probably cry but they’d be happy tears mostly. It’s complicated.
This letter isn’t about making excuses for your grandpa. He was who he was and I not only grew up learning to live with it, I loved him completely. Flaws and all. He’s taught me so much about life. I’m proud to call him dad.