There are some memories that will be forever etched in my brain.
My little brother and I always loved to spend time with daddy. My mother hated it. We’d beg and plead. “Please, mama! We want to go with daddy!” We were quite adept at wearing her resolve, and eventually, against her better judgment, she’d consent.
Daddy was our hero. Daddy trapped Steven, the 9 year-old neighbor kid who’d touched my privates, under the little house at the back of our property. Daddy cussed out the kids down the block who bullied us. Daddy always had a fun adventure in store.
This particular adventure began with a bus ride down to the Santa Monica pier. I was 6 and my brother was 4. Daddy walked us over to a row of souvenir and snack shops. He stood in the darkened foyer of a seedy dive bar and said, “I’ll be in here. Go play on the beach.”
Free to do as we pleased, my brother and I sprinted across the wide swath of sand toward the ocean. (Neither one of us knew how to swim, by the way.) Things I vividly remember: countless jellyfish washing ashore. A green plastic bucket we came upon and used to bury jellyfish. A little boy crying after being stung. Playing under the pier. Building sand castles.
At some point, my 6 year-old brain realized it was getting late. Maybe my empty belly signaled this realization. I told my brother I was going to go get Daddy and I instructed him to “Stay right here, okay?” Then off I went toward the bar to find Daddy.
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. There weren’t many people in there. My daddy was nowhere to be seen. My heart sank. Back to the beach I ran, as fast as my legs would carry me. There was the pail, but where was my brother? I didn’t see my brother anywhere. Seized with panic, I began crying hysterically. I ran back to the bar. This time, I found my daddy and I told him about my missing brother. We went out in search of my brother. The beach loomed large. Where to begin?
God sent us a rescuer. His name was Henry. He was my daddy’s friend and was a maintenance guy at the beach. We hopped in his little yellow cart and bumped along the sand until we found my scared-out-of-his-mind brother, who’d drifted a bit south. I was never so happy to see anyone in my life! I was flooded with relief.
I remember very clearly Henry giving my daddy some money and instructing him to take us home. Exhausted and hungry, the three of us walked up to Ocean Avenue. Instead of getting on the bus, though, Daddy took us to another bar somewhere along the Santa Monica Mall, as it was called in those days, long before it evolved into the upscale destination, Santa Monica Place. My brother and I sat at the end of the bar drinking cokes, while Daddy had whatever it was he was drinking that day.
By the time we arrived home it was well past dark. Excitedly, we began retelling the day’s events to our mother, who’s face went from pale to beet red. What happened next I will never forget. My mother somehow managed to pull the dead weight of my father off the couch and to the front door. As he tried to balance himself, she literally kicked his ass off the porch, then dragged him across 20th Street and held him, knee to chest, on the steps of the church directly across from our building. When a truck appeared at the mouth of the alley, my mom, mistaking the driver for my dad’s cousin, Abel, dragged my daddy down the steps toward the truck, screaming for Abel to “Take this piece of shit with you!” It wasn’t Abel, though, and the guy sped away, so my mom left my drunken daddy crumpled in the alley and locked him out.
As much as we loved being with Daddy, sometimes he scared us when he’d fall asleep with a lit cigarette, or leave the front door wide open, when mama was working a night shift. We’d take refuge under the dining room table during their terrible fights. Daddy tried, and failed, and tried, and failed, to quit drinking. Mama had tried everything she could to help daddy quit drinking, but Daddy didn’t couldn’t, so mommy kicked Daddy to the curb for good.
Soon thereafter, we moved to the Valley with the man who would become our new daddy. He was very kind. He bought us a house and I was sooooo excited because I was finally going to have my own room! And we were going to get a puppy! And live next door to my four cousins! So much was happening and we were so preoccupied, I didn’t think much about Daddy.
Then one day, a letter came for me. It was delivered to my cousin’s house since my daddy didn’t know where we moved. My aunt brought it to me. I opened it up. It was a card with a cartoon blue bird with a single tear running down its beak. “I Miss You” it said. I opened the card. It was from Daddy. I started to bawl hysterically. My mom asked me why I was crying. “I miss Daddy!” I wailed. She admonished me and made me feel ashamed and guilty for crying over missing my daddy. “You’re gonna make Daddy Dave feel bad if you keep crying over your no good father who didn’t care about you.”
The last time I saw my daddy alive was at Rae’s on Pico. He wore his usual white v-neck t-shirt and a black cardigan. Daddy was so handsome when he was sober. He ordered a glass of milk. That’s all I remember. I was 7 or 8 years-old.
I was 18 when we got word that my daddy died. They found him under the pier. He asphyxiated on his own vomit. He literally drank himself to death. It makes me so sad to know my daddy spent his final years drifting and homeless and alone.
I used to be angry at my mom for never letting us see our daddy and for making me feel guilty about loving and missing him. Once I became a mom, I understood that my mother did the best she could and that her aim was to protect me and my brother from harm at all costs, even if that meant not having a relationship of any kind with our father.
What couldn’t be known in the thick of growing up was how all of this would effect me in my later years. The deep impact it would have on my relationships with men in particular, due to the profound abandonment I was not conscious of until many, many years later.
Because I was never able to express my feelings about my daddy growing up, I repressed them. And since I was never angry at my daddy for being an alcoholic and had totally forgiven him, I figured I had successfully survived being the child of an alcoholic. The reality is, my daddy abandoned me for cheap wine and beer. My narcissistic mom completely abandoned me emotionally during my formative years and my ex-husband abandoned me by keeping me on the low end of his top ten list of priorities. I haven’t been in a relationship since my divorce eight years ago. It used to make me sad, but not so much anymore.
We can choose to be victims or rise above the hurt and forgive and let go and move on and empower ourselves. I decided to empower myself. I threw myself into myself. I made my emotional health and well-being priority number one and it’s paid off big time. Painful self-examination, therapy, journaling, spiritual enlightening, self-esteem building. I’ve done all the things. I’m fully conscious of my abandonment issues and I work very hard at not allowing them to define me, or prevent me from trusting others enough to let them get close to me. I’ve finally reached my happy space. I feel good about myself, self-assured, confident. I am blessed beyond reproach with the best of friends, my daughter, and a life very, very well-lived.
But sometimes, I think about Daddy. I think about how I have my daddy’s smile. I’m artistic and whip smart like my daddy. I have his ear for music. I have what I jokingly refer to as my daddy’s “rice and beans” body. From time to time I gaze at the framed photo I have of me sitting on Daddy’s lap. I’m looking at the camera, but Daddy’s eyes are on me. He was so proud of me. I was his baby girl.
I don’t know whatever happened to that card my daddy sent me, but I can see that sad blue bird in my mind’s eye as clearly if I were holding it right now. I will forever miss him.
I love you, Daddy.