Oh Mine Papa

Yesterday was the 25th Father’s Day my father has missed. He died just before Father’s Day in 1984.


Except for a few years when I was very young he was kind of a mean father – in all senses of the word. I have a handful of fond memories of him and he was always there and provided for us and everything, but he was a very angry man; very intense, very anti-social, very broody. I think he would have been much happier if he hadn’t had any kids, or maybe not quite so many kids.

He was madly and passionately besotted with my mother and very possessive of her. I think all those kids took too much of her time and energy away from him.

My father was also a very creative guy with not enough of a creative outlet. I think this left him very frustrated with his life. He would have been happy in a garret somewhere alone with my mum, painting or sculpting or writing poetry.

Instead he had to earn a living and support 7 people.

We used to fight a lot, he and I. About everything. He was often violent, insulting, demeaning. He wanted total control and I was exceptionally unruly. He tried so many crazy things to get me to submit, from whoopings, to yelling,  to locking me out of the house, to locking me in the house, to not allowing me any food, to once sneaking in my room while I was asleep and cutting off my hair – though I’m not sure exactly what that was meant to accomplish. In any case, none of it worked.

I must have driven him crazy.

I hated him and feared him. I loved him and ached for a kind word from him. I was in awe of him and the things he could do; the things he knew; the things he created. And I felt sorry for him because I knew he wasn’t happy and knew he wasn’t doing what he really wanted to be doing with his life. And I knew it was because of us kids and I always felt guilty about that, though I now know that was totally stupid.

And I blamed my mother because she’s the one who wanted a large family and he could refuse her nothing. And because she didn’t seem to get it, or him, at all. Again, totally stupid of me.

And then, a few years before he died he decided he’d had enough of earning a living and spending all his time working. So just like that, he quit his job to pursue his dream. It was kind of scary, but also very cool and very obviously the right thing for him to do.

He changed so much in those last years. He almost became a happy person. And he tried really hard to make amends for the past. So much so that I was very surprised to find out, during her recent visit, that my sister still has nothing but pure hatred for our father. (We had a long, drunken conversation about that and learned a great deal about each other in the process).

But back then, with me, at least, he tried his best to open up some channel of communication. He showed me that he wanted to try and be a good father, if it wasn’t too late. It was clumsy and awkward and more than a little strange, but gut-wrenchingly good at the same time. I hope I was able to convey to him that I understood and appreciated it.

Anyway, we only had a couple of years of this floundering new relationship before we found out he had a terminal illness. My sister thinks he got exactly what he deserved, but man, nobody deserves the long, horrible progression of brain cancer. It was heartbreaking to see him in such pain. To see what he had to go through that last year. To see him become confused and afraid. To see him become so helpless. To beg for death.

This man, who had always been so fiercely strong and robust and healthy was suddenly reduced to something that gutted me each and every time I saw him.

This man never got to see any of his kids become adults. He never saw them get educated. He never knew what careers we chose for ourselves or how we succeeded in those careers.  

He never knew any of his 6 grandchildren. He never got to be a grandpa.

He never got to grow into his wisdom.

He never got a chance to enjoy the dream he finally allowed himself to fulfill. Never got to relax and enjoy the fruits of his labour.

And he’s been without my mother, the love and light of his life,  for such a long, long time.

And he never got old.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa wherever you are.


32 responses to “Oh Mine Papa

  1. everyone deserves a chance to change. good for him for making the effort – that must have been extremely difficult for him. and how nice that you can appreciate it.

  2. Oh you XUP… It’s not fair. You cannot make me cry in the office, in a Monday morning after another father’s day 10 thousand km away from mine. It’s not fair.

  3. That was very touching XUP….a bittersweet story of love, loss, second chances and redemption. At least he was able to recover some of what he’d thrown away once he realized how valuable it was.

  4. We had a very similar dads it seems.

    And, I too made peace with my Papa the last two years of his life. That’s why I can write beautiful things about him now. That was a loving post XUP – big hug to you…

  5. Meanie – Yes, I don’t understand my sister wanting to hang on to such bitterness for all these years. The crazy thing is that she was the favourite and was always treated much better than some of the rest of us.

    Guillermo – I’m sorry you’re so far away from your father. The world is a much smaller place these days though so I’m sure you’re able to connect on some level pretty regularly. Although he no doubt misses you, I’m sure he’s very proud and happy that you’re making a better life for yourself in Canada.

    Jazz – It ain’t easy, that’s for sure. It’s been brewing for a while. There’s so much more I wanted to say, but I think it needs to be saved for a different venue.

    Zoom – Thanks. It really is bittersweet. It wasn’t until I got to be around the same age he was when he died that I realized how very young he had been and how much of life he’d missed.

    Woodsy – Probably not unusual for men of that generation raising women of our generation. Those were sort of the transition years where the men had grown up learning to be masters of the house, yet their children were growing with expectations of autonomy and rights and opinions. I think it took a lot for these men to give up control and accept the whole crazy new ways of the world. I’m glad your papa was able to find some peace with it all eventually, too.

    Lola – Ah, the sister visit. It wasn’t bad. We both worked very hard not to push each others buttons. It helped that she was out most of the time busy with her conference stuff so we were nice to each other on the few occasions we spent together. My cat Bazel seemed to dislike her intensely though. He hissed at her every time he saw her. And he’s never, ever hissed at anyone who’s been at our place before. In fact the only other time I’ve ever seen him hiss was at the vet’s at the follow-up visit after he’d been neutered. I think there were some unpleasant memories there.

  6. Ooooh. What pain, what loss, what heartache. I love that you can see through his meanness to the man he was trying to become… it gives me hope for all of us. I hope some day your sister can let go of her hurt and see past her pain eventually…

    Thank you for sharing such pain and beauty with us.

  7. (((XUP)))

    I am not looking forward to when Mother’s and Father’s days roll around and mine are no longer with us. Especially since I’ve chosen not to have kids, and so won’t even have that distraction from my own grief.

    ‘Course, I forget The Special Days all the time now – I guess because I can afford to …? but I have this feeling I won’t then.

  8. Well, this totally made me bawl like a baby. Too many parallels with my own father. I’m so happy to hear that you were able to reach an almost-peace with him before he died. I often wish I had done the same.

  9. That was an amazing post, XUP. I’m glad that you and your dad managed to connect before he died. I think you make a good point about the timing of it, the fathers raised to be the authority in the house at the same time that children were pushing for autonomy.

    And it sounds like Bazel might be a good judge of character. Cats can be. My ex was over yesterday to see the girls on Father’s Day, and Max ignored him and sat on my lap.

  10. wow. strong post.

    yesterday I celebrated two fathers’s days.

    One for me, as a dad to a wonderful 10yr son and to a wonderful 5 yr daughter. They even made me pancakes and bacon, fluffy good pancakes. Happy part of my day.

    The other father’s day was for my dad. he too has been gone a long time. 33 year now. not so fond memories. well, a mixed bag of memories. when he was able, my dad tried to be everything he could be as far as a good dad. then he become sick but not physically. he was a manic depressive. things got bad. in the end he killed himself. every year I hear everyone talking about how they plan on spending the day with their dads. for 33 years I’ve quietly stood off to the side and watched.

    such a torn up day of emotional. Thanks a freakin’ lot Hallmark.

  11. I started missing my dad early last week, before I even consiously thought about it being father’s day. He wasn’t artistic, like yours XUP, but he was frustrated and angry. He was my rock though, when I was a kid, in a home that was like living in the middle of World War III. Then, he betrayed me. One weekend he touched me and kissed me in totally inappropriate ways and my world fell apart fully.

    There was never an apology and it was years, but he made it up to me, if you can do such a thing, and he was dad again.

    He died in 1998. More than anything else, I wish we could share one more breakfast of his great oatmeal.

  12. Very nice post, XUP. It’s hard to grow up enough to truly see a parent for who they are or were at the time, to understand better and to still love them. You seem to have come to the point in your life where you have done this, as bittersweet as it obviously it. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Hallie – Thanks for the hugs. It will be tough to lose your parents no matter when it happens. But the fewer regrets you have, the less left undone and unsaid, the more serene your grief will be. Enjoy them while you still have them.

    Lynn – Aw, I know. I can’t even watch or read or any father/daughter relationship stories good or bad without weeping. You can still reach a place of peace and understanding in your own mind even if you didn’t manage to get there with him. Most of my perception of my father comes from me. Those tentative olive branches from him would have meant nothing if I hadn’t worked most of it out myself.

    Alison – Thanks lady. He was just a guy who did what he could with what he had, you know. He was better than a lot of Dads and maybe a bit worse than some. All in all I guess that’s not a bad legacy. All his kids turned out okay. We’re all gainfully employed, raising families of our own (except sister)., we’ve never been to jail or had substance abuse problems. None of us have needed therapy. We’re doing better than a lot of people and maybe worse than some. All in all those are pretty good odds for 5 kids.

    Reeky – Geeze, that’s tough. I can’t imagine having to grow up with that. Bipolar disorder is definitely a physical illness though. It’s too bad he wasn’t able to get the help he needed. Poor guy. Poor family. You can still celebrate his life and the good father he was able to be before he became ill. And you can definitely celebrate your own family and yourself for coming through it stronger.

    Savanleck – Oooofff. That’s one in the gut, woman. How do you get over such a betrayal? That’s so far beyond just being and angry, physically and emotionally abusive person. Losing your temper with your children and hurting them is one thing — not a good thing, of course; but using your child in a sexual way is so far over the line it’s in a completely different universe. Where was your mother? Did she know? Did she do anything? Did you get any sort of help with this? It’s horrible. And, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how he could possibly have made that up to you. But, if you’re at peace with it, then that’s good. Sometimes all you can do – the best thing you can do for yourself, is to let go.

    Pinklea – I think watching him slowly die for that year pretty much allowed me to let go of all the bad stuff. My sister chose to make herself scarce during that time, so maybe that’s why she’s not able to get over things. Like I said, no matter what he did or didn’t do, that year of suffering was so far beyond any sort of divine retribution, there was no way I could hold on to any anger after that.

    Raino – Thanks. It was quite gutwrenching to write. As I said to someone else, there was so much I wanted to say — still want to say, but perhaps not on the blog. But I still wanted to say something here.

    Cedar – Ja. Hoch soll er leben.

  14. What a wonderful and touching post, XUP. I wish I could express my complex relationship with my own Father as eloquently as have you.
    If it is not too close-to-the-bone, I humbly suggest that this be the post you read out loud in July.
    P.S. – I had a great Father’s Day with my 3 spawn. One day (much further) in the future, I hope they remember days like yesterday.

  15. So sad. I’m glad he tried to make amends in the end, that shows great strength of character.

    My husband has a bad dad. He is ill at the moment and all sorts of mixed feelings are swirling about. This man who probably couldn’t pick his grandkids out in a line up still seems to have his daughters all fussing round him and I find that hard to understand. I’d leave him for dust with his second new family to care for him. Probably because he’s not my dad, just a man I don’t like very much and have no relationship with. In fact I think he might struggle to pick me out in a line up too.

    Some people just aren’t cut out to be parents. The trouble is you don’t know that til you are one.

  16. There is still a fair bit of bitterness when thinking about my father, but it took him many painful years to die and that was very difficult for all of us. And so unjust. This post affected me way more than those of undying love and longing for a parent whio has died. I’m going out now to sit and cry in the sunshine.

  17. Excellent post XUP, as always you write about a deeply personal topic in such a great way. It also touched me.

    Good for you to have made peace with your father. I haven’t been able to go that far yet. My father was, is still, a deeply unhappy man. He was violent too, physically and emotionally. And I also rebelled that, as a girl, I was relegated to cleaning dishes, couldn’t live my life like my brothers with no other explanation other than “you’re a girl” and if I dared explode in frustration, all I got was “I think she’s crazy” and again, like you, I yearned for a word of encouragement from him. It rarely came. It affected most of my relationships.

    Last time I had a “contact” with him was in 1991 when I found a note on his door, after he changed the locks of his house, saying “if family is so important to you, here are the phone numbers of your brothers, call them, as far as I am concerned, I don’t want to see you ever again.” Nice isn’t it?

    I know that it will be a long time before I want to be in the same room as him.

  18. Trashee – I don’t think I could read this out loud, but thanks for the suggestion. Are you coming to the event, btw? And yes, it’s difficult to put all those years of emotion into a few words. And this is just the bare bones. It’s good to put it on paper once in a while though.

    MisssyM -Stuff like this seems to go way beyond bad parenting. They’re just usually not good at healthy relationships of any kind. And they lose out on so much – grandkids, in-laws, their own kids’ lives. What are they thinking? (PS: Why do so many of your family find themselves in line-ups?)

    Violetsky – Aw, I’m sorry you’re sad. Damn those parents anyway that they can still churn us up after all this time. No matter how old you get, how successful in life, love, career – no matter how happy you are — a word from a parent can still send you into turmoil or into joy.

    UA – Holy cow! Where have you been? Are you back in blogland or just lurking? How’ve you been? And, holy cow, that’s horrible of your father. I can’t imagine any scenario where I would shut my child out of my life like that. Sure, we have battles and she irks me sometimes, but a parent’s love is supposed to be unconditional. It’s so hard to let go of that hurt and betrayal from a parent, but so good for you if you can manage it. (Don’t be a stranger at this door, eh? So nice to hear from you again)

  19. This really broke my heart. As a true Daddy’s Girl it really pains me to hear about so many women that did not have that connection. Every little girl should be the apple of her Daddy’s eye. Alas, even my own daughter and her father do not have that bond. They have a terrible relationship. I feel for you, I really do, but I’m glad you got a little something there at the end. Peace be with you.

  20. Linsey – Thank you

    Geewits – I was at the wedding of my best friend’s daughter not too long ago. She is a real daddy’s girl, too. Her Dad had put together this amazing video tribute to his beautiful daughter and you could tell by watching the audience which of the women there had had a Dad like that and which wished they had. The latter were bawling their eyes out through the whole thing while the former just smiled proudly. It’s so sad for both the daughters AND the fathers to have missed out on something so special — my own daughter and her father included

  21. Beautiful and moving post. Why oh why would he want to cut off your hair??
    I treasure my relation with my father. He was a warm, affectionate and intelligent man. I miss him deeply. My mom did all the bossing around (and still does – she gets on my nerves).
    My daughters are also lucky to have a nutty and affectionate father and I guess I’m probably the one who did the bossing around when they were growing up in this case.

    Did you ever talk about your your dad with all your brothers and sisters? When my daughters get together and reminisce, they seem to have totally opposed versions of situations they lived together. Each focuses on what was important to her at the time, coming up with anecdotes that leave the rest of us feeling we must have been somewhere else at the time. Makes you wonder…

  22. this is really intense, i enjoyed every bit of it. in a way this reminds me of my relationship with my bio dad. i didn’t grow up with him, but i started trying to get to know him in my early 20’s.

    i had to sort out my feelings for him, and we’ve been building on that for a few years now. he’s made amends and is trying to be there now when he couldn’t be there before.

  23. Patsy – Funny how you’re the only one who asked about the hair because I still think that was super freaky. I guess no one else did? I have no idea why he did it. And yes, we’ve experienced that same altered reality thing when the sibs start talking about the “good old” days

    Leah – It’s so sad that it takes some people almost their whole life to sort themselves out enough to allow other people into their lives.

  24. true, part of the problem was that we were “schooled” on hating him from a very young age. we were told of all the terrible things he did, we even found tapes of his drunken calls. i’m not sure how much of that was on purpose, or out of anger and hurt. i do know that a certain person in my life has an almost 40 year old resentment that isn’t doing her any good, in fact it’s held her prisoner with no quality of life.

    that was random eh?

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