As I glanced at my phone this morning, I realized it was almost the ninth of September. Now for most, that may just be an upcoming Monday or the beginning of the work week. For me the 9th of September represents something greater than that. It is my dad’s birthday, a day I can no longer spend with him, as he has passed on to the other side. Every year as it gets closer to this date, it makes me reflect on my dad and reminds me how much I miss him. When I say miss him, I miss the real him, before his disease and addiction took over him and changed him.
My dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 4 years old, he was actually a year older than I am now. I remember him as a superhero at this time. He was a black belt in karate, he hit the gym every single morning and he was always challenging my brother and I physically. I had no idea he was battling anything because he never showed a sign of weakness. I just thought he was a strong and unbeatable force. I was a daddy’s girl, so like all daddy’s girl you never see anything wrong with your dad because the image you have is of a protector who would never let anyone hurt you.
I was my dad’s pride and joy. He would always bring me to work and I would roam the halls of his office building. I would follow him to karate, and I wanted to be like him. He worked hard but knew how to balance work and play. He was always bragging about my latest story and grades to everyone. Always telling me not to listen to others who judge me, because they are only jealous of the talents I have. He taught me to be strong and he always understood me. He was there to rescue me from my mom who did not understand my creative mind and would always try to bring me down. He was my number 1 fan for the longest time.
I gained a love of football because I would always plant myself in the living room when he was watching on Sunday. Even though we were divided house because he was a Raiders fan and I was a 49ers fan, that didn’t keep us from bonding and having a good time. Laughing and making jokes about the other teams players. My dad always making fun of me because I thought Steve Young was cute and had a small crush. I also became a huge fan of sci fi because of him. He introduced me to Star Wars, which might have been bad since at the age of 5, I watched one episode every day after school. I remember him trying to explain Star Trek to me but never understanding but being fantasized by the characters and scenery. He was the one who taught me to ride a bike, play football and soccer, swim, and to be independent. He was the right kind of parenting, being there when I needed him but giving me space to learn out lessons on my own time.
Even when everything fell apart in my childhood, he was still there for me. More so, than my mom and brother, which was surprising to me after I learned about everything. He never turned his back to me, and he never abused me. His discipline was fair, and it made me question why I was acting out in the first place. He made me feel safe and was always telling me what I deserved and that I should accept nothing less. I grew up knowing that no matter what mistakes I made or what I went through he would be there. This was all true until about my sophomore year of high school.
Like I mentioned previously, he was diagnosed with MS and as the years went on, the disease took hold of him. When we moved to Georgia, after several years, he started having more and more incidents. He was hospitalized several times and he could barely walk without the help of a cane or wheelchair. I get my stubbornness to give in to physical ailments from him, because even though he knew he needed help to walk, he didn’t want to give in to not having control of his body. The pain got worse and he could barely function without his own personal pharmacy of drugs. At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal because the doctors were trying to help him stay independent and help the pain. However, soon he started to change.
He turned into an addict, never knowing how he was going to act. His day revolved around his timed medications and going to work. I respect him for the fact that through everything he was able to hold down the job he had been at for over 30 years. He still worked to provide for the family, while he was battling multiple illnesses. In my sophomore year of high school, I was going through a lot and he had always been there for me. The only parent I had to turn to for anything, I slowly lost that. He was no longer coherent. If he was, it was not the same resilience and advice he once had to give. I felt as if the roles had changed and now I had to be the parent of him because he was constantly coming to me with his problems. This was so overwhelming because I was barely holding on to life at the time. Depressed and hating my own life, this threw me over the edge.
I remember I spent a year not wanting to be around him, trying to destroy the image from my childhood of this hero who had my back and kept me safe. I became bitter and my darkness grew filling the entire house. My brother off at college, I was the only there who had to deal and watch my father turn into addict and slowly kill himself. Ironically, this pissed off my suicidal self. Here I was wishing the cut would be deep enough but yet I thought he was a coward for hurting himself with pain meds. Never realizing that part of his demise was actually partially my fault. So many times, he tried to save me from myself. In moments of clarity he would try and reach me, but I was so engulfed by my negativity I couldn’t see it. Instead of trying to understand him and have empathy, my darkness made me turn my emotions of grief into hate. The hate causing me to get into fights with him over nothing and pushing his limits. Actions occurred that I wish I could take back and I was pushing him to the edge because I couldn’t deal with my own life and watch his go down the drain as well. For someone who wanted to be gone from this world so badly, I was never one who could sit by idly and watch another do the same. This caused a big rift in our relationship because we were one and the same. We both were fighting demons and it seemed like whenever we encountered one another, we were lining them up to do battle against one another.
Still he was my dad, and I couldn’t give up on him. When I ran away in senior year, my dad scoured my room looking for clues as to where I might be. When I returned, he was the first one to pull me aside and encourage me to continue publishing my writing. Telling me that my gift was one that needed to be shared, no matter how dark the subject material was. For that moment, he was the father I remembered. While I did feel exposed because I always hating people cracking into my writing sanctuary and reading anything without my permission. I took his words to heart and started publishing more stuff. I entered contests left and write with poetry and short stories, winning some and losing others. It gave me a drive to succeed. I started up my writing business again, making some nice side cash. It helped me focus on the alternative magazine I created with a best friend while interning with others. It pushed me to make connections in the literary and music world and really work towards what I wanted to do. So, while I felt exposed and violated by his infiltration into my literary world, his words pushed me to get back on track. He was once again, full of inspiration and telling me not to listen to the haters and just push through and do what I need to do to be happy in this world.
He was the one who supported me when I decided to postpone college to live a dream. His support far outweighing the cries of me being a failure by my mom. Once I left though, everything went downhill fast. I was lost in my own world. Surrounding by friends and colleagues, shows almost every night, working and having fun. My dad was spiraling into a worst state. I never called, not even to check in. I mean when you are 19, you always think your parents will be fine without you around. Plus, I was selfish and living my own life without them, so I didn’t see the need to expose myself to the toxicity of the household.
When I came to visit, my dad was worse off. He was slurring words, could barely walk. At first I thought it was the MS taking hold of his brain, as this happens as it spreads through the body. However, I realized this wasn’t the case when he overdosed on opiates. That was when I realized the drugs were starting to win and he couldn’t survive without pain killers and was abusing them. I tried to help him, as I had watched friends slip into this vicious cycle. There was no helping him, he didn’t want it. Relapses and overdoses became a way of life. I grew tired, and when I moved back in, it was too much to bare. My want to help him started to turn into a sense of wanting to control him from hurting others. I would drive him to appointments to keep him off the road, often rearranging my schedule to do this. He became selfish and more childlike, our relationship straining.
At night, I would think about the past and the happy images of us playing games, me following along at karate next to him. Watching him get awards at work. I focused on the positivity, while in reality he was slipping. I always remember the day he told me to leave my ex because he was not the type of guy he taught me to look for or marry. How those words held true, but I was too far in that cycle to really process it until later. Eventually I went overseas to Korea, he was having issues, but he had cheated death so many times, I figured he would still be there when I got back. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After a legal issue and my mom throwing him into a home, refusing to give anyone the contact information to get ahold of him. I felt sad. He was my dad and though he had changed over the years, he will always be the positive influence from my childhood. I learned of his passing and it made me angry that no one had told me. I felt it though. I felt his presence change, and I could feel him around me. I had a sense he was no longer in the physical world but didn’t find out until later. I felt numb when I found out. Having been away for years, it didn’t hit me until later. I was writing and I broke down. He was gone and all I had were memories. Now was he perfect? Is anyone perfect? No. Did he leave me with issues? No, even though people think he should have because of his behavior. Why did I get away in life without the infamous daddy issues? I focused on the positive. I don’t look at his drug addiction days as him, I look at them as someone else inhabiting his body. Is that healthy? Um, psychology would probably say I was deflecting and ignoring the truth, but it was only part of the truth. You get to choose how you remember people. For me, I have chosen to remember him as the hero from my childhood who was an example of how a man should be. His unconditional love for my mom was amazing to watch as I grew up. The fact that no matter what they went through, he always went out of his way to make her special, even though she was too cold to receive it most of the time. He never stopped. He showed me how men are supposed to treat women and making sure that I knew I was special. I focus on those times. On the times he taught me I was one of a kind, and that I shouldn’t care what others think of me. I learned how to be strong because of him and how to push myself physically. He taught me how to not give up and to keep going. He taught me what unconditional love is. No matter how sick he got or how bad our fights were, he always loved me.
So, as his birthday comes up, I remember him as my hero. I choose to erase all the negative scenes and focus on the positive ones. Sad I can’t spend it with him in the physical scene but can celebrate with him in the spiritual sense. So, I will light a candle and watch the reruns of my childhood with him, embracing the smiles and laughter that fill my mind. Looking over pictures that I salvaged and remembering the better times with him. Watching our favorite movie and listening to our favorite bands. While starting a new fitness challenge that will push my body and mind, just like he showed me to do. Remembering all the happy childhood moments that I still cherish that I keep in the back of my head. All while missing him and wishing his life hadn’t been so tragic in the end. Learning from his mistakes and making my life better by watching his example and changing negatives into learning experiences and using them as guides as what not to give in to during my life. Missing him and hoping he is doing well in the spiritual world while I know he looks over me and keeps me safe. So, for some September 9th is another day, but for me it is a day to embrace memories and remember the man who helped shape me. Miss you dad!
©Writing the Rose
7 September 2019