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My Father's Gift
A Simple Man with Simple Dreams
I throw everything out of my crib and push myself backward until I am in the far corner. I sit there and wait. I don't make a sound. I watch the figure sleeping in the twin bed in front of me. His body moves gently up and down. I stare at him intentley willing him to wake up. He does not stir for a long time.
Finally he moves. A grin spreads across my face. He gets up suddenly and sits on the edge of the bed a moment rubbing his hand roughly over his face. I remain silent. He gets up and lumbering over to my crib he reaches in and lifts me out holding me close to his shirtless, still warm chest. He carries me to the kitchen and asks me rhetorical questions about breakfast.
This is my first memory of my father. I am around 3 years old..
I cannot remember a time my father and I did not share this amazing bond. A connection that we didn't fully understand, that seemed to have been created someplace beyond our reach. A devotion and love for each other that extended beyond what we usually share in our relationships. What I would find out much later in life is that is was very simply, unconditional love. Real Unconditional love. The proof was all around me throughout my life with my dad. There was never any question or doubt. Not ever.
My father was a very simple man. There was nothing complicated or remotely pretentious about him. He had a magnificent sense of humor. He loved to laugh and he loved to make people laugh. He was friendly and would talk to absolutely anyone. He had dreams when he was younger, dreams like anyone does. But his life would take twists and turns he never saw coming and lead him in directions, I am certain, he never thought he would go.
Who's Child Is This?
My father had these magnificent bright blue eyes. The color sometimes, depending on what he wore, was like the sky on a sunny summer day. His mother was pure Italian and his father was half Italian and half Irish. He was 6'1" tall and although thin in his younger years tipped the scale at around 270 pounds for half of my life. He was a cuddly teddy bear type that intimidated people by his size who would then feel foolish about their fears once they got to know him.
He grew up in Washington Heights, New York. He had a happy and normal childhood with loving parents. He spent his youth in catholic schools. He loved sports, particularly baseball. He graduated High School and went into the Navy where he did some boxing. It was while he was in the Navy that tragedy struck....he met my mother.
I have no idea what she looked like at the time but she was promiscuous enough to be interesting to any young man and my father was no exception. They married on January 1, 1958 and my sister was born 9 months and 5 days later.
When my father was out of the Navy, they moved to a railroad apartment in New Jersey. Railroad apartments received their name by virtue of the fact that they were built like railroad cars, one room after another, all in a row. It was during this time my mother had an affair or affairs, no one can know for certain and since she is a pathological liar we cannot rely on any information she may offer.
I was born in July 1960. My mother took me home, put me in my crib and left. My father looked for her for 5 days and finally she was found to be covorting around town with her favorite aunt, frequenting their many bars and enjoying the nightlife. It was her mother who convinced her to go home to her husband and children.
My mother didn't seem to like me. Today many would think that this was due to postpartum depression, but they would be wrong. My grandmother would later tell me that rumors began to circulate that I was the result of my mothers affair with a Puerto Rican man. I am not certain how or why these rumors developed. Perhaps people just talked because I didn't look anything like my father. Truth was, I looked like absolutely no one.
My father paid no attention to these rumors. He worked nights as a truck driver making a fair living for his wife and two children. He was the kind of man that wanted to be married and have a family. But what he really wanted was what his parents had and he was not going to find that with my mother who continued to drink and go out nights while he worked. She often left my sister and I home alone.
My persistent crying was heard by the neighbors in the very early hours of the morning. They called the police who waited in the apartment for my mother to come home. After a few of these calls the police told her that we would be taken away from her if they had to come again. I am not sure how it occured but my grandparents (my fathers parents) knew one of these neighbors and asked them to please call them next time they heard us crying and they would call our father to come home. The next time it did happen, my father was home waiting for her.
"Where the hell were you?" He asked her.
My mother, after being gone hours, made the mistake of telling my father "It's none of your damn business" to his face and then turn and arrogantly walk away.
My father then did something he would tell me he was not proud of. As my mother walked away from him and through the railroad rooms he kicked her, hard, in the behind and she went flying through the rooms. Quite frankly, I am shocked he didn't do worse and can't honestly say I would have been so kind had I been in his shoes and already tolerated so much.
They argued and she told him to get out and take his daughters with him. At first, he just got out. He was devestated. It was clear his marriage was over. I had just turned a year old. My sister 2 1/2. My father didn't know what to do. He had no place to go and he wasn't about to leave his children with a woman who would leave her babies home alone at night. It was 1961. Single fathers with their children were rare. Sure men left their wives back then, they just never took their kids with them.
He went to his parents house in Manhattan. It wasn't a big place, just a 2 bedroom apartment with a castro convertible (pull out sofa) in the living room. My uncle, his younger brother, still lived there as well. After much discussion they agreed to allow my father to move back home and bring his children with him.
My father, grandfather and uncle went back to my parents apartment in New Jersey. My sister and I had already been packed up and were ready to be taken.
And he took me with him.
My Father's Family
In 1966 we moved to Long Island. In 1968 my grandfather died and my father lost his dad and his best friend all at once. A sad, depressing feeling fell over our little ranch house. It was more quiet and my father was gone more often. I hardly ever saw him to begin with and now I saw him less.. Our grandmother seemed to be raising us alone.
Shortly thereafter my father brought home Diane. I liked her. She was pretty and wore eyeliner. For some reason I just loved that. I still remember her flowered dress with the big white collar and her pumps. She brought me a present. A mouse with a piece of cheese that had chocolate inside. She sat next to me on the couch and had a soft pretty voice. I loved when she was at the house, it felt like a family would feel if it had a mother. I would draw her pictures, usually of herself with her teased hair and black lined eyes.
My grandmother on the other hand...
Did not like her one bit and hated her entire family even more. This caused terrible tension in the house and put my poor father in a horrible position. He was torn between his responsibility to his mother and his obligation to his fiance.
Still, in 1970 my father and Diane were married. In December 1971 my brother Charlie was born. I had prayed and prayed for them to have a boy, knowing how much it meant to my dad to have a son. My father was thrilled. But what surprised me was how much I absolutely adored my little brother. I couldn't be around him enough. Feeding him, changing him, playing with him, taking him out with me. He was a wonderful baby!
With all the stress and tensions in the house however, Diane and my brother would more often stay at her parents house then in ours. Sometimes I didn't see my father for 3 or 4 days at a time as by the time he would get home I would be in bed. I would leave him notes for lunch money on Thursday evenings as I knew that was when he was paid and might have a dollar for Friday. He always left me something, even if it was in change.
In 1974 Diane had a second child, my brother Michael. It was shortly afterwad my father asked me if he should have my grandmother leave the house. There were still serious issues and his family was getting bigger. He wanted his wife and sons at home. This was understandable.
I was only 14 but without missing a beat I knew exactly what the answer to his question was.
"No" I told him "I don't think that would be a good idea".
"Why not?" he asked
"Because you could never live with yourself if you did that".
It was simple, but it was true. I knew my fathers heart. I knew what kind of a man he was and I knew the guilt would eat at him for the rest of his life. He had a sense of responsibility. His father, his best friend, had trusted him to take care of her. My father was so torn. He had such conflicted feelings about his mother. He couldn't stand the woman she had become, still, he remembered the loving mother she once was.
My fathers absence did nothing to diminish our special bond. He was not around much my whole childhood and I was fine with that. So certain and secure in his love for me I did not require constant attention or anything else other than what I knew for certain - he would be there If I needed him.
When I was 15 years old the police knocked on our door one night. I went up the stairs from my basement bedroom and stood there silently listening to my father talking to them.
"I'm sorry" he told them confidently. "You have the wrong girl. My Annie would never do such a thing. She would never steal a car". Steal a car? They thought I stole a car?
But as much as my father tried to convince the police they clearly had the wrong person, the police still wanted to see me to verif this fact. I ran down the stairs before my fathers head peeked out from the kitchen over the top of the staircase. He called me to come up for a minute. I went up to the kitchen and stood there "yeah dad?" I asked innocently.
He was smiling. He was that sure!! Without having a clue weather or not I had actually been involved my father was absolutely certain that I had not been. Apparently, he knew what I was capable or incapable of doing as well.
The police looked me over and asked me a few questions. Then they asked if they could bring in the gentleman who's car was stolen. The man looked at me and immediately said I was not the one. My father quickly responded to this declaration with "I told you my daughter would never steal a car!"
It turned out that around 5 foot 2, brown eyes, medium build, long dark hair and olive complextion also described another friend of mine who actually was involved. When the police asked me who else would fit the same description and was a friend of the girl they already had in custody, I told them her name.
I always loved that my father defended me without asking me if I were involved.
Can't Miss what you Never Had...
My father was a bus driver when we lived on Long Island so we struggled. Alot. There were no school clothes in the beginning of the year, sometimes not even school supplies. I wore shoes with cardboard in the bottom so my socks wouldn't rub against the ground. This did not work in snow or rain so I finally "traded them in" at the local department store for a new pair. Sometimes I would take my sisters old dresses or tops she didn't like and cut them into mid-drifts (these were shirts that were just below the breasts). I loved being different and having tops no other girls could get because I had kind of made them myself.
I didn't like having to ask my father for anything as I knew it was hard for him to have to say no, especially when I needed things and there was nothing he could do about it. I knew he would give me anything to make me happy if he could. Somehow just knowing this was satisfying for me.
Still, these things I didn't have, I didn't really miss all that much. I was still happy. Very happy. I had cute clothes, a home and usually food, although I didn't eat much anyway and sometimes not for 2 or 3 days. I just wasn't a big eater.
But one night, unexpectedly, my father brought home pizza. This was so rare and unusual a treat, we weren't prepared for it. It was nearly ten o'clock at night and my sister was already in bed.
"Debbie" I whispered shaking her leg, "you have to wake up and eat pizza, daddy brought pizza".
She refused. I felt horrible. I begged her to please get up and just eat one slice and then she could go to sleep. But my sister was a big sleeper. She loved sleeping. There was no way she would budge now. I had no choice but to eat, but only one slice? He brought home an entire pie!
I sat down at the table with my father and proceeded to eat three slices!! I felt terribly sick. I just wasn't used to consuming so much food. But I wasn't going to disappoint him or make him feel badly that he had made this nice gesture and no one cared. Between the two of us, we had eaten almost the entire pie.
Since things were hard, I would occasionally give some of my babysitting money to my dad to help out. I didn't mind. I liked doing it. I had alot of babysitting jobs. As I got older and worked more and made more money the more I would help my dad. I felt like my helping made things a little bit easier for him. That's what mattered most to me. His being happy. I would do just about anything to ensure his happiness, or to take some of the pressure and stress off of him.
This experience in life taught me more about family. Adversity tends to do that I suppose. Family sticks together. We all help each other whenever we can. And it doesn't matter who is doing the helping. Parent to child, child to parent. It doesn't matter. Family is all one. We are all one. It made me feel good to do things for my father.
One time, in my early twenties, my dad and I went Christmas shopping. He so desperately wanted to buy a beautiful dress for Diane. He just didn't have the money that year. He was looking at it and admiring it and I said "Oh my God dad, that had Diane written all over it".
He smiled and nodded "I know"
"So are you going to get it or what?"
"Did you see the price Annie?"
I looked at the tag "mmm well" I said and took the dress off the rack. "Come on dad, you have to get it, you'll be so mad at yourself if you don't".
"Sweetie, I don't know if I'll be able to pay you back"
"Dad jeez" I said acting annoyed and hushed him up.
As if I would have taken a dime from him to begin with! This was a gift for ME. His face was excited like that of a childs. Even the tone of his voice when he asked "Dee's gonna love it Annie don't you think so?" I loved seeing him that happy. I loved doing things for him. I loved making his life better in any way I could.
But the real pay back was on Christmas Eve as he excitedly waited for Diane to open his gift. The look on his face was priceless. Absolutely priceless. His face held the excitement of any child waiting for Santa, only he was GIVING the gift. It was worth a fortune to see my fathers face lit up like that. It was everything.
And I tried hard to do it as much as I could.
Love Is All You Need...
I had moved back home after a bad relationship. Being with my family and of course particularly my father, would make me strong again. I was certain of that. But since I did not have a car and could not afford one, my father would take me to work and pick me up whenever he could.
I got out of the car one day when he took me to work "I'll be able to pick you up today Annie" he said
"Oh Great, thanks Dad, then I'll see you at 9" I proceeded to get our of the car and start to walk away when my father called me "Annie!"
I spun around and started walking back toward the car "What dad?"
"Don't forget " he smiled.
"Don" forget what Dad?"
"Love Is all you need" he smiled.
I laughed "Dad!" and turned back to go to work.
He did this every single time he took me anyplace and dropped me off. Always he would say the same thing "Don't forget!" and you would think after the first 12 times I would have realized what he was going to say but it took me much longer.
After awhile I would feign annoyance "Dad! Uggh!" or "Dad I'm late for work!" It didn't matter, he never forgot. Each and every time he would tell me "Love is all you need" in a light happy way as if he didn't have a care in the world.
Finally at 23 I was driving on my own and no longer required my daddy to take me to work. But on occasion just for the fun of it he would say it anyway when I would leave the house. It never ended. He didn't suddenly stop one day. It just became more sporadic and I never knew when he was going to say it.
Then one night my grandmother, father and Diane went to a wedding and I was home keeping an eye on my brothers when it happened.
I had fallen asleep and my grandmother woke me up, It was very late and I was startled by her nervouness "AnnaMarie, AnnaMarie" she said it so frantically I was immediately worried.
"What, What happened?"
"Daddy" she said "Daddy had a heart attack".
I went into shock. I walked from the den into the dining room and for some bizarre reason said "Are you sure?" like she wouldn't be certain of something like that.
"What? Of course I'm sure".
I walked to the dining room wall and started punching it, yelling "No!" each time my fist made contact with the wall. I did it three times. My grandmother was shocked and just stood there, She was actually speechless. I ran my hands through my hair and tried to think. Think. What do i do? What do I do? As though there were something I could do. As though this situation were not completely out of my control.
I turned toward the front door. I could see Diane coming to the porch steps and went to the door. She walked very slowly up the steps.
I looked at her from the front door with pleading eyes. She looked up at me "All we can do is wait until morning" she said "Pray Anna, pray for daddy".
I went down to my room "It's too soon" I told God "You can't do this to me now, its too soon. I'm not ready" then I consecutively smoked about 6 cigarettes.
"Too soon"...as long as I was alive it would always be "too soon".
I slept a few hours and woke up to go to work. There was no news, but Diane promised me she would call me at work as soon as she knew anything.
I could barely think straight and was having a hard time getting the key into the lock at the store when a large tanned hand covered mine and took the key. "Having problems today AnnMarie?" It was my boss Mike. He was dressed to play tennis in his white shirt and shorts and white sneakers. Everything looked new although he played tennis all the time. I told him what had happened.
'Gosh thats terrible" he replied going upstairs to where I knew he stashed cash. He ran back down "Hope everything works out" he replied as he left.
I wouldn't work there much longer.
Early in the afternoon Diane called me and said daddy was out of the woods. I could breath again, I could finally think. He was going to be okay, he wasn't going to die.
Therefore, neither was I. As I was certain that had I lost my father, I would have lost part of myself. I wasn't sure how I would survive in a world I was functioning in only because I was tethered to it by a cord that ran through my dad. Everything was for him. Everything mattered because he existed. Somehow everything I did was connected to him. To please him, to be able to help him, to make him happy. He never requested any of this you understand. My father would request absolutely nothing from his children other than they be happy. That was all he cared about. None of us were pressured to be or do more than we wanted to. What brought us joy brought him joy. And were there anything he could do to bring us more joy, he would happily do it.
I knew, we all knew, how my father loved us beyond measure by how he showed us. Everyday of his life in some way. He could have lived his entire life having never told us once "I love you". The fact that he did say it was just a bonus! We knew it. He showed us by all the little things he did to make us feel loved. The words were unnecessary. How many people truly live like that?
"Love is all you need". For my dad, these weren't just words to a Beatle's song. They were words from his heart. His mantra for life. What sustained him every day of his life, what made him happy, brought him joy, was the love of his family and for his family. And because of this, my bus driving dad with the irrepressible sense of humor, lover of sports, family, all things comedic, and a good pot of sauce. Who lived in a little ranch house in the middle class neighborhood on Long Island was the most successful man I had ever known.
My Mother and Her Secret
The same year I nearly lost my father, my sister found my mother. It wasn't hard to do. So it begs the question, why didn't she ever look for us?
That aside, my sister called me breathlessly at work to spill the good news. I immediately had to talk to my father and Diane to find out what I should do.
But my parents never told me what to do, only gave advice and made suggestions. I even picked my own curfew as a teenager (of course since I picked it I had to stick to it). I loved the way I was raised with so much freedom to be who I was and do what I needed to do to discover my own person. Unlike other kids, I was not endlessly conditioned by my parents to be like them, think like them, act like them, even religion was taught loosley and my father always asked me what I thought as opposed to telling me what HE thought I should think. Only once when he found out I registered as a Democrat did he try to push something on me. "We're Republicans in this house Annie" I looked him in the eye smiled and replied "Not me". By now, having raised me without exactly telling me how to live made me fierce about my own choices and opinions. His fault. He let me be me. Too late to change that in my early 20's.
"What do you want to do Annie?" my father asked me that night.
"I am curious" I admitted.
"You won't like her" he said "She's not your kind of person".
"This is a decision you have to make" Diane added. I thought about it all night.
It was cold in November in 1984 and Rhode Island was quite a drive but that is where my sister, her boyfriend and I went to meet my mother. She opened the door and threw her arms around my sister "Oh my God, Debbie" I could hear her say from behind my sisters boyfriend who blocked my view. My sister than introduced her boyfriend who finally got out of my way and I saw my mother and she saw me "Oh my God" she said almost breathlessly "AnnaMarie, oh my god, your so beautiful. I knew you would be beautiful".
How the hell did she know that? Wow, knew me 5 seconds and already made me uncomfortable. I mean it was nice she thought so, but it felt kind of strange that she didn't say the same thing to my sister. Having grown up as daddy's little girl, I was sensitive to the feelings of my sister. You carry this kind of "guilt of advantage" with you. You feel badly that you were the chosen one and not your sibling and feel the need to somehow make it up to them, or perhaps that was just me. I don't know.
We couldn't have been there an hour around the kitchen table talking and looking at photographs of her additional 5 children growing up and her so called x-husbands when my mother threw down a picture of a Puerto Rican man and said "here's a picture of your father".
My sister and I looked at each other and smiled politely to the other children waiting to see who's father it was. No one said anything. Finally I looked up at my mother and said "who's father is this?"
"Your's" she said a bit confused "That's your biological father, didn't anyone ever tell you?"
I stared down at the picture. What? What was she saying? Everything then becomes a blur because I went into shock and don't remember anything after that. My sister says I got up and left the house without my coat, and sat in the car. I vaguely remember my sister and her boyfriend trying to talk me out of the car, but very little about how I got there or what they said.
I eventually went back into the house and my mother apologized for springing it on me like that with "I thought you knew's" and "Didn't anybody ever tell you" and "Well I am sure you must have realized you didn't look like anyone"...yes, yes, I did realize that, but i just thought maybe I looked like HER side of the family or a grandparent or something, I mean that happens doesn't it? .
I held onto this shocking piece of information until I got home. My parents were still up although it was 1 am and I had a feeling that for some reason they waited up for me. Why would they be so eager to talk to me about her? What did they want to know?
They asked me some questions about how she was as a person and how did she treat me and what did we talk about so....I finally blurted out "She says I'm not yours" across the table to my unsuspecting father.
"She said what Annie?" Was he faking this surprise or did he really just not hear me? I tried to read his face, but I couldn't tell.
"She said I'm not yours dad, she said my father is some Puerto Rican man she had an affair with".
My father and Diane looked at each other but neither of them looked even remotely surprised let alone shocked. I just watched them.
"Maybe she is just saying that to get back at your father? Did she have any proof?"
"Get back at him for what?" I asked. "She showed me a picture of this man, this Puerto Rican man" ... I stopped.
I remembered it vividly in my mind. The almond shaped dark eyes, the olive complextion, the thick lips, the wide nose, the dimple in his chin. I looked just like him. I couldn't breath for a moment. I didn't want to say that. Oh God, I didn't want my father to know.
Diane looked at my father who said "Who cares what she says. You're my daughter, I know that".
"But dad" I started " What should we do, what if she isn't lying?"
'Nothing" my father said quickly "Theres nothing to do" he shrugged his shoulders.
'Well, do you think we should have DNA tests done or something?" I was searching for something more, an answer perhaps, a feeling, a thought, an acknowledgment of something.
I looked at Diane who didn't seem to want to speak now.
My father spoke instead "No test is going to tell me weather or not your my child. You're mine" he said with certainty.
He clearly wanted the subject closed. There would never be testing. He wouldn't even think about it and would never, ever discuss it with me again.
His rational mind never asked these questions in 1961 and he refused to address them now. His heart had made a decision that would transend all logic and reason. Whatever bond it was that existed from the time I was born, made it impossible for my father to think of me as anything other than his daughter. There was no test that would determine our connection to each other. There never could be.
Perhaps this is the reason the saying "Blood is thicker than water" does not make any sense to me. Blood relationships or those like my father and I who are bonded by such a deep love and connection that nothing can break it, can be one in the same. Maybe we were related by blood, maybe not, but it didn't matter one way or the other. Did the bond exist to keep us together in light of those things that would have pulled us apart or did the bond exist simply from another place and for no other reason at all?
There are people tied together through "Family" that have little or no connection. Blood relatives that under ordinary circumstances would have nothing to do with each other. So does sharing DNA really matter at all? I seriously doubt it. It is just another illusion we have created. My father and I prove that theory is wrong. DNA only matters if you THINK it matters. It's more an idea in our heads that we have grasped onto. It connects us to others when what really matters in relationship fails to do so.
My grandmother was in a coma. She looked awful. My father had just come out of the hospital after having a second heart attack. Some people felt he should go see his mother, others felt it was not a good idea. I walked into the house one evening and was immediately confronted by my father "Annie, tell me what you think" my brothers and Diane were in the background making motions and trying to talk "Shhhh" my father hushed them loudly and waved for them to be quiet.
"Some people think I should go see grandma" he continued "and some say I shouldn't, what do you think? You tell me what you think I should do and thats what I'll do". Those were his exact words. I glanced at my brothers behind him quickly and thought a minute.
"I don't think you should go"
"You don't think I should go?"
"Because I don't think you should see her the way she is now, I think you should remember her the way she was and I don't think it would be good for you."
I shook my head and lowered my voice "I really don't think its a good idea right now".
My father nodded "ok" he said. He did not go see her. I am sure there were those who thought it wasn't right. That no matter what she was his mother and he should have been there. But having just gotten out of the hospital himself and my grandmother looking the way she did in a coma, I just felt it was too much for him.
My grandmother died a few weeks later. My father had now lost both his parents. He had his brother and me as the only two people in his life who remembered Washington Heights, how my grandmother was before my grandfather died and my grandfather himself. These memories were extremely important to my father.
I was married later that year and my father was by my side.
In 1988 my father, Diane and her mom and lots of other people waited patiently for 18 hours for my son Justin to be born. He was finally an emergency c-section. When the nurses were kind enough to bring him out and me alongside of him everyone ran to see him, but not my father. My father came to see me first, then he went to see his grandson.
He took good care of his health. He had fabulous doctors and Diane there every step of the way to see to it that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. It was over 20 years since his first heart attack.
My father called me every single morning. He talked to me about his doctors appointments, asked me about the boys, I told him all the latest news and what I was doing. "Work out this morning Annie?"
"Yep, just got back"
"Oh didn't think I'd catch ya home, whats on the agenda for today?"
"Oh, I gotta get goin baby, daddy has to pick up Michael at the airport today and I have some errands to run". I always loved when how he talked about himself in the third person.
One of our conversations only about 4 or 5 months before his death is about death. "Aren't you afraid of dying Annie, I mean you don't know..."
"Dad" I gently cut him off "There's no reason to be afraid of dying. It's an adventure for God's sake. You have to think of it as an adventure".
"Yeah but how do you know?"
"Dad, trust me, I promise you, it's an adventure."
Months later my father became ill one day by having been given diabetic medicine he didn't require and wasn't checked by his usual physician, He ended up in the hospital then, came home only briefly. And went back again. He was becoming weaker and thinner. He took my hand and held it tight, he asked for Dianes hand. And we stood on either side of him in his bed, and held his hand. "My sweethearts" he said. I had no idea that that was the last time I would hold his hand. I was too deep in denial to think that, in spite of how sickly he looked.
A few days later my father died. April 26, 2009. How dark and empty my world had become. He was my light, how would I ever find my way without him? My rock had crumbled and I was alone. I had spent years fearing my fathers death. Not certain how I would ever be able to live without him. Now, there was no longer anything to fear.
I spent weeks trying to distract myself with Hubpages and other things, but it didn't last and by October after thinking perhaps I was getting better and more capable of coping, I suffered a set back that became worse as the Holidays approached.
Sometimes I would spend hours reliving all our conversations. My father and I would talk sometimes for just 5 or 10 minutes, other times for an hour or more and then not really want to get off as our converstions would be so interesting, well, at least to us.
Our conversations were very open and honest, we discussed politics, news, our family, children, in laws, things we experienced together. He would ask me about my grandmother and did I remember how she was "before". Yes Dad, I remember. And did I remember Washington Heights or was I too young? No, no, I remember, I wasn't too young. I would share the memories he had heard hundreds of times before about his father, my grandfather. He seemed to enjoy that. Remembering the way things were once. When his father was alive. When his mother was different.When he was young.
Then after the Christmas of 2008 when the family was not together, he told me "I want a real christmas next year Annie, with my whole family at my house" my dad said on the phone.
I smiled. My father was never really happy unless his whole family was together. Anyone missing took away from the entire experience. We had to ALL be present. This was the very heartbeat that kept my father alive all those years. His family. That is what he worked at having and that is what he loved. His family all together for the holidays. It meant everything to him. I would do my best to insure that it would be an old fashioned christmas like it used to be. I was looking forward to it. I was especially looking forward to doing it for him.
But as the those holidays approached things looked darker. I was crying several times a day, everyday. Through November, into December. Christmas would not be what he wanted, in fact, it would be the opposite. I just wanted the holidays to be over. The depression was often overwhelming and I still can't change the caller ID in my phone that comes up "dad". I don't want to "delete" him from my life.
But wait, I remind myself, remember being carried around in strong arms, being lifted over his head, being washed over at sea, his laughing at my honesty, trips to Carvel on hot summer nights, eating all that pizza, and all those conversations we had, just us. How he would confide in me, tell me things, share with me, bring me into his world. Share my pain and frustration with compassion and understanding. I have that, I have that and more. And wherever he is, ever, I will never be alone. He is in my heart, in my memories and a great deal of who I am. Someday these memories will be enough to sustain me and bring a smile to my heart instead of tears.
When everyone would say I was "different" or "unusual", "unconventional" or "weird" my father would say "Your Special Annie".
And then one day I finally ask, "Why dad, why am I special?"
He doesn't answer for a long time, I thought he wasn't going to respond at all and then suddenly "I don't know, I guess you were just born that way".
And only weeks before he died, we are talking on the phone and he says "I don't know what I would do without you Annie" his voice fills with emotion. "I don't know what I ever would have done without you".
Reliving these conversations, remembering the wonderful loving things he said to me that made me feel so special and adored brought me great comfort. Knowing that someone loved me like that. If not forever, it was certainly enough to last forever.
It takes me a while but as I remember him telling me on a few occassions that I was a gift, I realize, I was not the gift. WE were the gift. The bond, the unconditional love, the connection we were given was the gift. Had it not been for him, I never would have known what unconditional love was. It is not what most think. It is not demanding, it is ever changing and evolving, it is not critical nor does it come with expectations.
"No one will ever love me the way my father did" I tell my husband the day after my father dies.
"I love you like that" he replies
I smile "No, no you don't, not like he did."
No one ever has and no one ever will.
This Hub is dedicated to my father Frank J. Marsico Jr. I miss you so much. I have tried here to explain our relationship and express my love. But there really are no words.
You were my world.