Learning to Love My Dad Again, 30 Years After He Abandoned Me

Image source: S. Bielanko Private
Image source: S. Bielanko Private

How are you supposed to feel about a parent that abandoned you, once you become a parent yourself?

This is a question I’ve been struggling to answer myself for years.

I’ve got three little kids of my own. They dance in and out of every single move I make. I can’t imagine ever leaving them, or abandoning them for even half a day much less 20-plus years, just because I needed to live a life of unencumbered boozing.

But that’s exactly what my dad did.

A long time ago, he walked up on some sort of meeting with the Devil out between two spooky dead trees on the outskirts of town, and as far as I can tell, he didn’t think twice. He took the deal. He signed in blood. He walked away from two little boys and disappeared out into one very long night.

I was about 8 at the time; my little brother, Dave, was 6. No goodbyes. No last hugs or empty promises. Nothing at all.

Just poof: gone.

There’s tons of stuff wrong with my heart and I know it.
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What am I supposed to do with that? It’s a merciless cancer in a way, being abandoned by a parent. You learn to live with the pain, or so you think. But really you don’t. Or I don’t, anyway. I mean, c’mon: I can’t. I’ve tried to come to terms with it, but I’m lying whenever I say I’m alright. I’m damaged goods/shrink-fodder/sadder than hell to the depths of my soul.

And yet, I love him. I do. I don’t know why. No one knows why people often love people that hurt them. We just do sometimes.

There’s tons of stuff wrong with my heart and I know it.

I’ve abused the thing from a purely physical standpoint, smoking cigarettes and dumping wads of supermarket cheese and whole scalding pots of cheap coffee down on it for a long time now. So there’s that.

And on the other end of things, from the whole metaphorical angle, well, I’ve punched myself in the heart so many times over pretty girls and young man dreams that I’m surprised the damn thing still hangs in there for me.

And there are times when my unchangeable past comes roaring back straight into my face and I want to rip the bloody blob straight out of my chest. I want to hurl it across the road into someone else’s front yard weed set-up.

And oh my God, it sucks.

I guess it’s probably because I still love the old man that I still get so sad and crabby and confused sometimes.

What am I supposed to do?

These days I see him every now and then. He showed back up in my world years ago, an overwhelming phone call in a hotel room a few nights after my brother and me had played on The Conan O’Brien Show with our band, Marah.

His voice was the same. I was so surprised that it was still etched somewhere in my brain. I recognized his sound across all those years. I smelled cigarette smoke he’d exhaled back in the ’70s, stuff I’d sniffed back when I was just some husky divorce kid with a crappy baseball card collection.

Slowly, I let him in. We talked a lot on the phone at first. Then, before gigs we were playing near his home in Boston, he’d start showing up with his old sidekick Merry. There they’d be at the bar — him drinking his beer, her already pounding back her third dark real one of the afternoon.

The relationship I’ve since forged with my father has never been wonderful or fulfilling or anything like that. Mostly, it’s all over the place when we hang out: awkward to cool, mysterious one moment, dumb the next. I think the worst part for me is that he’s never apologized for anything. And with each passing call or visit, I kind of know he never will.

He still says stupid stuff.

He still blames my mom for everything.

I bite my tongue. I stay silent.

Then he switches over to jokes or telling me about how hard his life is. There’s no grace to any of it.

Weeks go by and I don’t call him and it makes me feel guilty. Imagine that. I feel guilty — me.

But whatever; I need to call him. Merry is dead now. I think he’s drinking again. And before long, he’ll be gone. In fact, he’ll probably die alone.

Or maybe not.

Maybe I won’t let him.

Maybe my brother won’t either. Maybe we’ll drive up there to Boston, me and Dave, talking a blue streak and stopping for coffees in the rest stops along the turnpike.

You know, love is a funny thing.

And it doesn’t give a damn about what you ever thought was going to happen.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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