A fatherless Father’s Day

The last few days when out and about in the world, I couldn’t help but notice all the Father’s Day merchandise displays, cards, and gifts slinking their way out of storage rooms at, it seems, every single store in town. Each card, each display smashed into the glass cocoon of denial I’ve built around myself. Each card, each display hurt – physically hurt my heart. So the cocoon is cracked now, and feelings I’ve repressed for months are leaking out.

My biological Dad died three years ago.

My stepdad died three months ago.

I have zero fathers left in this world.

This will be the first Father’s Day in my entire life, where I won’t be going to a store and buying a sweet card that talks about the difference my dad made in my life. I don’t think I realized that until this week. I have no reason to get anything for Father’s Day anymore. Not ever again. Every father figure in my life is gone. Since my stepdad died in March, since the whirlwind of getting that phone call, of buying a last minute plane ticket back home, of the hours of suppressed tears on the plane, of the viewing, of the dinner surrounded by his lifelong friends, I’ve completely shut down emotionally. I’ve done a good job of burying my head in the sand since I got off the plane and came back home. I’ve stayed so busy, so distracted, so detached. I’ve been very social, I’ve gone to group events, I’ve picked up new responsibilities, I’ve started working out every day. And for the hours where I don’t have something planned, something to distract, I spend those staring at the TV, getting my mind to focus on whatever show is on.

I know I’m hiding and avoiding.

Denial…sometimes it’s a cozy place to rest awhile.

So I haven’t thought about the realities of life for a while. I haven’t allowed myself to. Staying as busy as possible has been how I’ve kept sane these past few months, how I’ve managed to stay okay. It’s what I did when Brandon died, it’s what I know how to do. Maybe this seems like a strange way to deal to some, but it’s my way. And just like with Brandon, I know this distracted way of life wouldn’t last; my avoidance would come to an end eventually, it always does.

The glass bubble I’ve been in is cracking, slowly. And I’m still trying desperately to tape the cracks closed. I have moments of clarity, moments of pain that take my breath away, moments that truly wound me, moments when I realize he’s dead. Once those waves pass, I retreat again, I build my walls again, I become fake okay again. I put on the face. You know, the one that shows the world you’re fine and have everything together. So far the tape and glue have been holding fairly well.

My stepdad wasn’t my biological father, we’re not at all related, but he stepped into the father role for me when I was 10 years old, and for the past 19 years, for all intents and purposes, in all the ways that matter, he has been my Dad. The person I am today is very heavily influenced by him and his actions; he helped shape and mold me, he taught me life lessons, he gave advice.

When I was 10, he bought me a Playstation 1 along with the first two Tomb Raider games. I never played video games until then and quickly fell in love with it. It became out ritual, a ritual we stuck to for years: he would sit on the couch and read to me from the guidebook, telling me where to go and what to do in the game, and I’d sit on the floor and do it. We went through both games like that, together. These are some of my favorite childhood memories. The love for video games I have today is all due to those early days, all due to him.

He forced me to go up and talk to cashiers at stores when I was 11 and deathly shy, so that I would slowly gain confidence and overcome my shy and timid nature. I remember I was so terrified, so mad at him for doing that, but you know what? It worked. I got over the shyness.

He knew how much I loved horses as a child, so he took me to horse riding lessons every weekend for months.

When I was 13, I remember he woke me up in the middle of the night. I was so sleepy and so tired, but he insisted we get in the car and go. We ended up in a large field by the airport. It was pitch black outside so the sky was very clear and very visible. We waited for about an hour, and then I saw it, the reason he woke me up and dragged me out there. It was a meteor shower and to this day, one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.

When he and my Mom divorced, he made sure that I knew nothing was going to change in our relationship.

In high school I would visit him every other weekend and we’d start each Saturday the same way: we’d go to a local buffet and get omelets. We would then sit there for hours and talk. He’d listen to all my complaints about school, to all the boy drama teenager me had back then, to all my teenage angst and unhappiness. He’d always tell me it would get better and always give advice, no matter how trivial my issue was. He never made me feel like my turbulent teenage feelings didn’t matter. Each feeling mattered to him.

He taught me that you miss 100% of the balls you don’t swing at, so even if the odds are against you, it’s still worth trying. “The worst they’ll say is no. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask. They could also say yes.” He’d always say.

He was the one who taught me to drive a car. He spent hours with me, driving around in empty parking lots, being patient, letting me practice. Once I mastered it, he made sure my first car was a stick shift, because he insisted it was a skill I should have in life. I remember being frustrated at having to learn to drive all over again, but in the end, he was right; I’m glad I know how to drive a manual.

He taught me the importance of working hard and paying my own way. He helped me get my first job when I was 17 and explained about budgeting and taking care of the expenses of life.

My senior year of high school I decided to dual enroll at the local college and he didn’t hesitate, he told me I could come and move in. So I did. Shortly there after I met Brandon and he was always supportive of our relationship. He was even supportive when a year later, I told him that we were getting an apartment together and giving the adulting thing a go. And five years later, when Brandon died, he again didn’t hesitate and told me I could come back and live with him until I figured out what to do next. That’s just how it always was…I always had a home with him.

When I still lived in my hometown, at least once a week, we’d go out and have dinner and catch up on life. I missed those dinners when I moved away.

There are many more memories and ways he’s impacted my life. He taught me how to be independent, compassionate, and motivated. He has been a constant in my life for the last 20 years; always kind, supporting, and understanding. I feel so much more alone in the world now.

I don’t understand how to live in a world where I can’t pick up the phone and call him.

I don’t know how to live in a world without him.

You’d think after all the death I’ve dealt with over the last five years this would be easier. You’d think that previous dealings with death somehow prepare you for the next time. The truth is they don’t. I’m really good at boxing up hurtful and unpleasant things and putting them away on a dusty shelf, far from reach. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve perfected over the decades. Does something hurt so much that you don’t know if you can think clearly through the pain? No worries, box it up and stow it away, you can deal with it later. I’m very good at compartmentalizing. Except when I drink; when I drink, my ironclad defenses lapse and I feel it….I feel it all. Like tonight. I’ve been drinking wine, and whereas usually I get to a good place, tonight it’s different. All these boxes I’ve been stuffing away are jumping off the shelves.

I’m angry.

I’m lonely.

I’m sad.

I’m hurt.

I don’t know what is bothering me, not precisely. Will is deployed, he’s half the world away doing real missions and dealing with real life issues. He’s been gone a few months and we have a few more to go, at least. I miss him so much, I worry that something awful will happen and I’ll never see him again, never hug him again. My worst nightmare is hearing the doorbell ring and seeing two people standing there, ready to give me the worst news, again. I’m lonely, I’m full of fear. I want him back home. I miss his smile. I miss the sound of his laugh. I miss feeling his arms around me. I hate this. I hate deployment. But this is just the beginning, we have more ahead.

My stepdad is dead, and I can’t call him and tell him about all the painting I’ve been doing in the house. The painting actually turned out pretty well, and I can’t tell him. I want to call him and hear him say, “Hey sweetheart” again. The last time we talked was March 24 and the call only lasted 3 minutes and 17 seconds. I called to wish him a happy birthday, and he said he had just gotten home from the hospital the day before. I said that it was a great birthday present, and he said that he was tired and still recovering, so we said bye. The next phone call I got from him was his wife calling me from his phone on March 31 at 0636am, telling me he had a heart attack and died at the hospital. We habitually called each other about once a week or so, so it wasn’t unusual for us to not talk for a while, but all I can keep thinking now is why the hell didn’t I call him again after March 24? What was I waiting for? Why didn’t he call me?

That’s the thing, you never know when your last conversation will be with someone, but when it actually is the last conversation, the guilt is awful. You wonder why you didn’t know better, why you didn’t do something differently. I had all this with Brandon when he died, and it’s awful this time around, too. He always seemed larger than life, always bouncing back from whatever obstacle life threw at him, and it never occurred to me that he would be gone one day. It just seemed like he’d always be around. How stupid is that? I had this huge blind spot. With all my anxieties about people dying, he was never one I worried about. And he’s the one that dies. Really?

I haven’t started processing it. Not really. As soon as I got off the plane, I boxed it all up and put it away. Since then I’ve stayed busy, I’ve stayed focused on other things. I haven’t sat there, and really let it fall around me. But hey, that’s one thing wine is good for. It loosens up all the crap you try to keep nailed to the walls. So here I am, staring at my computer and crying drunken tears, feeling this loss for the first time since March.

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