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Lost: One Father

I always knew I’d speak at my father’s funeral.

It’s a morbid thought, I know. But I was sure I’d deliver his eulogy. See, he’s a fascinating man — passionate and charismatic, the kind of guy who seems to have lived several lives in the space of one. A dozen careers. Hundreds of adventures. Thousands of friends.

And my father taught me how to write. By turning me on to cunning authors and forcing me to rewrite shoddy school essays, he helped shape my voice. We share a love of style, an ear for rhythm.

So I assumed that when the time came, I’d need to squelch my own sadness, stifle my tears, and sum up the substantial capacity of this man’s character. The notion scared me half to death myself. I spent years wondering what I’d say to honor such a life and whether I could do it justice.

But I don’t wonder that anymore. Now I just wonder if anyone will tell me when he dies.

Technically, he’s not my dad; he’s my stepdad. But he was a real father to me for 30 years. He coached me in table manners and protected me from bullies. He donned a grass skirt to man the grill for my Sweet 16 backyard luau. He wrote a poem for me and read it aloud at my wedding.

That day — the day I got married — he was already one year into a secret love affair with a woman who was not my mother. The liaison lasted 12 years before Mom discovered it.

What followed was a mess of barely bearable emotions for all involved. Shock exploded into anger. Anger roiled beneath hurt. Hurt melted into disappointment. Love was lost; trust was overturned. Our family was broken.

He moved far away and remarried. We corresponded awkwardly for a while, exchanging stilted pleasantries about meaningless things. Congratulations on your success. Good luck with that project. Enjoy your vacation.

When we waded any deeper than that, the waters got murky. And cold. We kept repeating the same simple truths: I love him, I miss him, I resent him; he loves me, he suffered, too, he’s moved on. There was little left to say, and it was hard to think of a good reason to stay connected. Our shared past was well worth remembering — cherishing, even — but I no longer needed a protector. And although I could still use some coaching, his counsel was less credible to me than it had once been.

Our communication was so fraught with disillusion and regret that it was less painful to simply … let go.

The last time I heard from him was two years ago. He wrote this: “Losing you is a price I am willing to pay for my happiness and peace in the last part of my life.”

I still write to him every few months when I recall something wonderful about him. I say I’m grateful for the time we spent together. I include photos of his grandsons. He doesn’t answer anymore.

We are estranged — a strange word for a strange situation. It’s odd to lose a parent who’s still alive. Uncomfortable. Sad, certainly.

I know he’s alive because I spy on his Facebook page — the parts that non-Friends are allowed to see. He has a new wife, new stepdaughters, even. He looks happy.

If I were to speak at his funeral one day — were to somehow even be invited — I might say different things than I ever expected to. I might not mention the tears I’ve shed as a result of loving him; you’re not supposed to dredge up ugly bygones at funerals. But I’d thank him, at the very least, for teaching me how to write about it.

Published inColumnsParenting

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