The Day My Daughter Found Out I Have a Dad
For as long as my children have lived, they’ve assumed that I have only one parent: a mom. I didn’t have a dad because I never talked about having a dad. I never talked about having a dad because, in my mind, I don’t have a dad. Or, I did have a dad, but he died in 2008, two years before my oldest was born.
So, since he wasn’t living when we conceived my first daughter and he wasn’t living when she was born, he had no meaning, beyond DNA, to their lives. So I didn’t talk about him…ever.
Beyond that “reason” (if you want to call that a “reason”), I had other reasons for not talking about my dad.
Not talking about my dad beyond explanations about his death to any stranger who’d ask was my way of overcoming grief over his death.
Amidst the pain of dealing with his unexpected death, I really wanted to move on. I didn’t want to think about him since thinking about him made me think of him all the time. And that made me cry and regret all the times I didn’t cry for him when he was alive.
I didn’t want to talk about him since talking about him beyond a year of his death seemed strange. It felt strange and I felt awkward. I wanted to create distance between grieving and my “normal life” to just carry on in my “normal life” which didn’t include him. I needed to move on. So, I have no dad. My children had a grandpa, but he died. He’s dead. Move on. This was my narrative of adulthood fatherlessness.
I saw no problem with this line of thinking until my children became old enough, around two or so, to begin talking unashamedly about death and dead things. They talked about the dead crab on our sidewalk, about the chickens on their plate who once lived and are now dead. My children understand death. Though, since death has always been for them distant and unfamiliar, it’s not had the kind of emotional layer that I always imagined it would have should I ever tell them about their grandpa, the man who lived but then died.
One day a few months ago, my oldest daughter found a picture of my dad. It was a picture at my wedding during the father/daughter dance. She asked who he was.
“That’s my dad,” I said.
“But you don’t have a dad,” she said, laughing, I guess, because everyone knows that I don’t have a dad when everyone else does. Duh!
“But I do have a dad,” I said.
She paused then and said nothing more about that or my dad until months later. We were in my room, talking about something related when I told/asked her. “You remember I had a dad, right?”
“Yes, but how come I never saw him before?”
“Well, because he, he died.”
“Why did he die?”
“He…(don’t say heart attack. don’t mention the prescription drugs. don’t say depression. but say SOMETHING…something she can understand...) He died from eating bad foods.”
“Oh,” she said before I could fix my very problematic death sentence.
She didn’t say anything then, but I knew she was trying to process all that I said and why food could make a person die and that I was possibly lying since she’s good at detecting those kinds of things.
“Where is he now?”
I said, "The sky, in heaven," since that’s where I like to imagine him.
I showed her a picture then, I think, and she smiled and that was that. Since that day we’ve talked about him a handful of times. And all the times we’ve talked, I haven’t cried. I haven’t felt bad or like I’m living in the past. In fact, I feel like talking about my dead dad with my daughters has been a healing for me, allowing me to focus not on the bad and grief of his death but the redemptive aspect of that.
Friday (6/6/1956) was my dad’s birthday. Yes, he’s dead, but if he were alive he would be 58 today. In honor of his birthday, I said something to my daughters about my dad, their grandpa, on the morning of his birthday.
“My dad played in band.”