There was once a time when I called my father “Daddy”, I used to run to his arms and he would spin me in circles, my feet suspended far above the ground until he would complain about his back and set me down. When I was six my father was my go to man for story time, he would sit on the edge of my bed and read me stories of far off lands, by the time I had turned seven I had sailed the sea in paper boats, traveled to Middle Earth, and spent my first year at Hogwarts. My fathers voice was magical in the way that it could both shake the sleep from my bones just as easily as it could do the sandman’s work.
“Now Taylor, what did you learn from this story? What was the moral?” Curled up on my fathers lap, a tiny mass of strangely composed bony limbs and pudgy cheeks I picked at the ends of my long hair. My father looked down over his sharp cheekbones his eyes crinkling at the corners.
“Umm don’t give up?” My father laughed, the deep rumble of his voice like a thunder drum inside his chest. He asked the question again, telling me to go deeper into the story. I took the oversized glasses from where they perched on his equally large nose, placing them on my face I spoke in my biggest daddy voice, “The moral of the sthtory, ith that there are big bad people in the world, and its very very hard to sthop them.” I frowned at my lisp and repeated my words once more, trying my hardest to properly form each syllable. My father smiled once again and his large hand ruffled my already messy hair, I pressed my ear to his chest, and he told me words that I would only remember many years later when I was at my lowest.
Years later I would forget the comfort of my fathers arms, and the deep rumble of his voice, I would forget how he would ask me to look just a little deeper, or how scary movies seemed just a little less frightening when I was curled into his side.
“How would you feel if Jen was your step-mother?” I look up from my seventh grade pre-algebra textbook, and shift in my seat at the kitchen table twisting my body to look at my dad as he pours dry pasta into a pot of boiling water. I didn’t know Jen very well. All I knew was that she was a short woman with two children. I remember being vaguely aware that they were dating. But then again that was a time before … before everything was turned on its side? …Before I learned the truth? ... Before the anger? I can't sum it up simply because its not simple. It was just …before.
“I… don’t know her very well, but I guess… I dunno, I’d be fine with it?” I tried to meet my father’s lighter eyes with mine, he quickly looked down instead. My father quietly stirred the spaghetti with a wooden spoon to quell the boil. “Daddy? Did you hear me?”
“Good. Because she already is.” My heart shook inside of my chest, and with trembling hands I gathered my schoolbooks and slowly made my way to my basement bedroom.
That was the last day I ever called him ‘Daddy’. I remember fighting with him, both of us sharp tongued people (He raised me that way. To use words instead of violence, he didn’t intend to, but nobody really intends to teach their child how to verbally lash others. I just learned by example.), I remember the raised volumes of our voices, I remember how bluntly he told me the truth.
“Do you know why your mother and I divorced?” His voice is always sharp now. I’m at the kitchen table again; this time I don’t look up from my work, my father pulls out the chair next to me and takes a deep breath. “Taylor, I” he pauses for a breath, my hands are shaking again and I secretly hope that he doesn’t notice, “I cheated on your mother, we both cheated on each other. And sometimes you just can't fix the relationship.”
The fighting increased in intensity, tensions cracked and burned, silence was a welcome quell to the noise but not the emotion. Jen and her two children spent more and more time at my father’s house. I spent more time alone. He hit me once; I don’t think I can explain the feeling. It’s not so simple. I wish that it was simple. I wish that I could find the correct words.
“Sometimes I wish that I never had you.” We had just pulled into my mother’s driveway; I had called him something mean again, most likely a “bastard”, maybe “asshole”. I can't recall the exact words I had said all those years ago, but even now the cut of those words still hurt.
Pressing my face to the cool glass of the car door, I wrapped my fingers around the handle and pushed it open. My voice was hoarse from the screaming, and when I looked back I remember seeing something like regret in his expression, I looked down. I didn’t want to see it.
“Bye Dad.” I closed the door softly, and walked up the path to the stucco building I called home. Behind me, I heard the car drive away.
I refused to see my dad for over six months.
I was angry, I was sad, but more than that, hurt. My lungs became stone in his presence, and for the first time in my life, I convinced myself that I didn’t miss him.
For many years, this has been my secret. Secrets are terrible. I hate secrets. Secrets made it easy for me to turn my father into a villain. Secrets make me wish that I could go back in time and save us from everything that happened between us.
“My dad has cancer.” The statement must have come as a shock to my friend. Nothing provoked it, we were walking from math class down the empty halls of our middle school. Her expression was shocked; mine was something that I hoped was uncaring. I just needed to say it, reaffirm the fact–make sure that it was real.
“Well, is he going to be okay?” Her hand touched my arm softly stopping me. I gave her what I hoped was a bright careless smile, I shrugged.
“Dunno. Don’t care.”
“But he’s your Dad. You can’t just not care.”
“I hate him. Sometimes I wish that he would just disappear.” I was lying.
My dad used his cancer like a weapon. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to make me feel guilty for not wanting to spend time with him. It wasn’t life threatening, we both knew that. But he made it seem that way. Maybe he really was scared, scared that he would die, that things would end like they were then. He made me feel like a bad person. I thought that I was evil. I wanted to die. Looking back now, it still hurts. It never stopped hurting.
But without that cancer, I may have never gone back to see him. I may have never forgiven him. Those memories from my childhood might have forever stayed locked behind this monster that I made my father out to be. I almost forgot about the bedtime stories, I almost forgot about how he taught me how to play guitar, or how we would watch more than three movies each weekend that I went to his house, I forgot about how he would ask me every time, ”Now Taylor, what did you learn from this story? What was the moral?” I would have only remembered the bad things.
“Do you know what's my biggest regret in life?” My dad is sitting on my desk chair and I'm perched on the cold wooden surface of the table. I nod mutely, almost uncomfortable, I know.
“Its that I didn’t spend enough time with you and your brother when you were little. You have to spend time with the people that you love most or else you grow apart, look at what happened to us.” We both visibly cringe at the memories. “I’m worried about you. A high school student shouldn’t be this stressed. You should be going out with your friends, having fun. High school should be fun.”
“High school sucks though. I’ve been at Blake too long to just switch now. I’m going to be a senior this fall, I can't back out now.” I pick at my split ends. My dad rubs his left cheek and sighs.
“I know, just take some time for yourself. You need to try and accept things as they are, you can't change how people treat you. It’s the serenity prayer Taylor, you-“
“Have to accept the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. I know, I know Dad.” The phrase is taped to the microwave door and it’s tacked to the wall above the key hooks by the side door. It’s my father’s number one piece of advice that he gives me. Whenever I lose a competition, or get angry, or complain about my schoolwork, he tells me to remember the serenity prayer. “We aren’t even religious Dad.”
“It doesn’t matter Taylor.” I know.
“You are just like your father! He did this too!” My Mother’s voice rings harshly in my ears, as I leave the living room. “Don’t you dare avoid this topic Taylor Leigh Chadwick I am talking to you, don’t you dare slam that door young lady!” Too late, my hand had already left the cool wood and the hinges slammed shut with a vengeance. I heard her angered muffled scream as my back slowly slid down the smooth surface of the door.
“I’m not like him. Don’t compare me to him, I am nothing like my father!” My words were becoming slurred again and I forced myself to breathe, asthma, my fathers’ fault, just like the ADHD, and the allergies, and the bad eyesight, and everything. His fault.
“Just like him! Nothing is ever your fault is it? You’re just this perfect person! You have no faults! You are exactly like your father!” Her footsteps faded down the hall. I ran my hand through my short hair. I spent hours that night reading the old stories, the words were different in meaning now, I went through all of my favorites, trying to find one that had not been a gift from my father. I gave up. Opening the worn spine of Harry the Dirty Dog an old photograph fell from the pages, still vibrant although it was so many years old. A family picture with all of us, pre-divorce, something that I hadn't seen in years. On the inside cover blue block letters made me want to cry.
YOUR DADDY LOVED THIS BOOK
WHEN HE WAS ABOUT THE SAME
SIZE AS YOU ARE. I MUST HAVE
READ IT TO HIM 318 TIMES. I
HOPE YOU LIKE HARRY TOO.
My ribs felt like they were cracking and my heart fell out of rhythm for just a moment. I quickly flipped the olive cover shut and tried to forget how much I loved the little black and white dog who loved everything but baths. Placing the book back into its slot I remember telling myself that ‘Big girls don’t cry’, I don’t remember if I did.
My dad and I share more than what I would sometimes like to admit. “You are definitely your fathers daughter.” My stepmother tells me one evening as we sit in the kitchen of the new house. My head whips upwards to look at her smiling at me from across the countertop.
“What? No way.” I laugh awkwardly, my dad is almost sixty, a prankster of the most serious sort. He’s the type of person who pays too much attention to detail, the sort of man who will overlook his own mistakes but not the mistakes of others. He’s not very good with words even though he knows so many. He rarely makes eye contact.
She softly laughs, “I can see a lot of him in you. He doesn’t see how you’re alike either, but it’s obvious to me.” My dad walks into the kitchen, and I swallow my response.
“Hey T-square, you ready to go? The movie starts in twenty minutes.” I smile at the old nickname, it dates back to pre-divorce years and it makes me think that everything will be okay one day.
“I’ve only been waiting forever Dad.” Jen smiles, and asks what movie we’re seeing this time. “Captain America, of course. He’s the best.” I look over to my dad; he’s checking his pockets for his wallet and keys, two pairs of glasses are perched on the top of his head.
Jen laughs, “Another superhero movie?” she reaches over the granite and almost gracefully retrieves one of the pairs (Keyword: almost.). I quickly check my bag for my own pair, which I find wedged between two cans of soda and four fruit snack pouches.
“Yeah, its our thing. All that crime fighting, and those high and mighty morals– you know how it is.”
The two hours of film pass quickly and all too soon my father and I are walking through the long darkened halls of the theater. And as we leave behind the rows of posters that line the red and beige walls, a puff of warm nostalgia passes over me. Grinning, I bounce in front of my father walking backwards, and speaking in my biggest ‘Daddy voice’ I ask; “Hey Dad, what's the moral of the story?” At sixteen I am now free of my lisp (For the most part.), my tongue is no longer heavy.
He laughs and delivers his answer in a forced falsetto that’s riddled with lisps, “The moral of the sthtory, ith that there are big bad people in the world, and its very very hard to sthop them.” His eyes crinkle into a smile and suddenly for the first time in my whole life I can see how our faces are similar.
“Oh Daddy dearest, you have to look deeper. Do you remember?” I cleared my throat, “Nobody can ever be fully–”
“Good or bad, good people can do bad things and bad people can do good things. People are people and people make mistakes.” His low voice joined mine in unison and we both broke out into laughter, my sharp tones mixing with his graveled rumble. It’s cacophonous at best, and strangely beautiful at worst. And for a moment I am six again, tiny standing beside my fathers nearly six foot frame.
I can hear her now, “Everything ith gonna be okay.”