I found out my dad died when I was in Mississippi, in the very first few days of driving to my new home in Vancouver, WA from Miami Beach, FL.
I was inconsolable. It was suddenly as if the fiber of my being left me, and all I had left was a waterworks machine that indulged in fast food in attempts to wipe away the tears. I was locked into the passenger seat, unable to do anything with myself other than stare at the vast emptiness of Texas and New Mexico for three days. Every word that left my mouth felt forced, and every potentially exciting thing we planned for the drive didn’t perk me up in any way. It didn’t feel real. Why didn’t I have a dad?
The last time I spoke to him was just a little less than a year ago. I had just returned from skateboarding across the US, and as soon as I arrived home I wanted to leave. I hugged him goodbye and everything that lead up to the point where I tried throwing my own head through the passenger-side window was out of my control. I didn’t want to talk to him. We weren’t on good terms. Years of his own personal neglect destroyed the relationships of myself and the four others in my family. In my absence, the house I grew up in was sold, my brothers moved across the country, and my parents separated. Nothing I knew was in fact any more. February 6th was his birthday. I didn’t call him. I didn’t call him on Father’s day and I didn’t call at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other event that may have gone on.
I asked myself if I should call him on his birthday – and ultimately decided not to. The guilt that poured over me as I stared at the sand for hundreds of miles on the way to the airport was incomprehensible. I didn’t do anything, and that was the problem. To make matters worse, none of us were there. Not me, my three brothers, or his wife of 30 years. He went into the hospital without the family he spent the last 30 years growing with and raising but never left. There were no final aired grievances, there was no “I’m sorry” and there was no reconciliation.
Then the calls started coming in, the texts, and the Facebook messages. It still didn’t feel real – it was a year since I hugged him last, and I would still be able to, someday, give him a spot in my guest house on the million-acre ranch I was predicted to own, right? My uncle wanted to let me know that he held his hand and told my dad we all loved him as he left us, but it didn’t mean anything to me. My dad was only 52 years old – there’s no common sense I can think of that says my father should be dead right now. He wasn’t on his death bed, he didn’t have a terminal disease, and as far as I knew he was completely fine. Telling me that he went peacefully doesn’t make any sense! He shouldn’t have gone at all.
Of the five people survived by him, I had the least involvement in family matters. When I transitioned, I ran away, and I kept running. The distance I made between my family and I was stressful. I’ll never forget when my dad told me I took away the last chance to have a family vacation together. I opted out of driving to Florida with them all so I could transition, be myself, and stop worrying about whether or not I had to hide it all around everyone. He said, “I’m going to be dead and you’re going to regret it.” I do.
Everybody had something to say at the wake. There was an outpouring of genuinely memorable events that every single person could recall that involved my dad. If nothing else, he was a hell of a good time. Whether it was my friends who grew up with him the same as I did, or my brother’s friends that tagged along on the vacations I wouldn’t go to, or the overwhelming amount of people who partied at my house alongside him – nobody ever met the damn guy and left without a story. The people I didn’t know, like his friends or his work buddies, all shared something with me that let me know he was not only appreciated but respected. There was nothing wrong with my dad, but we kids grew up around him as his utter stubbornness refused to accept change. His death brings an end to his torture, while mine begins. I never thought I would see my dad die. If anyone on the planet had the ability to be invincible, I thought it would be him.
Usually in death everyone says things like, “He’s in a better place now,” but that doesn’t help either. I doubt it. Plain and simple – what happens when we die? Where do you go? All signs point to nowhere. An endless void of bitter nothingness. Cold, empty, black, nothing. There’s no lie to be believed that can reduce the scathing truth of it. “He would have wanted this,” or “you can’t feel this way.” It was all meaningless. At the very least, at least until these last few years, all I have is guilt and regret. Why couldn’t we just get along? Didn’t he fucking know I loved him? Didn’t he? I know he loved me – even if he thought I was some super fucking gay person, he ultimately gave a fuck about me. I was his second born. I was lucky – I got to share the best years of my dad’s life.
Didn’t he know we loved him? When death brings the blackness to it all, how am I supposed to move on? Every fucking aspect of my life is somehow influenced by him. The way I sit at my computer and work from home the same way he did for years and years. The way he gesticulates, and the words he said with the way he said them – I find myself being more like him as I grow older than I ever was, and I fucking hate it. Everything about the way he did certain things drove me crazy. Then sometimes I find myself saying, “Pete and Repeat” the same way he did, or I’ll make a horribly out of place pun, and I just want to curse myself for it. All I’m left with are these memories, with the most recent ones making me hate him and how we all ended up, and the majority of them sobbing into my own shirt, banging my head on a wall wondering why the fuck it ended up like this.
What am I supposed to do now? Continue driving across the country as if I said goodbye and it’s all over? Will it ever be okay, or will I be fighting back tears wrought with guilt for the rest of my life? Do I change what I’m doing? Should I start holding people a little closer now? If my dad can die at 52 then who else can?
There’s no closure. I have nothing. I don’t have any words of encouragement and I don’t have a plan. I’m somehow supposed to live the rest of my life without a father to make proud.