As a child, I don’t remember missing my father a lot, but the times I did were sad and embarrassing for me.
I was about age seven when our family of eight became seven. We left our father in Arkansas and moved to Detroit. I hadn't seen it coming. What was divorce? For years I suspected that he would just show up at the door.
I didn't have any memories of him that endeared me to him as a person. I only remembered his presence. I figured out that I didn't miss my father so much as I regretted not having a father. It was like being the only kid in the neighborhood without a bike, with no answers to the questions of why, where, and when. I would have been fine with one of those step-fathers that I'd heard about.
But before I hit my teen years, the low odds of that happening hit me. My mom was and is beautiful, turning the heads of a few of my teachers over the years. But she had six children, and she didn't suffer fools well then or now. It would be about 26 years before she remarried… the first time.
Somewhere between childhood and adolescence, sporadic embarrassment and sadness morphed into an ache and a void that I worked hard to keep filled and under control. Anger was barely skin deep and too frequent. I felt abandoned. He was an awful person who didn't want to find us, and he didn't care about us. He deprived us of love, protection, and support--when he was fully capable of providing it. He wasn't a father and I wasn't a father's daughter.
He hadn't done the job, so I disposed of his title, referring to him by his first name when he did come up in conversation. I couldn’t wait to dump his last name, as my mother had. When I got married a few months before my 19th birthday, I did just that. I had a front-seat view of many strong women and I had feminist leanings, but hyphenating was not a consideration. He didn't deserve to have his name carried on.
I struggled. We all did. Each of us developed ways of coexisting with what his absence left us.
I'm the second oldest of the six, with a set of twins second from the youngest. They aren't identical; one looks like my mother and the other looks like my father… like his twin. It's that sister who had been quietly searching for her twin, her father. She had mentioned it to us all but I, for one, was at peace with the fact that he didn't want to be found. We don't know how many years she had been on this quest, but about 30 years after our move to Michigan, she found him.
By then I was approaching 40, with decades of spiritual teaching and life experiences in my wake. I had been the beneficiary of unconditional love and forgiveness from my Heavenly Father and loved ones that I managed to offend intentionally and unintentionally. With that understanding came the power to forgive others. It was a choice, a decision that I could make,
even when the person hadn't asked for it. I had learned more about my father, from my mother and Father. He was a great artist, a writer, and had a traumatic upbringing of his own. Compassion had long displaced judgment.
It was around Thanksgiving when he flew in from Denver, Colorado, where he had been living and still working as a truck driver. All of us, including mom, met him at the gate. I don't know which of us smiled first, but I saw my smile on his face. He had a neat haircut, wore a crisp white shirt with a Mr. Rogers cardigan. He looked like a father.
I don't remember what we all talked about over his three days with us, only what we didn't talk about. The love and gratitude that filled the space was palpable. Through tears he said he never forgot us; he thought about us every day and had our pictures in the rig he drove. But I didn't need answers anymore. Like the proverbial prodigal son, he had returned, and love was there to welcome him.
He would come to see us once more before we got a call from his friend and owner of the company he worked for. Our father had passed away. We only had a couple years with him, but I’m so sure that they were the years that we needed to have. I believe that before he passed, God wanted him to experience the love and acceptance that could only come from his daughters; and that we could only give him with the passing of time and our own healing.
His former boss said they would bury him there in Denver, but we sent for his remains. He belonged here with us. We honored him-- "father of six daughters" with a beautiful service. I said goodbye to my father. I smile when I think about my father and how our Father loves us both. I think he's smiling as well.