My biological father’s name was Jim (James). In the year 1968, possibly 1969, (no one can seem to recall) my mother walked away from her mother-in-laws home–the place we had been living, taking nothing with her except her 4 year old and 2 year old daughter. Me, the four year old daughter wanted to take my teddy bear. I remember my mother telling me we’d come back for it. Now, a lifetime later, I know she left taking nothing with her but the clothing on our backs because she was sneaking away in broad daylight never to see my father or grandmother ever again. Red flags would have gone up had she taken extra clothing or my dearly loved panda bear. She and my father had been married approximately four years having known each other in school. From what I was told years ago, my mother wanted out of her grandmother’s home (her own mother having abandoned her) and was re-introduced to my father. Maybe they were working together in the local cannery? Those that I talked with couldn’t seem to remember any big love story or romance between the two. Eventually they married and almost a year later I came along. I remember sitting on my father’s lap, I remember him telling me stories, I remember seeing him smoking, I remember hearing my mother nagging, I remember them arguing, fighting, and times he came home drunk. I don’t remember my mother at all when I was little except that she nagged or argued a lot, her dropping me off at nana’s, and her taking me twice to get my stomach pumped. I spent a lot of time with my nana, landlady, and a few times friends/acquaintances while they both worked.
Eighteen months after I was born my sister was born. Not too much is known about her from family members regarding her birth to two years. I talked with friends of both my parents who didn’t even know they’d had a second child. I have several baby pictures of myself as well as at one time two large photo albums of baby pictures with lovely little phrases written by my father under each one. Nothing exists like that of my sister’s life up to the point my mother left. The only person to know the full story of our lives back in those days is my mother to whom I have not seen or talked to in almost twenty-five years.
Friends of both of them insinuated that things went wrong when my mother had an affair with a man she worked for. My dad’s drinking apparently got worse around that time and their arguments became such that they were kicked out of places they were staying and inevitably ended up with my dad’s mother. My nana always took dad’s side in everything as everyone I talked with pointed out he was her favorite.
My dad’s childhood had been every bit as sad and unhappy as my mother’s. Born to a mother who’d had issues with her own mother and fathered by an alcoholic truck driver always on the road father–his childhood was pretty rough. Around the time he was probably pre-teen, he, his brother, and a younger brother were tossed out on the front steps by their father and told to go away and never come back. When their mother got home her things were packed up as she was also kicked out of her own home. Not able to care for three growing boys, two were sent to live with their grandfather–an abusive alcoholic who worked in customs, and the younger brother and her went to live with other relatives. Not long after she remarried and had two other children, leaving the two older boys to live with their grandfather. Sometime during my dad and uncles teen years they joined a youth type or pre-military group to which they both took to especially my dad. Here he had structure, friends, authority figures who built him up vs. tearing him down, and purpose. Eventually my dad joined the military, I’m not sure about my uncle, and was still serving the day my mother walked away from him. In fact he was on a military assignment that would last several months—one that has been written about in history books since the time it occurred. The military unit he belonged to is part of a military group that is held in high distinction both in the UK and Canada. The things I have learned about his time in the military have made me very, very proud to be his daughter.
All of that to say, none of his story was told to me by my mother. Oh, she had a much more colorful story to tell. I was told my father had gone AWOL and was on the run from the Canadian government. I was told different stories about how she was abused, but she finally admitted to me when I was an adult that none of it had been physical abuse. She’d considered him abusive because he drank, fought, and did not take care of his responsibilities. She said he could be emotionally abusive to which I will give her as living with an alcoholic is no picnic. My dad had issues and there is no denying that. There is no one among the group of family, friends, and acquaintances that I found over an almost 35 year span of time that said my parents were happy or in love or even loved one another or that they had ever heard or seen any proof of domestic abuse. Lots of arguing and many of them stated that my mother from day one had regretted marrying him. I believe it was a marriage gone into by two very damaged people hoping to find something together that never ever materialized. His drinking and her constant belittling and nagging killed it. Neither of their children did it any good. When she got sick of him and his ever loyal mother she walked out. And when I was old enough to ask her about him she filled my head with lies, lies, and more lies. She would tell me she didn’t know who he was raised by, or his nationality, or where he grew up. All things she personally knew because she grew up with him and lived with his mother off and on for four years. When I asked about my grandmother, I was told she was dead–she had died young and unexpectedly from a heart attack. In fact, she died in her eighties, still alive for years after I graduated high school, and died likely from heart disease as she was morbidly obese.
I started looking for my dad when I was 18. Over the years I spent a lot of money on phone calls to Canada. I talked to many of his friends, their friends, co-workers, even a landlord, and of course his relatives. I never gave up trying to find my dad. I tracked him all over Canada with only his first and last name to go by. As I said my mother had never given me one detail to go by —his schooling, military, parents name, birthplace, employment. Nothing. Eventually I located someone I believed to be his brother and after a year this man finally contacted me. Yes he was his brother. Of course I was over the moon and at the time remember feeling every emotion a person could possibly feel. I tried for almost three years to get him, his wife, and other relatives to give me any information on my father to no avail. I received a crappy scanned picture of him and nothing that hadn’t already been told to me by people my father had met along the way.
They just wouldn’t budge even though it was mentioned many times they had albums full of pictures and were ready to divulge everything they could remember–they just wouldn’t. And suddenly out of the blue my uncle died. Shortly after that I stopped talking to anyone in Canada as it was just too painful to watch them have time to put up days worth of silly memes but go month’s without talking to me or scanning me a decent photo of my father. Sadly they never really gave a crap about him and from what I could tell me either. I think his brother felt nothing but guilt over throwing my dad out of his house–at his wife’s request, when my dad was so sick in the late 80’s. I’m not sure what happened to my dad after he fell ill, but eventually through a church and the Salvation Army, I found him.
Time is a true thief of everything. It’s wasted, misspent, and taken for granted by all of us. As with everything in my life, that I pursued relentlessly, time had stolen so much of what I’d hoped would become.
So, I’ll leave my story here. The moral of it of course—is to never underestimate time. Your life is here and then gone literally in minutes. A trillion minutes sometimes many more, sometimes a whole lot less, and then you’re out of time.
Truth, something so many choose not to have as part of their story. My mother for whatever reason has failed in telling the truth to everyone she has ever come into contact with. Oh I’m sure there have been moments in her life where she let her guard down and told a truth, but those times have been very rare. The thing about time and truth is that the more time passes the less the truth you have or had can be distinguished as the truth. As you’ve told so many stories that the real truth is now nowhere to be found. She never had to lie to me about my dad. He was never going to pop up uninvited into our lives. She fixed that for him by moving to another country (he wasn’t aware of this) and changing her name (new name never known to him). She has never kept in contact with his family and if she secretly has (and that wouldn’t surprise me) she has never told them where she resides. On the off-chance she ever has she has used threats to keep all of them at bay. Now, they’re all gone. No one left to tell any of her secrets. She could have left me with my grandmother and walked away with my sibling and never looked back. Instead she took a man’s children and abandoned him (the third time this happened to him in his life), divorced him, took his children or child to another country, and changed her name. Many times right after, and for many years later, he called her relatives, showed up at places she had worked, and asked friends for help. He eventually turned to a chaplain that worked for the Salvation Army and received support/counseling and ended up writing letters to me. When I found this chaplain many years later I received those handwritten letters. I know my father spent every day wondering where I was and hoping I was safe and taken care of. He never really got over being thrown out on those front steps by his own father and told to “go, get out of here.” There were many things he was running from, but mostly from himself. He was also destroyed by the never knowing and alcohol.
The fact that my mother never loved me took me almost 50 years to figure out and accept. She proved it six months after she left my father by trying to give me up for adoption. Had I not been needed to take care of my sibling and had my sibling not had a bond with me, I would have been given to some strange man in Zeller’s Department store in London Ontario. I was right there beside her and him when she tried to give me away. Having not succeeded then, because of my sibling, she never let me forget it. I’ve never resented my sister to whom she was ever so affectionate and loving toward all throughout my growing years. Even though I was no more than hired help on the farm–holding gates, pumping water, pulling weeds, feeding the cows, mowing the lawn. To which my sister’s responsibilities were nil. She laid in bed our entire childhood with fake allergies. Coddled, doted on, and mother’s favorite and never ever did I resent my sister for it. No more than we resented our step-brother who was the golden child and only child of our step-father/mother and heir to his farm/fortune. And still, even with my mother, I hold no ill-will and have forgiven her for everything. Partly because I know the awful childhood she endured never provided her with the tools to become a healthy, happy, loving mother that wanted the best for all her children. I can never remember not loving my mother and to this day still do. Unfortunately my mother makes me unhappy and has for most of my life. She makes me feel like I’m nothing, doesn’t hear me, isn’t warm towards me, isn’t interested in me, and loves to talk repeatedly about all the mistakes I’ve made. If you didn’t do what she wanted you to do, her favorite thing to say was “she didn’t or wouldn’t love you anymore.” My mom was the leading cause of my self-loathing until I woke up and realized why I was the way I was. So yes, I have chosen over the years not to reconnect with her or my sister.
My mother was so good at perpetuating the story of how bad my dad was that she even convinced her second husband, who she also never loved, that my dad was a bad person and that I was just like him. To which my step-father once shared with me that the reason my mother didn’t care for me was because I was just like my father–whom she hated, and my step-father after hearing all the supposed bad things about my dad warned me–“that the chip on my shoulder would not be tolerated” and of course at any time I could be deported or put into a reform school.
With Father’s Day a little more than a month away, I am posting this essay/chapter from my soon to be published book. For all of you out there who have never known your father’s, had difficult relationships with them, are children of divorce, have experienced abandonment issues, have estranged relationships with parents, or have alcoholics for parents–this one is for you!
P.S. –this past winter carried over into spring for continued feeding of all the birds. I have been feeding birds, watching birds, even collecting bird figurines for years. My favorite bird to see at the feeder is the hummingbirds, –we feed a lot of them, along with orioles, house finches, the occasional goldfinch, and throughout the winter the nuthatch, and woodpecker. This spring two birds have flown up to eat from our feeders that both amaze my husband and I and also provide me with a sense of peace, hope, even something close to spiritual. We’ve had a male cardinal–my favorite winter bird and a mourning dove feeding from our feeder for the last month. Our feeder isn’t a stand alone on our deck but rather a shelf near our front door–where we sit, with two bowls sitting on it. If you don’t know the symbolism behind mourning doves or lone cardinals, I’ll leave the links below.
Mourning Dove here
Be well and be safe.