I am no stranger to nights filled with tears, not even close. To say that tonight surprises me would be more a fantasy than a simple lie. Tomorrow, well, in about 30 minutes for me, already for my friends and family on the east coast, is Father’s Day. Leading into this Father’s Day weekend, I went to the lake with my sister and cousin. A day out on Lake Limerick with the family, something they had done many, many times in their childhood. All told, it was a wonderful day, I must say. We had a lot of fun, and the water, though colder than what most people would prefer, was perfect for me. I spent a lot of time just floating on the water and staring up at a sky that was of the deepest blue I can ever recall seeing. A blank canvas, broken by the jagged peaks of evergreen trees reaching up to the heavens in hopes of catching a cloud, but there were none. The distant sounds of engines humming droning in the otherwise silent water. This is my safe place. It’s why I like to swim. My body submerged just enough to form a barrier against the world, yet still allowing the sun and sky to reach me. For those moments, the problems of my world disappear. I don’t think about the things I’ve lost. It can’t last forever though. Eventually, you have to come out of the water and let the world back in.
Since moving to Seattle I have felt closer to my father than I ever did while he was alive. Hearing people talk about him, and tell stories about the things that he did. Or being told just how much I am like him. Making a comment about myself and hearing the response, “All the Bostocks do.” These things are a double-edged sword, both filling me with joy and bringing me closer to the man I wish I had been able to know and sending rending pain to my core as it reminds me just how much I missed. How little I actually got with him.
I grew up knowing very little about the man who had given me life. At some point, I learned his name, but I’m not even sure when that was. I had gotten it in my head that my mother would be too hurt if I asked questions, and so, like I did with so many of the things that I was dealing with back then I pushed my curiosity down and buried it deep in the darkest recesses of my brain. It was a family friend, a second mother to me honestly, who was insightful enough to know that curiosity was hiding down there and willing to broach that topic with my mother. So it was that I ended up sitting in a car and being handed a piece of paper with my father’s address on it.
I didn’t let hope take hold and honestly didn’t give it a second thought after I put the letter in the mail. I certainly did not expect the phone call that followed. I’ll never forget that moment. “…it’s Gordon.” Floored, I nearly fell out of my chair. I might have, I wasn’t really aware of anything but the voice on the other line. That was the first of many phone conversations in which we shared about our lives. Tried to get to know each other the best that we could, then after a failed attempt we finally got a chance to meet. January 1996, in Monterey, California. I want to say it was the fourth, but that is probably wrong. He came, and we spent several hours hanging out in Monterey and Pacific Grove. He had to leave that night though, and so our first of what I had hoped would be many days spent together was over. A resounding success.
Then, February came. I took my final tests for my course at the Defense Language Institute and did outstanding, and wanted to share. I called my mother first, planning to call my father second. I started with my good news and upbeat mood, curious as to why mother didn’t seem as excited as I was. That’s when she broke the news to me. My father had been shot. Most of what came next is a blur, I can only say that my military family took care of me. The Air Force worked with the Red Cross to make all of the arrangements, and I was on a plane to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that night.
I met a lot of family. Faces that were nearly impossible to keep straight, especially with my brain not willing to fully process what was happening. Seeing my father lying in a hospital bed, unsure if he was going to survive was not something this girl was prepared for at all. I don’t think I ever fully processed that moment until nineteen years later.
Those intervening nineteen years were some of the most emotionally taxing of my life. I tried to keep in touch with my father, but the accident had left him… bitter. He was increasingly difficult to talk. Phone calls became fewer and further between until one day I realized I just wasn’t talking to him anymore. I told myself I had tried. I had done all that I could. I let other people provide me with rationalizations too. Internalizing their anger at his choices, or allowing their skewed view of the world, based on their own issues with their father, to be a template on which to build my reality of the situation. To provide a shelter from the truth, allowing me to live in this world that erased my part in the breakdown of my relationship with my father.
Then in 2014, I got a call. My father was once again in the hospital, this time for a fall. He had rolled his wheelchair down some steps. shortly after receiving the news I got an unexpected call from him. He told me he was sorry that we had fallen out of touch, and that he had a desire to fix some things he had messed up. I let a single comment about a person I did not know give me pause. Then, I allowed my wife at the time to again push her anti-father stance onto my relationship. So it was, I didn’t think anything would change. I wasn’t even sure if I was willing to let it.
Life has a funny way of deciding for you, however. December of that year I got a call from my sister telling me that my father was no longer with us. I was at work at the time, and I didn’t even know what to think. I didn’t know how to feel. I hadn’t processed any of my feelings on the situation, not really. I honestly had no idea how I felt. Numb? I don’t know. The funeral was set for June 3rd, which meant, that if I wanted to, I could get the time off work to get there, as the holiday shifts I had agreed to cover alone would be over and everyone would have returned to work. I didn’t know if I would go or not. Wasn’t sure how I would be able to afford the trip if I did. My wife, she assured me that if I wanted to go, we could find the money somehow, but then proceeded to make sure that I didn’t want to. She spoke very poorly of my father in those hours after I told her. Even going so far as to say, “He was dead to you a long time ago.” If it hadn’t been for one wonderful person, I probably would have missed out on the most important moment in the story that is my relationship with my father. A friend, my stepdaughter’s grandfather, insisted that I go to the funeral, and would not take no for an answer. Despite my wife’s attempts to steer me away from the trip, he booked a flight and handed me the ticket. “He’s your dad, and no matter what may have happened between the two of you, you have to go to this funeral.”
I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t. I started my last work shift before my bereavement having been awake for more than 24 hours. I left work and drove to the MARTA station near the temporary facility we were occupying at that time and took the train down to the airport. Once again on my way to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. My wife, still thinking it was a bad idea and wanting me to stay home, was unwilling to give me a ride and see me off. The plane ride was sleepless, no matter how much I tried to make it otherwise, and my sister was waiting for me when I landed. That trip was the one that truly allowed me to come to terms with a lot of things. I found out what was going on in my father’s life and learned a lot about the man he was, what he went through, and how he felt about me during all of it. It was one of the most important things I ever did and I will be forever grateful that I got to experience it.
As many of you may know, my life after that went through another major upheaval that left all of my secrets laid bare before my friends and family. Secrets that destroyed my marriage, which, was a blessing in disguise. Changes that allowed me to reach a point where I am the happiest I have ever been. But, to think that the mental issues that lead me to four suicide attempts simply up and disappear would be dangerous indeed. Those things don’t just vanish. It’s a long road, one full of many ups and downs. And while I may be truly finding happiness in my life and with who I am, that does not mean that there isn’t still an emotional maelstrom just beneath the surface.
Father’s day, and being here where my father lived, being around the people who knew him. It makes me think of him, and I cannot think of him without feeling loss. I think of all the things I missed. I think of how my life would have been different had I just tried harder, done something more to make sure we had a life together. Not let other people come between us. I think of the things that I didn’t get to share with him. I wonder how he would feel about me today.
Would he be proud of the woman I’ve become?
The thing that hurts me more than any other is that I don’t know the answer to that question. I want to say that yes, he would be. The truth is, however, that is simply the wishful thinking of a daughter seeking the love and approval of her father. I didn’t get to know him. I didn’t get to experience life with him the way that I wanted to. The only thing from his life I had is gone, lost during the move here. A fact which causes me deep pain. I just want one more day to sit with him. To tell him I love him. To tell him he is my father and nothing will ever change that.
To ask him, “Daddy, are you proud of me?”