Guilt

I knew very little about what Diana revealed in her post.

I could tell that things weren’t right that first time I flew out to Albuquerque to meet my dad and my sisters. I found Brigette home alone when I got to the house and she was only about nine years old, and the house was a mess. The screen door was broken, the toilet and sink were both backed up and unusable, the kitchen was a mess in that kind of scary way that long-term lack of cleaning creates. But I couldn’t tell by looking at it that it was a mess because a young girl was trying to do it all on her own.

I remember that last day when we bought a disposable camera and took the photo you see above; my instincts were screaming at me to take the girls home with me, particularly Diana, who clung to me desperately that last day, her skinny arms holding me tightly.

But I was just 18 years old, and a hot mess myself. I was drinking daily and barely holding on to my job because I was supplementing my meager salary with the petty cash at work, and quit moments before I got fired. I was also torn up and mixed up about meeting this man who had reached mythical levels in my mind turning out to be a broken man, looking much older than his years, clearly unable to manage a house with two children.

After I got home, my father told me he’d sent Diana to live with her mom. Honestly, I was relieved to hear it, because I had no idea the situation she moved to was even worse. Then I heard that she ran away and was living in El Paso; I was so freaked out and upset by this I actually booked a flight to go look for her (I worked in a travel agency so I was able to book flights myself without having to pay first). But when I told my father this, I let him talk me out of it. He told me that it wasn’t worth it, he wasn’t sure where she was, and my mom pointed out how incredibly ill-equipped I was to handle raising a 13-year-old girl on my own, or if I was even legally allowed to do so.

Of course now, in retrospect, it feels like I could have done it. And I feel like an utter failure for not being able to protect her and Brigette.

…..

I have always referred to myself as the luckiest of my father’s children. I know Diana didn’t know that; it would have been cruel for me to say it to my siblings. But as hard as growing up poor with my mom was, well, I’ve always had a major advantage because my mother was highly educated (and became even more so while I was growing up, finishing her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD while I was a kid). But more than that, I was loved.

I never doubted my mom’s love for me. She never gave me drugs (I think she may have let me sip a beer once), I never missed a meal as a kid (even if that meal was just beans, I got to eat), and while I spent a fair amount of time at home alone and cooked for myself and did other things that now seem crazy, such as ride the city bus alone across town every day when I was only seven (something I’d never let Tori do now). But I was loved!

I rode that city bus alone every day because my mother fought to get me transferred to a better elementary school. I ate at home alone because my mother was getting an education so that she could better provide for us. We were poor because my mother refused to take help from her family because it came with big strings attached, and my mother worked hard to get us off welfare (we were only on it for about two years).

I know that I’m the lucky one. I’ve always known. My childhood may have been poor, but I operate now from a position of privilege and personal security that my sisters do not enjoy. No one hurt me as a kid.

I was safe.

Yet, even so… this does not change the grief I feel about not having a father. The father that I’m biologically related to is clearly not the father I wish I’d had. No, I wish I had a father like Charlie is to Tori. A father that loves unconditionally, that would take his daughter to Chuckie Cheese on a Saturday afternoon just because it reopened with brand new everything. A father that would stay in my room and sing me songs from the 1940s until I fell asleep. A father that got up with me every morning and made me breakfast, that cuddled me without ill intent, that helped me with homework and that explained how things work… the list of ways that Charlie fathers Tori is endless, and THAT is what I wish I’d had.

In other words, an idealized version of “father” that was never an option for me.

In that, then, all five (or six) of us siblings – me, Sharmell, Johnny, Diana, and Brigette – share that grief.

Diana’s post has broken me free of that mild envy I felt toward my other siblings, and Sharmell made it possible by asking the important questions. Maybe, finally, because of my father’s callus treatment of Sharmell’s mother, we can finally really be a family.

It’s up to us, now.

Random woman in the back there is my roommate at the time, Sara, who was kind enough to come with me on this trip to meet my dad so I wouldn’t be alone. 

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Comments

  1. says

    Cecily and Diana, I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken for both of you to put your feelings into words, but I am grateful you did. That you can still be a family this many years later and after so much hurt is a remarkable source of hope for me, and so many others.
    Much love and respect to you both and all those who love you,
    Alexis

  2. says

    Really, you know it wasn’t you who failed them.
    This story is so powerful. I’ve thought about what your sister wrote ever since I first read it.
    I hope this second chance at a relationship with each other will bring you all happiness.

  3. says

    I wish you could have had a dad like you wanted, too. I have a great dad, and my kids have a great dad, and I know how lucky we are. How wonderful for your daughter, though, that you knew enough to find the right man to raise your own child. She’s a very lucky girl.

  4. Alexicographer says

    I wish I could have had a good dad, too, and yours makes mine look great in comparison (but he wasn’t, in comparatively mild yet nonetheless significant ways). I joke about having excellent/wonderful parents, on average (meaning my mom more than counterbalanced my dad), and it sounds like you could make the same joke, but that doesn’t make it easy (and not for our moms either).

    What Alexis said. And here’s to you kids (of your dad) working together, if possible/appropriate, and making the future (so much) better than the past.

  5. says

    I’m humbled reading your family’s story. My early childhood memories are idyllic, but only because my mom successfully sheltered me from so much. I remember through rose-colored glasses, compared to my siblings. My first spurts of jealousy came in middle school and high school when I began to spend more time at friends’ homes and realized what a dad really could be like. I hope that it was the path I needed to live in order to bring my children into a truly idyllic home with 2 loving attentive parents. I selfishly hope to myself that my father has interceded, in the afterlife, to bring that to be for my children because he’s sorry for all that he couldn’t do when he was here.

  6. says

    You and your sisters are so amazing and strong. It’s mind blowing.
    I never envied my sister for having a relationship with my father when I did not. But I do remember being a kid and having a really fucked up jealousy for my cousin who had a father that died. The bizarre tidiness of that seemed so much easier than ever having to explain my backstory when someone would ask where my father was.

    • Sarah says

      Ha!! I did too…I’m pretty sure I probably told a few people he died, but (I’m white with squinty eyes) I did make up a story that my father was a vacuum cleaner salesman that made me when he was invited in to demonstrate the effectiveness of his product. BUT then he had to leave and fly back to Japan and my mother never learned his name but she got a hell of a deal. Living in a small town with small town gossip, I found it hilarious when people would ask me in a whisper about being half Japanese and half white (even in high school). Good ole hippie Dad was raising a former prostitutes 4 sons in a neighboring town as his own…I’ve met him twice.

  7. says

    I read this post after reading Diana’s post, and I don’t even have the words formed yet in my mind to put in this little box here. I’m not even sure the right words exist. I guess I mostly want to say I’m sorry for the pain all of you carry with you. I know a little bit about it myself. I’m in awe, too, like Megan said above, of your & your sisters’ strength and courage.

  8. says

    I give kudos to both you and Diana for sharing your stories. People like to pretend that these things don’t exist. Not here. Not in our America.

    Neither of you should feel guilt for how you feel. One thing I learned in my life is that you have emotions. Feel them, deal with them, move on. Move on doesn’t mean forget, but you feel what you feel. You should take the time to understand them, but to cling and worry and hold on to them is not healthy.

    Hugs to you both.

  9. Tracey says

    What a story for Thanksgiving, love to your mom and Charley and thanks for their parenting.

    The failures in this story were the grownups who completely abdicated their responsibilities. Not your eighteen year old self, Cecily, not you.

    I love your closing line “Its up to us, now”. I don’t expect it will be easy but you’ve all managed to open up so much, so quickly that maybe the path is on its way to being cleared to that new place where you all can be. Just be. Blessings to all of your family.

  10. says

    I am in awe of the willingness to share on your and your sisters’ parts. I hope that by finding each other, and letting go a little by telling the world that you all can heal just a little bit.

    It is up to you all now. You don’t have to look back if you don’t want to — you all can look forward hopefully with a renewed sense of togetherness.

  11. Melissa says

    Thank you for such courage, both of you. I hope you can heal and be a family with this honest, clearing, fresh start. You have a lot of things to work through and it sounds like you might be able to really do that. Love conquers all.

  12. says

    Thank you, and your sister, for sharing your stories. I think the ability to convey your feelings in writing is a gene you both must have.

    When I read this post and the one by your sister I cried – good and bad. It reminded me in many ways of the book Singing Songs by Meg Tilly. Have you read that?

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful day of Thanks.

  13. says

    I know exactly what you mean when you talk about fathers. My father was actually not bad, but not really involved with us besides bringing home a paycheck. I always thought I was fine with that until, of course, I had a daughter. Seeing my husband with my daughter just amazes me daily and now I am left to wonder, “what is that like?” . What is it like to have a father so involved that he makes you part of his life and teaches you things, and loves you unconditionally? I wonder how that affects a woman and I am so glad my daughter has a chance to find out.