Thank you for The Death of Fathers and Illusions

… a repost from 2009 for Father’s Day

My brother told me yesterday that my father died last month.

“That’s why I didn’t call you to tell you happy birthday.” he said apologetically.

“I didn’t know how to put both things in the same conversation.”

I asked how he knew my father was dead.

“Mom got a notice from Social Security. The nurse at her board and care place has the paperwork.”

We had not seen my father since we were children. He took his family (four kids and a woman experiencing a psychotic break) from New Jersey to Ohio in a green pick up truck and left them at his parents’ house.

I was standing at the window on the second floor as he got back in the truck.

“I wanna go with you” I pleaded down at the street. I didn’t know these new people he introduced as Grandparents and Aunts who lived with them.

“I’m just going to the store. I’ll be right back! Now, go to bed.” He yelled up to the window.

That was the last lie he ever told me.

I spent a lot of my youth anticipating the day I would see my father again, even had dreams about accidentally running into him on the street and telling him about the crazy things that happened after he left.

In my twenties I went on a mission to find him. I drove across the country, spoke to relatives I had never met, and learned things from some who were there when he left.

“He might be in prison, Lea. He was being sought by the law for bank robbery. That’s why he left you all. He was on the run.”

I went back home with information about the men my father robbed banks with, a half sister who was born the same month as my younger brother by a woman named Twila Getz, and a whole lot of nothing about where my father was.

Eventually, I accepted that I would probably never see him again.

But somewhere, in the back of my head, I still had fantasies about what I would say if I met him on the street.

I still had memories about how I adored him, his singing, his loud laugh, how he moved a refrigerator in the middle of the night to prove that things hiding in the dark were nothing to be afraid of as he put a chirping cricket my hand, and his entertaining stories about the tooth fairy having red hair just like me.

I will never see my father again.

But at least I can talk to him now.


~ by leakelley on June 20, 2010.

14 Responses to “Thank you for The Death of Fathers and Illusions”

  1. Wow. That’s an incredible story. It’s amazing how at peace you seem. It shows remarkable strength; though it seems like it was quite a journey to get there.

  2. I’m so sorry, mostly for what you never had. As one who must sound like a crazy lady discussing politics and things with the empty rooms now, I can assure you that you can talk to him now. I also am certain he hears. I wish I could give you a hug.

  3. Baby, baby, baby…that’s what this feels like…like I’m holding you in my arms and stroking your hair while you cry your tears for a father who left so long ago, but only now just departed. Oh, Letha Jean, how many times did we talk about your daddy? I’m so sorry. You didn’t answer my phone call tonight, and I’m guessing you didn’t want to talk. I get it. None of us can go back. Hang on, dear LJK. I can’t know your pain, I can only know it hurts. I love you and the tears you don’t want to share. L.

  4. Wow Lea; I feel for you. That’s harsh. I think I’d have to do a week of serious journalling just to get through the initial onslaught of emotions around that.
    I’m glad you have those good memories of him and that you included them here.
    You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. Wow. My father left us when I was 3 years old but I still had nice memories of him. I finally got up the nerve to look for him and I did find his brothers/aunts and uncles/cousins but it was too late. He had died 10 years earlier of lung cancer. I did acquire a new set of family because of that search and several of them keep in touch with me, but there is still a disappointment that I didn’t get to meet him and get to know him. 😦

  6. This piece and your writing in it is so poignant. I don’t know if you meant it as such, but it felt to me like a kind of tribute. And a letting go of illusions (which is why the title is so fitting).

  7. If I were there I could just listen, cry, laugh, talk, make more coffee…flow with the emotions.

    But I am here, so I went looking for something Lea would like, something with all of the emotions and maybe even a little empathy, even if it isn’t from me directly right now.

    I found this website for everyday people to write their poems.

    There are mostly raw-emotion amateur poems about everything, including abandonment, some written by kids, poems about absent daddies, and holes they leave in your life. I am not choosing one for you, because most are raw, and it’s just a line here, a stanza there, from people who have felt some of what you have felt.

    He would be proud of you Lea, and that? I know for sure.

  8. A Farewell
    Lord Alfred Tennyson

    Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,

    Thy tribute wave deliver:

    No more by thee my steps shall be,

    For ever and for ever.

    Flow, softly flow, by lawn and lea,

    A rivulet then a river:

    Nowhere by thee my steps shall be

    For ever and for ever.

    But here will sigh thine alder tree

    And here thine aspen shiver;

    And here by thee will hum the bee,

    For ever and for ever.

    A thousand suns will stream on thee,

    A thousand moons will quiver;

    But not by thee my steps shall be,

    For ever and for ever.

  9. There are lovely comments here. I’ve read them all, with delight & affection.

    One’s parents – mine, for instance – can be a puzzlement far down the years of their children’s lives. My mentally disordered mother, like yours, never seemed to me to be able to be held responsible for anything she did or did not do. I could not blame her for anything. This, I believe, set me free to study to understand rather than merely judge human behavior. My limited experience of you here in your blog & elsewhere persuades me that you, too, survived a mother’s madness, & made of her inability to understand you an invaluable skill for deciphering the predicaments, behaviors & beliefs – whether painful or ecstatic, sane or insane – of other people.

    I saw more of my father than you did of yours, but he, too, was a poor, crooked, charming, sometimes kind & more often cruel Irishman, shaped by a thousand years of brutal English rule & rigidly ignorant Catholic clerics & their crippling doctrines. I saw him only a handful of times past age 8, & only once after turning 21. He died in Kentucky, following 3 strokes that came one upon the other, over a few days. My elder brother let me know.

    It took more years for me to speak kindly about father. It was impossible to do so until after I quit acting the way he had. A psychologist once said to me, “When our fathers are emotionally distant & inaccessible, we make them close to us by acting as though we were them.” I would phrase that differently, more simply, but the point is largely the same: We do unto others as we were done unto. If lucky, our lives accidentally & fortuitously render circumstances that enable & encourage us to do better things unto others. I was lucky, I think. You, Ms. Kelley, were also lucky – sooner & more so than I, perhaps.

    Like others here, I adore you, & thank you.

  10. Wow. What a story you share here… my heart goes out to you! {HUGS}… I have a very strained relationship with me father… these things are tricky at best

  11. You leave me speechless. ❤

  12. So beautiful Lea, and it touches me just as much now as it did the first time. You are such a gifted voice.

  13. My father – whom I hated – did his crippled best for us. May he be well; may he be happy; may he be free from suffering.

  14. Isn’t it a good thing that we are our whole selves after we leave this world. Thank you for sharing your story. Peace is hard to have and hard to be for our families when we are only parts of our whole self. It doesn’t mean the bad stuff is right but it does make the good stuff brighter and the bad stuff something we can give back to the universe to recycle as pure energy.

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