First, before I even get any further than the title of this piece, let me make it abundantly clear that I had an excellent relationship with my father. He was very present in my life. I knew who he was, and he provided for me emotionally, mentally, physically (with his presence), and financially since before my birth and beyond my 21st year. However, he was human, so he was born flawed.
I lost my Dad suddenly a little over a month after turning 22, within a week of the first anniversary of working at my first “big girl” job and moving into my first apartment. The day before he died, we had spoken on the phone about such a mundane thing as how I was going to install my bamboo window treatments. At the end of the call, I had told him that I jokingly didn’t need him, that I was fine, and that I still loved him even though he couldn’t help me put my blinds up.
At the time of my father’s death, he was a retiree of the New York Housing Authority. Due to his health, he was forced to stop working after 15 years of service. I had asked him to assist me, but in the days leading up to his death, he was weakened from over-exerting himself. My father had a pacemaker put in probably a year before, and he was still adjusting to not being able to function at his usual capacity. Usually, he would have about three days of full strength and then needed a day or two to recuperate. The day he died was during one of those recuperation periods.
It was believed he had placed food on the stove and fell asleep on the couch; this was a chronic problem. He woke up to a smoke-filled apartment and the fire department attempting to break in and rescue him. For as long as I can remember, his neighbor and friend told me she attempted to knock on his door several times before calling 911. However, Dad was a sound sleeper and had not heard her knocking. He succumbed to a massive heartache.
My mother and I lived less than two miles away from him, and so were notified by police almost immediately after his death. I will never forget the NYPD officers’ faithful knock on my door. My mother pointed them toward my door almost immediately after they knocked on hers. She had let them know I was his daughter and his self-appointed caregiver, as I was also hers. When deciding it was time for me to move out on my own, it was a no-brainer when I learned the apartment across the hall from my mama was available. As a child of older parents with health challenges, moving into the apartment directly across from hers was an ideal arrangement for both of us. I could live within walking distance of my parents while living in the building and the neighborhood I had since I was six.
The police officers informed us I needed to get to my dad’s apartment immediately while they prepared to secure it; I remember numbly nodding my head before closing the door. I then slowly fell to the floor, with my back to the foyer’s coat closet, screaming and wailing for a good five minutes before I collected myself enough to call a friend. My ex-boyfriend had lost his father less than six months prior, and I helped him through the process. Something in me needed to say it aloud to someone who did not know Dad to make it seem natural and not just a cruel dream. So, I called my ex; we spoke briefly, and then I got up and collected my things, preparing myself to walk the ten blocks to my father’s apartment.
I can remember clearly the first time my Dad seemed to have forgotten we had a “date.” I was about six years old, and my Dad was supposed to pick me up at noon for a sleepover visit at my Grandma Lela’s house. He moved there after my parents separated. I sat on my mother’s hope chest for about two hours, and he finally called to say he could not pick me up. I grew up in Brooklyn during the early 80s and into the 90s, so there were no mobile phones or email. My mother did not know if my father still intended to come to get me without a phone call to her home phone. He told her that something had come up; he didn’t have enough money for carfare. After my mother briefly conversed with him, she passed the phone to me. She wanted him to explain why he was not coming as promised. I had gotten all dolled up, and when I hung up with him, I could feel my tiny heart begin to break into pieces. I went back to my room and cried. Of course, later, I forgave him. Why? Because he was my Daddy. Moreover, my mother, God bless her soul, never bad-mouthed him to me. She allowed me to come to my conclusions and never stopped me from spending time with him, even when they may not have been on the same page.
After some time, my mother came and got me and took me to McDonald’s. Little did I know then, she had scrapped the money up, pulling spare change together so I could have that meal. She thought the idea of a Happy Meal would cheer me up; it did, but it did not equate to spending time with my Dad. She wanted me to have what she never had for herself: a consistent, healthy relationship with my father. Still, to this very day, I tend to use food as a crutch for dealing with my disappointments; I am, in many ways, an emotional eater. That is my truth, and I am comfortable enough in my skin to own it. I also tend to hold in my feelings and am a bit of an introvert after being hurt by those who were supposed to protect my fragile emotions at an early age.
Years later, after they passed, I found a letter my Dad had written to my mother during the period. He was recently unemployed and thought it best that we all moved into my Grandma Lela’s house in Queens. The apartment we lived in at the time was designated for the Superintendent of the building. However, my father was no longer the building’s superintendent; we were technically homeless. My mother devised a plan because she did not want to move into my Grandmother’s home. She had recently learned that my Dad was having an affair. We learned he was having an affair.
Continues to Part Two
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