Dad died Thanksgiving morning several years ago.
To write “Dad died” unleashes a snarl of tangled emotions. Love, loss, wishful thinking, anger, “if onlys,” “why?,” longing, forever.
I loved that man with wholehearted abandon until loving him was no longer safe. Even then, I longed for what I once had with him.
It was early Thanksgiving morning when my sister called with the news.
My husband asked, “What would you like to do? We could stay home.”
Our plans for the day were to drive to the Russian River and be thankful with friends – to hike, dine together, make music and connect with a group of people we care about.
I wandered out to our patio and sat in the shaded swing. Star jasmine scented the air mingled with citrus, ripening plums and myriad flowers that reminded me of Kauai.
I queried my heart. It was a nuanced tableau softened by time, similar to tapestries I’d seen in Seville, Spain, where history is woven.
Across the expanse were scenes; one like the photo above – a child’s joyful heart, a father’s delight.
Snippets like thought balloons danced above ground; a little girl and her rabbit, me bareback astride Mengustu (my horse) arms thrown wide, knees guiding him to jump that fence, mule train exploration, ancient ruins, the first landing on our newly approved African airstrip with Dad’s and my arms outstretched overhead in a victory dance.
But at the base of these pictorial fragments, a dark ribbon swirled in and around those images. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Emotional and spiritual abuse.
My father, my enemy. The man I had engaged in warfare to secure the safety of my children, the revocation of grandparent rights (his and my mother’s) – and won.
Winning was critical but was accompanied, necessarily, by loss. Loss pertaining to him I had sustained piece by piece over the course of my lifetime. Grief I had waded through off and on for decades.
I am grateful forgiveness isn’t measured by reconciliation, for my parents were dangerous to me and mine.
My overriding sense, that Thanksgiving Day nearly a decade ago in my peaceful garden, was relief.
Then an immediate need for connection hit me swift and strong. “Let’s go,” I said to my husband.
A human sponge, our friend’s hugs reached deeper, laughter lifted pain, and sunlight – filtered through the giant redwoods – lit a path to the river lazing along toward the sea.
Beauty formed a hammock for my soul that day and instead of giving, I received.
Today, while looking through photo archives, this one filled the screen and made me cry. One moment I was together, the next I was smoothing away tears. How does that happen? Instant transport from here to then.
I miss my daddy. This daddy. I didn’t intend to lean into my longing; it happened in a split second. I wanted what that little girl had if only for a moment. Love me enough.
Even today, knowing better, I wondered why I (or any of my siblings) couldn’t have been enough.
There are millions on this planet who have lost parents, whether in war, by accident, by abandonment, death or like me, removal by design.
We adjust, move on, create fulfilling lives, love and are loved. It’s a testament to worthy, sturdy hearts.
I know people who can find a picture like this and pick up the phone to connect with a father who still laughs in delight at his daughter, who enfolds her in a hug when he senses her need for comfort, who reminds her of her beauty inside and out when weariness blurs her own cognizance, and who says, “I remember. I’d come home from work worn out, and there you were. Such a cute little bundle of love. I am one lucky dad.”
With one very lucky daughter.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly series by Laura Landgraf on sexual abuse. The previous articles are:
Laura Landgraf, author of “The Fifth Sister,” is a social activist, retreat leader and motivational speaker. Her TEDx Talk is “Razed by Lions: A New Way to Think about Healing after Trauma.”