Dead Dad, Why Are You Following Me?
“Dead Dad, why are you following me?
I ain’t got a crumb, Dad, how about letting me be?”
20 years ago today, my dad left us for the last time.
We found out three days later when his friend called with condolences. No one had told us yet.
He became more present in his death than he had been in life.
Surpassed in my shameful longing, he festered inside me, begging to live again through me.
In the pit of my heart, I kept him caged in. He’d escape out my eyes in moments of agony, but I kept him under control by keeping him under the surface.
Simmering like a volcano, he erupted in the years flowing from my divorce.
I’d swallow him down in gulps of wine — I was my Daddy’s girl, the life of the party.
With every Cheers I’d salute him, allowing him to lead my corpse from celebration to celebration. Tequila!
With every low-cut top, short skirt, high heel, I silently screamed, “Daddy, Daddy, look at me!”
A smile plastered across my plastered face, I was having a good time living the party girl legacy he’d left behind.
In my emptiness, so cold, I thought I was cool, really cool, back then.
From never having kissed a boy, and still secretly playing dolls and building bear houses when he died, I was now a woman who couldn’t hurt because I couldn’t feel. Numb.
Pounded, tenderized and packaged, I’d sealed and delivered my bleeding heart to my ex. I was bled out, dry, kept wet only by the wine, which dried my eyes and throat the morning after.
If Dad could do it…
… except, he couldn’t.
I didn’t understand what alcoholism truly meant until I joined AA. Walking to a coffee shop, thinking about the real drunks, it suddenly hit me. My dad wasn’t barefoot because he was a wild free hippie unbound by society’s norms and expectations, he didn’t have shoes!
He didn’t gypsy his way through life, living at this friend’s and then that’s and then a boat in the harbor because stability didn’t suit his spontaneity, he could not function in society. He wasn’t even a functional alcoholic like everyone else I knew, he was the real deal. And enmeshed in my missing of him, I’d allowed his disease to permeate into my general sense of dis-ease.
From being a teenager who’d petitioned for teenagers against drug abuse, I was drinking wine almost daily, thinking I was quite fabulous. A caricature version of myself.
A fractured, split out, zombie girl, believing my own bullshit that I was consciously creating my own reality. How conscious are your choices when you’re drunk?
I had to kill off my false self to finally release my father to rest in peace.
I still mix up love and pity in a cocktail of confusion, but when in doubt, I no longer pick it up.
I don’t swallow my shame, I spit it out and sometimes it still feels gross and messy, but just as quickly as the shock of release comes, the shame dissolves.
Today I’m emancipated from the chains of my past. I outgrew the constraints of my family conditioning and replanted myself somewhere my roots could expand to grow. I no longer shade myself in my father’s shadow. I’m not a tree that needed to stay put, and my family tree does not define me.
It’s taken 20 years, but through my replanting, I’m learning to re-parent myself. To fill the gaps with myself. To heal instead of self-soothe. To reveal instead of conceal. My revelation has become my personal revolution. My reclamation of self and the restoration of my soul has allowed spirit to reenter where Dead Dad had been.
I’ve realized that while I cannot change where I came from, and how it started, I can show up as I am now and shape my story myself. What I’d seen as an emptiness inside me is now reflected in truth as space. As capacity to create. And just as I have with this beautiful blank page, I plan to fill the space of my life. With my words, with my truth, with my full self.
Today I honor my father for his seed. I thank my mother for the incubation. And I celebrate self-generation. The greatest gift granted to each and every single one of us. May the death of our pasts pave the way to birth our future. And instead of forward focus on our happy endings, let us enjoy the deliciously messy pleasure of the magical middle. Of our becoming.