Who My Father Was

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“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

 — Anne Sexton

I came across the above quote by a Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and poet, and I beg to differ, with all due respect, if I may, as a non-Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

It does matter who my father was. I’ve spent many years wondering who he was. Since my dad didn’t live to see my 11th birthday, my memories of him are limited. I didn’t know who he was as a person, as most people typically get to know their parents from an adult perspective. Not many ten year old girls see their father as anything other than a superhero. I remember my dad as cheerleader, back-scratcher, breakfast cooker, bug squisher. He was bedtime story-reading, tune-whistling, bow-tie wearing, cartoon-watching dad. He was surprise-puppy-hiding, firefly-catching, funny-voice-talking goofy dad. Riddle-telling, cartoon-watching, church-going, Hungarian-speaking, clock-collecting, silly song-singing dad.

That’s about the extent of my memories of my Dad. And for many years I was content to remember him that way, through the eyes of a very young girl. But as I grew older, I longed to know more about him as a person, especially because so many people have told me over the years what a good man he was. Usually described as the “life of the party”, his sense of humor is often recalled as people talk about him, as well as his genuine kindness and caring for other people, and his steadfast Catholic faith. Older family members often tell me about his love for me, that I was the apple of his eye, the youngest of his four kids.

I don’t know how true the things are that people have told me over the years about my father. But I hope that they are mostly the truth, because it is comforting to hear that the man I naturally idolized and viewed as one of the greatest people in the world, was also special to other people in his life, such as friends, colleagues, and fellow parishioners.

Hopefully people haven’t just said nice things to me about my dad out of pity or sympathy. I’d like to think that their sentiments are sincere, and their memories are real. Unfortunately, because he’s been gone for so long, it’s not very often I’m around people who knew my dad at all. But, occasionally when I run into an old neighbor, or someone from our church, they’ll share a memory about my dad and how he touched their lives in some way. And I can’t even describe in words how much I appreciate it. Not because it’s a compliment, but because it’s a glimpse into an important part of me that was abruptly taken away and has been missing for almost 30 years.

If you lose a parent when you are still a child, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions about not only who your parent was, but also who you are and where you came from. When people can help fill in some of those blank spaces, it really helps you to feel closer to your parent even if many years have passed.

So I would have to add one more caveat to Ms. Sexton’s statement, that especially applies to those of us who lost a parent when we were children:

“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was…and who others remember he was.” — A.S.

More:

A Lifetime of Lessons in Ten Years

Who the Other Me Would Be

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9 responses to “Who My Father Was

  1. It definitely helps to have family and friends who can fill in some of the blanks and help remember a parent who died too soon. Great idea – I wish I had had something like this when I lost my mom years ago.

  2. Andrea,Why did I not have any idea of this when we were dancing? I suppose I was in my own world quite different from your world where “nothing bad ever happens.” I lived that life for a long time until @ 30 when bad thing after bad thing kept happening to REALLY fine people. My sister’s husband died, my father died, 2 uncles, etc…. each and every one of them beautiful human beings. So now although I put on a great front, I am like you thinking “who is next?”I am also a bit lost religiously. So, I get it. I have learned to fake it until I feel and that helps immensely. If you ever need to chat I would be honored.This is a beautiful blog and I will send it on to friends of mine who are part of the club.Be well.

  3. Beth, thank you so much for reading and for sharing some of your experiences. It’s so great to hear from you. I’m very sorry to hear about your losses as well, especially while also still so young, in your 30s. You will find your way again. But sometimes it takes a long time. For me it took many years, and I’m still processing some things, but I don’t feel as lost or as hopeless as I once did! I finally feel like I’m living again, not just holding my breath till the next tragedy…. Definitely let’s stay in touch, I would love to catch up, it’s been too long. And also feel free to share more of your thoughts here in comments or if you ever feel like writing about your story more in-depth, a guest post would be welcome as well. & I’d be thrilled if you shared this with others, I really hope it can help people see that they’re not alone, even though it can feel that way at times. Take care and best wishes to you and your beautiful family ~ don’t be a stranger!

  4. I’m new here – and glad I came (thank you, Barbara Hannah Grufferman!) – This was a moving read, and one I think many will relate to – not only those who lost a parent early, but those who may not have known their parents for other reasons – illness, abuse, abandonment, perhaps adoption and searching for their birth roots.You might find Just Add Father (http://justaddfather.com) to be a site you would enjoy visiting. The author writes beautifully about parenting his own young child, having lost his own father when he was eight years old.My own parents survived into my adulthood. My dad was taken by a car accident 24 years ago; there is never a Father’s Day that I don’t think of him. My mother, who was the “problematic” parent for many reasons, passed away a few years back, when I was in my 40s. Ironically, despite a very troubled relationship, I struggled. I struggled with the grieving process, I struggled trying to (single/solo) parent my own kids, still young at the time. I struggled because I suddenly felt “orphaned.”I realized that I was now the oldest living generation. I realized how dependent my boys were on me, and my strength. I felt wobbly for some time. And eventually, it eased. Perhaps because I had my own parenting to focus on.I wish for you the time and care of many who love you, to be there as you put the puzzle pieces together. I’m not sure it’s possible to ever do it “neatly” – or even to do it at all. But we learn to live with all kind of legacies, don’t we. And take what we can from the lessons.

  5. Andrea this was all good reading and hit home. I loss my mother at 13 in 1969. She was my best friend at the time. I loss 3 of my 4 grandparents within the next 5 years. I loss my Dad and last grandparent when I was 30. The loss of my mother at 13 crushed me….how can a boy lose his mother so early and understand why? While I was uspset of my Dad’s passing, I seem to think about him more these days. My marriage….two girls being born….them playing sports and being successful in everything they do. My grandchildren…after his death. I guess the reason is I was a screw up party boy in the last years of my Dad’s life. I resented for the longest time that he didn’t live to see I changed my life around. I have gotten past my parents early deaths by telling myself….don’t do the same thing to my kids and grandkids. I know both my parents would be so proud….

  6. Thanks BigLittle Wolf, I will definitely check out that site too. Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences as well. I totally understand the “orphaned” feeling! I felt the same way. Thanks for the kind words and wishes too.

  7. Thanks so much John for sharing your thoughts. I am so sorry to hear about the untimely loss of your mother, your father, and so many grandparents in such a short time. It sounds like you’ve picked up the pieces very well though, and your parents would be proud indeed! Wishing you much love and happiness with your family for years to come!

  8. Thanks Andrea…I’m good. Divorced 7 years ago,,,I didn’t think that lended to the story. My daughter is friends with Krista Lester…she says she is associated with you …it’s a small world. I think it is a good thing you are trying to do. Thanks, John Stilwell

  9. John- wow it is a small world! I’m glad you found the site and look forward to your input. I’m sorry to hear about your divorce. I do think it’s absolutely part of your story, however. In fact, one of the many topics I plan to explore on this site in future posts is how the death of a parent impacts your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Even if you lose your parents before you’re married, or while you’re married, I think that the experience affects how you relate to your spouse or significant other in many ways, at least in my experience and of others I know who have also been through it. Regards, Andrea.

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