My father was not a father.

The only picture I have of my father is the one I took from his obituary when he died last year. That’s it.

I still laugh to myself when I come across his obituary.

David B. M., 60, of Belleville, passed away Monday July 4, 2016.
Mr. M was employed by the United States Postal Service for 35 years, retiring 9 years ago.

That was the main part of his obituary, aside from the location of his memorial and who he was survived by. The most important statement that should summarize a person’s life, and his was that he happened to have a decent job as a federal employee. No he was a loving husband and father. No words of greatness or how amazing a person he was. Just that he lived, worked, and died.

And as brief and vague as his obituary was, it was the truth. He was no loving father, no doting husband. He was a man who worked and died. It’s what he did in between that will never be written in any obituary, or acknowledged by anyone.

This is the first Father’s Day that my father is not alive, but not the first he’s been absent from. He died long before his actual death. He was physically alive, but mentally and emotionally dead for a long time. And it wasn’t just because of his illness. I know he spent the last years of his life in misery. I know that he wanted to die. And I know that my mother wanted him to die, too, because his death came with a decent payment. She did not love him. He was a burden to her, a roadblock to her moving forward with whatever game she calls her life.

But I refused to treat him like she did. I did my best to take care of him regardless of my hatred towards him for all that he had done to me. And it took everything in me to not take him with me when I ran away, because I knew he would not survive long after my absence. I wanted to save him from her, even though he never saved me from her when he was strong and able.

My father didn’t die because he was so heartbroken over my absence, as my mother would like me and others to believe. He died because he had multiple heart attacks, a stroke, congestive heart failure, and a plethora of other health conditions that he was lucky enough to survive as long as he did with.

It’s so complicated, that simultaneous hatred and love for someone. It’s not the same experience I have with my mother — I only have hatred for her. But my father was different. He wasn’t like her. In many ways, he was a victim of her, just like my brother was (and still is), just like I was. And I think that’s why I felt sorry for him. I think that’s how I rationalized his treatment of me. He acted that way because of her. As if he didn’t know any better.

But that’s my child-like way of looking at him, because adult me knows he had to know better. My mother may have asked him to hold me down while she hurt me, but my father is the one that lifted his arms to hold down mine. My mother may have been yelling, but my father is the one that chose to beat me and bash my head into the kitchen wall.

My father could have chosen to walk away. He could have chosen to divorce her. He could have fought for custody. In the very least, he could have told her “this is not okay” every night she took me into the shower. But he did none of that, and that was his choice, not hers.

My love for my father is not so much love for him, but love of the idea of what I wanted him to be, of what I wanted to be to him. I wanted to be daddy’s little girl. I wanted to feel worthy of love, worthy of care, worthy of support, worthy of not being hurt all of the time just for existing. I wanted him to hug me. I wanted him to tuck me into bed at night. I wanted him to teach me things that only fathers know.

And I wanted him to save me. Because he was the only person in my life that could have saved me from my mother. He was the only person in my life who knew exactly what mommy was doing to her children every night. But he chose apathy. He chose inaction. He chose her over himself. He chose her over his children.

If heartbreak killed my father, it wasn’t heartbreak over me leaving; it was heartbreak over knowing what he did and didn’t do.

If my father had just said no, if he had just said stop, all our lives could be different right now. He could still be alive. My mother would be in prison. My brother would be free, maybe even married to a nice woman instead of married to his own mother.

And I would still have my family, a father that loved me, and a life without hurt.

Instead, I am spending Father’s Day reminded of all the ways my father was never really a father. Because real fathers don’t hurt their children. Real fathers don’t watch their children suffer. Real fathers put their children first. My grief is not in missing my father, it’s in missing what I wanted him to be.

I just wanted him to save me. Was that so much to wish for?

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