My father died on February 28,1996. I was ten years old. I was in the 5th grade. My sister in the third grade. I’d nervously performed a Maya Angelou poem in front of the school. I remember trembling on stage as my mind went blank. Dressed in my white leotard, sheet white stockings, and red calve length skirt. Relieved, I rushed off stage and back to safety inside the teachers lounge.
After the performance I went back to my classroom and my life began to normalize again. I don’t remember if it was an announcement or if my teacher pulled me out of the classroom. Next thing I knew I was sitting across from the school counselor. She said your father passed away this morning. My sister began to cry immediately. I didn’t know what to feel or think. I just remember a bunch of adults trying to comfort me. All I wanted to do was wipe the tears from my baby sisters eyes. There was nothing I could do. We went home for the remainder of the day.
A few tears fell from my eyes later that day. A part of me felt relieved. I’d be lying to you and myself if I said my father was perfect. Truth is, I didn’t know my father. He knew me more than I knew him. For most of my childhood he was in jail. Vague images of him cloud my mind of him hurting my mother. As a kid, you try to filter and organize the chaos. I could not. I just felt things. Things I couldn’t explain until I went through them in life.
The only person I’ve ever known is my mother. We didn’t go to a funeral. We said our goodbyes days before as my father layed inside his hospital bed. He was dying of H. I. V. I didn’t know the disease at the time. I thought we had more time together. Although he was sick during my final years, I knew my father loved me. He knew I love chocolate cake, cheeseburgers, and could stay up late til the sunrise. That was my secret.
Apart of me strongly disliked my father. Mostly for what he did to my mother. He questioned my love for him constantly. I loved him. I just didn’t know how to love a distant stranger. I wrote letters to him in prison. That was for him not me. We share a birthday month, January. Our birthdays are seven days apart. For my tenth birthday he bought me a jumping jack doll with a trampoline. I loved it. I remember vividly whispering in his ear on his death bed that I had passed my science test. He replied ruggedly, I’m proud of you.
They say time heals all wounds. I’d like to thinj it does. There were moments that I replay in my mind. My dad bought me my first pair of K-Swiss. He warned me about boys with a strong look and his belt. He made me feel like a princess for my 5th grade prom. I remember calling him to overrule my mom saying no to Six Flags. He didn’t question me, he just said yes. We had our battles. My smart mouth and his firm hands. I was stubborn just like him. Nothing will ever take away sitting on my fathers lap.
I have my father’s forehead and eyes.. My mother’s smile and nose.. My complexion is a mix of the two hues. Although my life was not planned, I was made with the intention of love. It has taken some time to appreciate my father, his mistakes and embrace the love he had for me. I gave my son his middle name. Today I welcome him fully into my heart. Forgiving the past. He was human. Humans can make mistakes. I just hope he’s proud of the woman I have become today. After all I am my father’s daughter.