I found out by way of a text message three weeks ago that my father had died.
(Unavoidable explanation on what I mean by ‘father’ and the somewhat complicated parent picture: He adopted me with my mother when I was 10 months old. Chronologically, you could call him my ‘second father,’ sandwiched between my biological ‘birth’ father and my stepfather. The other two fathers are also dead. You could also say he was my ‘first father,’ because he was the first one I knew. Incidentally, my Mom, my True Mother who adopted me and raised me, as well as my biological ‘birth’ mother, are also deceased. So I’ve had a total of five ‘parents,’ but with this most recent death, that’s a wrap for me and parents.)
This isn’t a blog entry about grief. I hadn’t seen him in about 25 years, maybe longer. I decided way back when — I must have been about 10 — that I’d rather not be around someone whose primary love was alcohol and whose primary effect on me were feelings of fear and dread.
Trying to remember when I last saw him is like trying to use a broken camera: I just can’t make the blur go away. I just don’t really recall.
All you need to know to understand my lack of relationship with my father is a description of two of the last contacts I had with him. The last one was about three years ago when he sent me a Facebook message (we weren’t ‘friends’) that just said, ‘HI TOMMY.’ I didn’t respond and there was no follow-up.
Maybe three years before that, he left me a voicemail that, kid you not, began with a reminder of who he was: ‘Hi, Tommy. This is your dad, Bill Collins.’ I didn’t call back.
I’m not writing this to malign him. I have had no ill will for many years. And I’m not writing this for sympathy. In a way, you could almost say we were on good terms: He apparently did not want to have a relationship with me or my older brother (also deceased, by the way) and preferred to focus on his new family instead. I made that easy for him.
And I thought I’d be better off with no contact with him. And I was lucky that, by and large, he made that easy for me.
So, by all accounts, I should have had a completely neutral reaction when I heard he had died. It should not have mattered.
And it didn’t, not much. But it mattered a little, and that’s what’s so surprising.
It’s a funny thing, it seems, when it comes to parents. No matter how much time has passed and how at peace you are with it all, and how irreversibly your life has moved on from the long-ago time when there was such a thing as a ‘father/son dynamic,’ there still in the end is no doubt that two good parents would have been better than one.
When I heard about his death, I realized that the vaguest, dimmest, most fanciful hope had existed, a mathematically non-zero chance, that he would have, say, out of the blue, written me a letter packed with such pure, unfaked apology and emotion that I would have found it persuasive, and determined, even after all the years of emotionless non-contact, that it was now safe and potentially productive to try to make amends. But now that he was dead, that chance had ticked down all the way, unarguably and forever, to zero.
There are no regrets and no sadness, really, just a bit of an empty feeling I was startled to have discovered. And an abundance of disappointment over what might have happened had things broken differently, all those years ago.