Like many of us who lost a parent young, I have very few memories left of my dad. Throughout my life, it’s been tough to discern whether or not the ones I have are actual memories or a creation of the perfect dad I would like to hold on to. The vivid memories that I do have all revolve around the end – finding out he was sick, multiple visits to the hospital for surgeries and chemo, conversations about all of the things he was going to miss in my life and watching his last breath. As a 10 year old child, it never occurred to me that I should document our time together and take his last months to really get to know him. For so long I felt like I had missed out.
I couldn’t even answer simple questions about him. What was his favorite color, food, movie, TV show, etc.? What did he do for work? What were his aspirations? Where did he want to travel to? I also didn’t know anything about his social life. Who were his friends? What did he like to do? Where did he like to hang out? How did he meet my mom? And I definitely didn’t know anything about him becoming a dad. Was he excited when he found out my mom was pregnant? Was he present for my birth? What kind of dad was he? Did he even want me? That one was tough. I knew that he loved me – I can still feel it today – but did he actually want a child? Or was I someone he loved only after I had arrived?
I wrote all of these questions out and as part of my healing process I was encouraged to ask the person best equipped to answer them – my mother. I have to say, this was the absolute most terrifying part of my entire healing process. Not only was I worried that asking these questions would upset my mom but I was also genuinely concerned about what I might find out. What if none of the things I believed about him were true? What if I had created a fantasized version of my dad in order to feel the love that I had been missing for so long? What if he had only loved me after I arrived?
My hands were shaking as I picked up the phone to call my mom. I began to explain to her all of the things I was working through and as soon as I said the words “I don’t remember anything about dad”, I immediately burst into tears. I guess I had always known that I didn’t know much about him but to actually say it meant remembering that it had been 20 years since we had had a conversation and admitting that I couldn’t remember anything other than the end of his life. “I don’t remember anything about my dad” translates loosely to “I can only remember when dad was sick and I have no idea what he was like when he was full of life. Please, help me.”.
My mom heard my cry for help and, of course, she agreed to help me in any way that she could. I told her that I would send over an email outlining all of the things I wanted to know and that she could reply however and whenever she would like. After I sent off the email, I thought it would for sure be weeks or months before I got any of these answers but, much to my surprise, my mom started sending me the answers the very next day.
His favorite color was blue. His favorite number was 13. He was quickly promoted to sergeant in the Army and he helped make some of the machines we used in the Gulf War. My mom’s brother was friends with my dad which is how they met and started dating. When he found out they were having a baby, he wanted a girl and he chose my name which I will never give away. He was at work when my mom went into labor but broke all traffic laws to make it there on time and in true Leslie fashion, I made him wait a whole day before I arrived. We did two school projects together and my mom recalled how proud he was to be at my kindergarten graduation.
These pieces of information were more valuable than gold to me and they started bringing back memories I had completely forgotten. Of course his favorite number was 13 – he loved Dan Marino and we would always watch him play together. I knew he was in the Army because he always talked about how he wanted to take me to Germany someday. I remember being absolutely fascinated with his time there even though I’m still working on remembering any specific stories. And I can plainly see us working together on a solar system project – there was a lot of frustration and cussing like there was on all of his projects but there was also a lot of love.
To say that I was thankful for these memories would be an understatement. I called my mom the next day to let her know how much I appreciate her taking the time to remember for me and to talk about the things that I had recalled as a result. But, she had one more thing in store for me. We were talking about how they met and how I came to be and she said the words that forever changed my life – “Your dad asked to have you. He said he had done everything he ever wanted to do except have a baby.”
What? At 24 years old my dad decided that he had done everything he wanted to do except make another human. He had chosen me. He had wanted me. He had loved me more than I could even fathom. I was literally his entire life’s work. Maybe somehow he knew he was going to leave us all too soon and needed a legacy to leave behind. I am that legacy. My dad chose me and that revelation has given me the freedom to live a life that would make him proud of his choice. I won’t let you down, dad. ❤