This essay was written by a student at Mighty Writers, an education nonprofit that offers free writing classes to over 2,500 inner-city Philadelphia students a year.
I can't remember the day or the year, but that moment will forever stay in my mind, sticking out like a sore thumb. It was a cool night. Perhaps it was cool because it was winter, or perhaps it was the kiss of a midnight’s breeze. I've replayed it in my mind over and over again. Maybe one day it will stop. But I'm not holding my breath.
The last time I saw my father is a vague memory. Which is uncommon for me because usually I can give extreme detail on memory. However, I can't remember anything leading up to it, nor anything after. Maybe my mind intended it that way. Maybe it's protecting me.
I can't remember much about my father’s personality. I can't remember his age or his birthday. Up until recently, I didn't even know that he had a deep island accent. I can't remember what it felt like to be held by him or be told that he loves me. I can't remember the feeling of his giant and surely rough hands, due to to his line of work. I can't remember his scent, due to me persistently holding my nose to block the cigarette smoke that formed around him. Too young to know that I should take in those moments. Too young to know that before a memory can be formed, the moment must end.
I remember his house and my fear that he would be lonely in there without us. I remember my deep fear of his slanted stairs and the dog that lived in the backyard. I remember his big old rocking chair, with the blanket on the side, watching television without a care in the world. I remember having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every time I got the chance. I remember taking a bath each night and watching Cinderella before going to bed. But as those memories fade away, my final memory grows stronger.
I've been told many stories of how much of a daddy's girl I was. How as a baby I would play pranks on him, waiting till he was asleep just to kick him in the side like I was falling to make him jump and make sure his child was okay. Before he would eventually put me in the crib when his side was sore. I've been told I learned to climb the stairs by watching his mother tuck her hand into her chest and crawl up. I've been told that I woke him up one night with a diaper in one hand and a bat in the other, demanding that he change me. I've been told I acted as Mommy’s little solider whenever he hurt her feelings. I've been told that every day, without fail, within an hour of his arrival, I would run to my mother and say, “Daddy's coming.” I remember whenever I would antagonize my brothers, I would run behind my father’s leg, using him as a human shield.
But what's a daddy's girl supposed to do without a daddy?
Watching my father drive away in a drunken rage after another particularly heated argument with my newly divorced mother was confusing to my toddler four-year-old’s eyes. However, when I became old enough to begin to analyze the situation, I began to blame myself. In my still very young mind, the family was happy until I came along. I remember all the tear-stained pages written about my undying hatred of both him and myself. My complaints that he made a statistic out of an innocent family. How every Father's Appreciation Day, when all the fathers would come to school with their kids in hand to spend the day together, made me hold in unnoticed tears of envy. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, too weak to get up, just praying, “Dear God, just get me through this moment please. Just speed up the clock this one time.” Just for my brother to find me sobbing and comforting me, telling me that it's not my fault and never will be.
But why else would he leave his only daughter and only son without so much as a goodbye? Of course this was nonsense derived from lack of explanation and wild emotion. Whenever my family talked about him, I either grew scarily silent or would attempt to derail the conversation by making it comedic. These attempts did not work. I don't think anyone could make our situation by any means amusing. I figured we must laugh to keep from crying. Though no amount of comedy can resolve the deep embedded scars of abandonment. Though I never fully acknowledged any of these things until the night of my eleventh birthday, answering the phone to hear a stranger's voice say the words, “Hey, it's Daddy!”
You know, I find it odd that his lack of presence has influenced my life. I don't hate my dad. In fact, his leaving made me love him more. Because in my mind it is better to abuse then leave, than to stay and continue to abuse and destroy. He has helped me to realize everything I hope to never find in myself or another. It has caused me to strive for unreachable perfection, so that I may never be the cause of my mother’s grief. Though I'm not sure if that is a negative or positive, considering how absurd that idea is. And thanks to him I always have writing material when I feel like I have nothing left to write about.
Though the painful hole of desertion still remains empty, I do not regret the emotional journey that I'm growing through as it heals to a close. It makes me stronger. Makes me wiser. Makes me always know that I can be better.
In spite of the fact that this is about my father, I dedicate this story to my mother. One of the strongest women that I know. A woman who has dedicated her life to the betterment of others lives. Putting her three children’s advancement before her own happiness every time. Being a rock for the daddy's girl without a daddy.
By Mahailya Hinsey
top photo: Erika Wittllieb/Pixabay
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Mighty Writers was founded in 2009 with the mission to teach kids to think clearly and write with clarity. The organization offers free programs for students from elementary through high school at centers in four diverse Philadelphia neighborhoods, including one bilingual location for Spanish-speaking students. Follow Mighty Writers at MightyWriters.org, on Facebook, and on Twitter @MightyWriters.