To my Mother, Susan Jean Sundy (1949-2006), for protecting me with her life, and to my Aunt Barb for believing me.
“It is impossible to please all the world and one’s father”. – Jean De La Fontaine
This is not an easy blog to write. I have struggled with its release in ways you cannot imagine. I have this burden on my soul that I’ve been carrying around for my entire life, and today it’s screaming to come out. I feel as if I will just drown if I do not set this free, so here I am. I may be the only person to read this, and that’s okay. There are no cute pictures, no funny moments, just an end to a lifetime of silence where hopefully my Mother and I can gain peace.
This is a true story, my story. A story that should not have to be told, but because of the trauma left behind…. well, there’s no choice really. The only way to make the pain go away is to cut it out. I’m sure this will come as a surprise to many, and make many angry, but I can’t help you process what you are about to read. I couldn’t even process, or help myself. I also will not argue with you as you were not there for the worst.
This story is about love, and obsession. Addiction, and abuse. Hate and pain. Neglect, and avoidance. Acceptance, forgiveness, and guilt. So much guilt.
My Daddy died in May of 2018. I cannot remember which day. If that shocks you, you may want to hold on for the rest.
To put things into perspective, when my Momma died September 29, 2006 I wanted to lay down in that coffin and go with her. Not a soul realized how deep my grief was, and that only by the grace of God that bottle of pills I took did not grant my wish.
I survived to see my Momma buried, and to spend the next year of my life wishing I were dead as well. It was a bleak, horrible time where I kept most of what I was thinking and feeling inside so as not to scare my family. My love for them, and theirs for me, is how I pulled out of the worst part of the grief, but that took so long.
I’m still recovering 13 years later.
Momma and Daddy were married when I was 13 months old. That’s another story. I have a picture of them on their wedding day where my beaming Daddy is holding me and standing next to my very solemn mother. It’s one of the few pictures I have of all of us together, but I will get to that later. I always wondered why isn’t Mommy smiling?
I have no memory of my mother being happy with my father. She was the happiest person in the world with me, but that happiness disappeared when Daddy was around. They had to be happy at some point, because I was conceived, right? I’ll never know where the happiness my mother felt just disappeared to. I have my own theory, but that’s another story too.
Another tidbit of information is that my father loved my mother to the point of obsession. Nothing mattered to him besides her. Nothing, and that included, me. He wanted her to himself, and Lord help anyone who got in the way. I got in the way a lot. I was a very sickly child, and sickly children want/need their mommas. I was also an only child until I was 15, so my mother was my very best friend and favorite toy. Momma and I had an unbelievably close bond that lasted her entire life, and because of that bond there was a lot of jealousy coming from my father. Obsession is not reasonable.
Here’s the thing people didn’t realize. My father was a violent alcoholic. People knew he drank, but Momma and I did our very best to keep others from knowing how bad he was. Every memory of my life that includes Daddy he was drinking. It feels like I am rambling, but there are things you need to know in order to understand the entire story.
I believe that Daddy’s drinking became a violent addiction because of me. Daddy wanted my mom, and only my mom, but there I was. A sickly baby/child being taken care of by her stay-at-home mother whom apparently was not giving him all the attention he thought he deserved.
Momma and I could not even pray together at night before bed because he would accuse us of whispering about/against him. Momma would later tell me that she caught him trying to smother me with a pillow in my crib when I was an infant. Why would a mother tell her child this information you ask? She told me because I would cry desperate tears to her asking her why Daddy didn’t love me, and why did Daddy hurt me? She was as honest as she could be while trying to explain his obsession of her, and that he did love me, he just had a problem. She was also a little put out with me for always trying to do special things to make Daddy love me.
Turns out my father had many problems. Anger, obsession, fear, alcohol, violence. I was desperate for his love for as long as I can remember, and I’m guessing there’s a syndrome for whatever it is that I’ve been through because all I can remember is pain, and fear, and the terrible feeling of being unloved.
If you were to ask, I would say that I was born at 13 years old. Sounds weird even to me, but I have almost no memory of my childhood. I have a decent amount of memories of my Momma and myself, happy memories of the things we used to do together, but I have almost no memories of my Daddy until I was around 13 years old.
When I was in my 30’s I was friends with a psychiatrist who said it was probably a good thing I could not remember most of my childhood, and that as long as I felt that I could live my life without knowing, that I should never try to uncover those memories. The mind can only handle so much before it just breaks, and my mind had closed the door to my first years of life to protect me.
As a teenager the overwhelming emotion that I remember feeling towards my father was fear. Constant fear that made me hide from him when at all possible. Since he started drinking as soon as he came home from work there was very little “safe” time for me. Only when I was at school, or he was gone could I breathe.
Momma and Daddy fought a lot when I was younger. I remember full cups of coffee being thrown across the room to smash against the wall. Daddy breaking his hand by punching the refrigerator because he would never touch my mother in anger. They fought because of his drinking, because of his disgust for anything I did. They fought because I existed, and he hated me for it. By the time I was a teen I had such anxiety that my throat would close up when anything upset me. All the screaming at me. All the horrible words, the slaps at the dinner table for speaking, the glassy eyed glares… I still suffer with this anxiety today.
I blame myself for Momma being so unhappy for so long. She tried to leave him when I was little, but I remember crying, begging her “don’t leave my daddy” until she stayed. Why did I do that? Was it just a child’s need to keep her parents together? Was it the fact that I had not been able to get him to love me yet, so we couldn’t go? All I know is I added at least a decade of misery to her life, both of our lives, that I can never make up to her.
My 5’ 4” mother was my hero. She would stand up to my 6’ 2” father and back him down. Not out of fear. He backed down out of love for her. Sometimes. She wasn’t always successful in protecting me.
I know some will be saying at this point that Daddy didn’t hate me. That is where you would be dead wrong. Being held up off the floor with his hand around my throat, squeezing, while looking me dead in the eyes and saying “I can’t wait until you are old enough so that I can hit you without killing you” would prove otherwise.
I was always very petite as a teen. Topping out at 88lbs at 5’ 7” tall when I was 16 years old. It was my chore to take the trash bags out of the garage, and to the curb each week for pickup. This particular week I was told to take out huge lawn and garden bags of trash. I came inside and told Daddy that they were too heavy, covered in maggots, and that I couldn’t lift them. I was not strong enough, and was scared of the bugs so I asked if he could take them out to the curb for me.
Huge mistake. I should have found a way to not ask for help because the fury that rained down on me was so much worse than 1,000 maggots. The look on his face, the red of his eyes, haunt me still today. He got up from his recliner, drug me to my bedroom while I was screaming for him to stop. Momma came running but Daddy had his foot on the door so she couldn’t open it. He took off his belt and told me to undress.
Now this belt was the leather kind with half dollar sized holes in it and little studs around each hole as decoration. This was not the first time he had used it on me, but I swore it would be the last. I told myself no matter how bad the pain I would not give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry one more time. I was done crying for him.
In his alcohol induced rage, fueled with a lifetime of hate for me, he hit me over and over again. When I would not scream, and would not cry he doubled down and used the belt buckle on me up and down my spine until he broke me. All the while he is screaming at me that I made him do this to me, and Momma is screaming at an unholy volume trying to break down the door to get to me.
When the beating stopped, and Momma stopped crashing against the door, he just stared at me while putting his belt back on. I didn’t move to cover myself, I don’t remember if I could move at all to be honest. He then opened the door and left the room.
What I heard next is indescribable still to this day. I hear Daddy yell out in pain, I go running out to the living room where my mother is standing over my father and beating him with a 2×4. She had hit him in the knees with the board to knock him down, and once down, that was it. She attacked him. When she could not get to me, she laid in wait to avenge me. That’s the last memory I have of that night. He loves me, right? There were so many more instances of violence but I need to move on.
At the age of 17 my mother kicked Daddy out, and my parents finally divorced. Two things preceded this joyous event. Momma said that Daddy cheated on her, he denied it, and number two, because I asked her to. After yet another drunken argument over God knows what I followed Momma out onto the front porch of our home and asked her to please divorce Daddy. I told her that she shouldn’t have to live this way, and I wanted her to be happy. She looked me right in the eye and said “OK”. She told me that she had just been waiting for the time that I would be okay with it, and not beg her to stay like before. As simple, and as complicated as that. Starting immediately Momma proceeded to cut Daddy out of every picture we had ever taken of him, and we had a bonfire in the front yard.
This amazingly strong, and fiercely loving woman had stayed in this miserable marriage because years and years ago I had begged her no to leave my Daddy. For the second time in my life I just broke.
After a period of time Momma met, and married someone else. Larry Sundy would be my beloved step-father for 20 years until his death a few years ago.
Once Momma married Larry and moved in with him I ended up living with Daddy again. Daddy moved back into our house as Momma moved out to start her new life.
For the next year I would live with Daddy in our house. Clean, cook (when he would eat), and take care of him. When he was passed out drunk, I would make sure he was not flat on his back wherever he fell so he wouldn’t vomit and choke to death while sleeping. I would use my lunch money to buy, and bring him lunch to his construction job-site so he wouldn’t starve. He wanted my mother back in the worst way. He was grieving and suffering trying to live a life without her. He was losing so much weight since the divorce, he was a shadow of his former, larger than life self. He may or may not have noticed that I was there.
I had already been through the “why doesn’t Daddy love me?” stage, through the “mad as hell” stage, and I was now firmly in the “feel sorry, and treat him like a child” stage.
I was no longer scared of my father, I pitied him. I pitied him for what he could have had, what he lost, and maybe, just maybe I was still trying to get him to love me.
Time jump to 18 years old where I meet my now husband, get pregnant, get married, and have a beautiful baby girl. In my fathers eyes my husband does not have the right color skin to marry his baby girl, so begins my 26 years of banishment.
Not only am I seemingly dead to him, Daddy wants nothing to do with my daughter. His first and only grand-child. Oh I would get a 5 minute phone call maybe once a year, or I would call and catch him for 5 minutes on a holiday over the years, but for the most part my father was gone from my life.
One would think that I would be happy with this outcome, but remember the un-named syndrome I mentioned in the beginning? I wasn’t happy. “Why didn’t Daddy love me or my child?” became my mantra. Before Momma died I would talk to her about it all the time and she had no answers for me. Why did I need his love anyways? I was now resentful of his new life and family. He clearly shows the human decency and capacity to love and give a crap about them, why not us? After all the years, all I had been through, taking care of him and I get a distant 5 minute phone call once a year. Somewhere in my 30’s I broke again.
After 30+ years of physical, and emotional pain I was finally able to put up a wall. This wall served me well for many years. I was able to handle that 5 minute, once a year phone call without blinking. No more tears, no more feelings of inadequacy, no more “why doesn’t he love me”.
I was also able to live with the fact that if my 20 something daughter saw my father on the street she wouldn’t know him. That she might have spoken to him twice in her entire life, and that was when she was very young. Larry was her grandpa, and he was a great grandpa. I’m happy to say that my daughter never once missed the fact that one of her paternal grandfathers wanted nothing to do with her.
Sure, Daddy would say “Tell everyone I love them” before hanging up the phone with me, but come on. Did he really? He never asked to speak to either of them, so who knows.
Around 2016 I started to make a conscious effort of getting closer with my father. He was 67, almost all grey hair, and his mortality started to be top of mind. He still drank, but he didn’t get drunk as much. If he happened to be drunk when we spoke he wasn’t mean. I didn’t feel threatened anymore, so I decided to put myself out there again.
Now at this point you would think I’m glutton for punishment. Just a sad little girl still trying to get her daddy to love her. Maybe I was, but for the first time in years when we spoke he sounded like he really wanted to talk to me. We talked once a month or more for quite a while until I asked if I could come visit with him and his wife.
Now, I had zero expectations that this was going to be a good trip, but I’m apparently one hell of an optimist, and off I went. Four days, and three nights just the three of us. After all the years of negligence there was no way I would ask my husband or daughter to go with me.
Turns out that I had a beautiful time. A great visit, lots of quality time with Daddy, and I traveled home in a daze of wonder.
After 28 years I had my Daddy back. Yes, I remembered that he did all of that awful stuff, but he’s my father. Just because I forgave did not mean that I had forgotten. Daddy loves me. Yay!
Looking back it sounds pitiful and wonderful all at the same time. I had lived so long just wanting this one human being to love me, act like he loved me, and make me feel deep down inside that I was loved. He had to say it, show it, and I had to feel it, see it in his eyes. Words were not enough anymore.
It’s hard to explain the victorious feeling I carried with me for the next year or so. To say that it is a shame that it took 44 years to happen is an understatement.
In September 2017, while on my annual Mom’s trip to commemorate the life of my mother, I get a call that Daddy is in the hospital with a form of leukemia. I leave Puerto Vallarta and fly straight to St. Louis to be with him. Oh my God, my daddy is sick. My momma is gone, and now Daddy is sick. I’m immobilized with the fear of becoming an orphan.
I get to the hospital, where I stay for a week, and as I told my Aunt, it was the weirdest experience. I felt like I was at the hospital taking care of an old man that I didn’t know very well. Sure, the trip to visit last year was fun, but now we are alone with nothing to talk about and I’m sitting here not understanding my feelings. I’m so confused.
Time jump to May 2018. Despite everything being done I get the call that Daddy has died. My brother and I get to Illinois as soon as we can, and I’m just devastated. Devastated purely because my father is gone. Not my Daddy. The man who helped to make me was gone. The man who just finally started to really love me after 44 years was gone. I finally won only to have my prize taken from me.
I deliver a stumbling, sobbing eulogy at his funeral with the carefully chosen words of a daughter who had no idea really who her father was. Did I mention that I cannot even remember the date that he died? The grief is not the same as what I went through with my mother. I cried harder at Larry’s funeral than I did at my own fathers. Who’s fault is that?
I am full of guilt that I don’t remember when he died, and that I didn’t grieve the same as when I lost Momma and Larry. I hate the fact that we were just starting to be friends when he died. I was furious that I finally earned the love of this man whom I had been waiting for my entire life, and he was taken from me. I waited too long to reach out… Or did I? He could have reached out long ago too. I never made him apologize for what he did to me, and how he treated my mother because I truly believe he would not have understood that he did anything wrong. How can I stay mad at someone who just wanted to be with, and love my mom forever, and I came along and ruined everything? To me it would have been like kicking a puppy. Just cruelty to something that doesn’t know what it did wrong.
I’m writing this today to just get it out into the universe. I had to wait until he was gone before I unburdened my soul. Even now I do not want to hurt him, so I wait until he’s gone to free myself. I spent my whole life trying to earn his love, I never wanted revenge. What I wanted for 46 years was a Daddy, and except for a brief, glorious moment of time that I will cherish forever, all I got was a Father.