It is almost Father’s Day. The themed commercials show the perfect family. They show a loving Daddy playing with his kids. He never fails to hug them, smile at them, and give them a perfect little butterfly kiss. Cards with loving father sentiments are in all the stores. Facebook is filled with saying about wonderful fathers and posts about all the perfect Daddy’s you could imagine. I don’t have that story and I struggle with holidays like this one.
I lived with my grandparents from the time I was four. My grandfather was as far from a loving and caring father as one could be. He was a drunk. He was a loud, mean, scary drunk most of the time. Occasionally, he would do a schizophrenic turn and be a happy drunk.
He was a longshoreman and worked odd hours. He was always gone by the time I woke up. Most nights he didn’t get home until my bedtime because he would go out drinking with the boys. Sometimes we would have to go pick him up and get him home. I never went to sleep until I knew he was home. I didn’t want to be asleep if something bad happened as it often did. During his worst drunks, Grandmother would tell me to go to my room, lock the door, and get in the closet. I learned to “disappear” in my mind during those times.
Grandmother tried to get him sober. She lectured him, begged him, and threatened him to no avail. About once a year, she would have the pastor of our church come and talk to him. Her last-ditch effort would be to send me in to talk to him. She gave me the script before going into the room. I was to sit on his lap and put my arms around his neck. (I refer to them as Grandmother and Grandfather here, but I had to call them Mommy and Daddy.)
“Daddy, do you love me?” He would answer with an affirmative nod or grunt.
“Daddy, if you really loved me you would stop drinking.” I was then to give him a kiss, and my duty was complete. Obviously, he didn’t love me enough because he never stopped drinking.
The first time I remember seeing my “real” father was when I was six years old. Grandmother told me I was going to visit my uncle. I remember going to his house and seeing him and his two very little girls. I only saw them a few times. Grandmother told me that “Uncle Joe” was my father when I was eight, although I didn’t see him again until I was about ten. I imagined what it would be like if I lived with him instead of my grandparents. In truth, things would not have been much different, since my mother left him to protect me from him. He was an abusive drunk, too. I often dreamed about living with him. I imagined him hugging me and being ever so loving and caring. I didn’t have anything to base that on, just wishful thinking.
My father was in the Navy, and he had moved with his family to North Carolina. He had duty in Charleston during that time and would come to visit me. He started staying at our house a couple of weekends a month. Why my grandmother allowed him to visit is still a mystery. He was a very affectionate man. He doted on me while he was there. He told me how much he loved me and how much he missed me after my mother left. He asked me if I remembered a song he used to sing to me. I didn’t remember so, he held me close and sang ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.” I wanted that moment to last forever, but soon those moments would turn into unwanted affection. He took the words of the song to heart… You’re daddy’s little girl to have and to hold. A few months later, he would leave and I would not see him again until I was sixteen years old. He and his family appeared at my house just to say hello. I didn’t see any of them again until I was in my mid-twenties. That, my friends, is a story for another time.
My grandmother watched the “Red Skelton Show” every week. She made me sit with her during her favorite shows. This show was one I liked and remembered. One night during the show, someone (it may have Red, but I don’t remember) started talking about a special song they were going to sing. The song was “Daddy’s Little Girl.” The last lines of the song are:
You were touched by the holy and beautiful light; Like angels that sing, a heavenly thing; And you’re daddy’s little girl
I listened as the music played and thought of my Daddy. I wondered if he really held me and sang to me when I was still such a little girl. I dreamed of having a someone who would cherish me as much as the writer of that song. I wondered why no one loved me that much.
Once in a while, someone will sing that song, usually at a wedding. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes and longing in my heart. I never got the Daddy I wanted. I tried to find something to fill that void in all the wrong ways during my life. In time, I learned that I wasn’t the problem; I wasn’t unlovable. Today, I fill my life with people who love me as I am. I am still learning to love myself and to cherish the little girl who still exists inside. She will never be “Daddy’s little girl” but I hold her and tell her the angels still sing—just for her.