By Dawn Lyons
I recognized the moment as one that I would always remember. I was watching a children’s movie and my dad had settled into his favorite chair to watch it with me. He didn’t judge me for being a 17-year-old girl who was still in love with a literary character who had become animated on film. Maybe Dad wanted to check the guy out in case I found a real-life version someday. I’ll never know why he chose to sit and watch with me that day. I expected he would make some sarcastic comments, but instead he was quiet. After a while, I glanced over and saw him staring at the screen, enthralled. His face held an expression of joy and contentment, and seeing him like this held me awestruck.
I had never seen Dad with such an expression before, and I was very aware that this was something I needed to focus on so I could remember the details with clarity.
Maybe somehow, I knew something, or maybe it was one of those moments you look back upon and think that “someone” was trying to tell you something. Because in the short span of a few weeks, I found myself sitting in Dad’s chair, devastated by his unexpected death. My life without Dad had all too suddenly begun.
Having been the cliché “Daddy’s Little Girl” (as anyone who knew us would say was true, even if I would deny it) and having him torn so suddenly from my life, wasn’t even the point. It was the closeness. We were true friends; Dad had been my only trusted confidant. He knew me better than anyone – often I wouldn’t even have to speak and he would know what was going on with me. My identity and sense of being, which had been supported and protected unconditionally by my dad, had gone as he had. His death completely derailed my life.
I moved through the inherently difficult teenage years, and many of the years that followed, in a fog of grief and without any true sense of self. I was supposed to be cultivating who I was, and who I wanted to be; I was supposed to be building relationships to sustain me into and throughout adulthood, and deciding on higher education and a career path. Instead, I embarked on a journey of continual self-sabotage as I tried desperately to belong somewhere – to someone.
In a constant search for acceptance, I chose, for the most part, poor and untrustworthy friends and romantic partners, while dealing with a disengaged yet irrationally overprotective Mom, whose own suffering I could hardly bear to witness. My only grandfather, my dad’s father, became ill and passed away within only a few years following Dad’s death, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, I no longer had relationships with anyone else from my dad’s side of the family. Probably well-meaning advisors insulted my career-related ambitions and life-long dreams to earn a living as a writer, to the extent that I changed my mind and my plans – probably more than once – in order to gain their approval.
I managed to persevere through the grief, the heartache, the bad relationships, the poor decisions, and what I now recognize as undiagnosed mild depression, and began to build myself a life. There is no true option other than to forge ahead with life as it goes on around you, and I eventually realized that I was somewhat in control of my own life and my own experiences. I surrounded myself with positive, supportive and constructively critical people, and eventually realized that I deserved to be happy; that I did not have to settle for anything, and that I did not deserve to be disrespected or treated poorly.
My choice to engage in employment, outside of my area of expertise and passion, proved to have a silver lining as it allowed me to meet my husband, with whom I have built a home and a family. It would be easy to focus on the negatives of the past and, despite my current happiness, the negatives of the present – of living life without Dad. Even if he would have hated walking me down the aisle, I know he would have a great relationship with my husband. I feel cheated because I will never see my dad interact with him, or with my children. None of them will ever experience the depth of his love and the wisdom of his experiences. They will never know him; he will be but an imaginary figure to them and that breaks my heart.
The years I have lived life without my dad, outnumber the years I lived with him. And I ache for my Dad – daily and often multiple times in any given day. What I wouldn’t give to just sit down and chat with him. The idea of a hug evokes thoughts and feelings that I cannot even articulate.
My boys have this way of scrunching up their face, when they squint or smile, that creates a small, almost circular kind of “bump” in the skin between their eyebrows. Through a fortunate re-connect with members of my father’s immediate family, I have been given photos of my dad as a young boy. In many of them, his face is scrunched, creating the very same “bump.” This has allowed me to see a link between my children and my dad, which I acknowledge with a kiss every time I see the “bump” appear on one of their faces. It is a special moment with my children; it is almost like sharing a moment of physical connection with my dad.
I experience a similar moment of communion when, coincidence or not, my eldest son watches his favorite movies, and I recognize in his face the expression of pure, untainted joy and wonderment that I saw on my dad’s face that day, so many years ago. A breathtaking moment the first time I witnessed it, it now causes me to simply smile and allows my soul to be filled with the sense of peace and connectedness it provides. It falls just short, of course, because it’s not my dad. But it is almost like sharing the briefest of moments with him, and it is, in the end, a remaining, tangible part of him. I can see him in them.
And I realize that if I were living life with Dad, I wouldn’t have these moments. These precious and meaningful details would have been overlooked and underappreciated traits of my children’s existence. Life without Dad has made them meaningful, incredible and wonderful. And they make living the life without him just that much more bearable.
Dawn Lyons Bio:
Dawn Lyons is a professional freelance writer and journalist who writes to inform, engage and inspire. She also speaks to tweens, teens and the adults who play supportive roles in their lives to help empower youth to live authentically and achieve their goals. Visit Dawn online at www.linesbylyons.com.
Dawn Lyons’ photograph by David Redding.
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