On Losing My Father: A Bittersweet Stew

Frederick Vaughn Adams

April 30, 1949 – January, 28, 2010

I have avoided writing this entry for as long as I could. It has floated around in my head for the last three months, ever changing and always sad. Nonetheless, I promised myself that I would face it and post it by the one year anniversary of my father’s death. That day is today.

My father and I were estranged for much of my life. I did not meet him until I was 10 years old. My parents only managed to come together long enough to make me and leave an indelible scar on my mother’s heart. They were too young, too selfish, too influenced by their families to do more. The sum total of times that I’ve seen him are less than the total of my digits. The last time we met was Xmas in 2005, the first and only Xmas we ever spent together. I was married then and still pretending to be happy. He was married then, had a new son and was still making half hearted attempts to fit into my life. I kept him at a distance because he aroused in my heart terrible feelings of a reluctant love, inadequacy, betrayal and anger. I could never just love him without all the things that he had not done for me ringing around my head. I could never forgive him and in my heart he had done so little to deserve it, seeking only temporary and shallow connections over long period, that I felt justified in withholding that forgiveness.

Since his last visit in 2005, his email correspondence grew to be less and less. That was fine by me as they were all jokes to my recollection and the connection between us was so tenuous that I felt there was little to hold on to. He never shared in any of the milestones of my life so I never thought to call him when my divorce became final in 2006, lost my job in 2008 or started my company in 2009. Hell, I was still trying to figure out if he should be given the honor of walking me down the aisle. 

On July 29, 2010, at 11:30 PM, I looked for him on Facebook and the search results returned his obituary. God bless the Net. As jacked up as it is, how else would I have found out?

Frederick Vaughan Adams Obituary: View Frederick Adams’s Obituary by Daily Progress.

I called my mom. I posted it and then I went into shock. Within two days, I was a bundle of grief so crushing that I was amazed at its weight. How could this have happened? Did he not love me enough to reach out to me in the extremity of his pain? Did he not think that I would want to be there for him in his final hours? I had never been mean, always been loving, just distant. I was permanently in a state of suspended animation when it came to him. I did not want to give him the power to hurt me again, as he did to my mother every time she let him into her life over the course of my existence. He was the love of her life. And now he was gone. Gone. Gone again, abandoning me to deal with something that I had not even believed I would feel. Why should I when he was pretty much a stranger to me? I did not know my own heart and that I hoped some day the breach would be healed. I’m not sure by who I thought would do the deed but the hope had remained, nurtured, silent and secret in my breast. But now even this was to be denied me and what a fucking waste. What a waste and what a mess he had left for me to clean up again.

Anger joined the chorus in my head. I searched frantically for his family as I felt I deserved an explanation. Why had someone not called me? For crying out loud, my name was included big as day in the obituary. I am the eldest of four children and the first. Someone would wear the brunt of my anger and explain what was to me unexplainable. 

For two days, I sat bent over my computer keys, between bouts of crying and complete exhaustion looking on People Find, People Search, People Lost and Deserted and nothing. Every lead was a dead end or a wrong number, even mine which gave me pause because if I couldn’t find them, how could they have found me? I finally called the church who performed his service and got a very old man who knew my father and his wife. He told me that she was in the hospital after suffering a stroke. And I felt so horrible. 15 years they had been married and here she was, a mere 6 months after his death fighting for her health with a 13 year old son. How could I be angry at her when her life had been so turned upside down?

She called me and was incredibly kind, going back in her memory to what was clearly a dark period in her life to describe his journey towards death. She was strong but sill obviously so grief stricken that any bad feelings I had disintegrated. She told me how they looked for me, her, my father and my oldest brother, to no avail. I had left my job of 11 years, my mother had changed her number, my house number had changed etc. She told me had that he had left us land, whoppee, but I guess that was an acknowledgement I will be glad of one day.

But I do exist and I am all grown up, mostly. They say that you are not supposed to speak ill of the dead but I am a soldier of truth. I loved my father, although I never felt he was more than just a sperm donor. I do not miss him because he was never a presence in my life. To hear stories of him now is somewhat surreal to me as the person who is described is not the person that I knew. My description of him would be as follows: Handsome, charismatic, a magnet to women, intelligent, funny and talented. I knew he was a jazz lover. I didn’t know he played the sax professionally. I didn’t know that he had converted to judaism, go figure. He could sing and my oldest brother, three years my junior, has inherited his voice. He could also write and apparently I inherited that along with a rich sense of humor. All his children inherited his skin color, his nose and his brains. Because he failed to be there for the first three, we are all scarred. All scarred. Because he hurt virtually every woman he loved, they are all scarred as well. Disgusting. People in pain are dangerous as their inability to love is a sure recipe of destruction for others. I would say that my father was sadly, very selfish. I don’t like the conspiracy amongst people to idealize the dead. I am rather concrete in that way. Humans are more often that not an amalgamation of things good and bad. Hopefully, the good you do outweighs the bad. I wish I could say the same about my father but the scars he left in me run to deep. I am happy to admit now that he grew up, way too late to benefit me.

After months of crying and contemplation, I realize that my failure to forgive him was a mistake. I blocked what goodness might have come from our relationship and missed the opportunity to truly learn who he was outside of his mistakes. I am sorry for that. I am also sorry that I was not cold hearted enough to erase his failures from my internal landscape and therefore minimize the impact his behavior has had upon mine. But that’s not right, is it? Because shouldn’t you learn from your parents mistakes? I am also sorry that I made the classic mistake of a child, expecting my parents to be omnipotent and rejecting their very human propensity to fuck up. I should have been able to do that for my father, for myself, sometime in my adulthood but all I can say is that I am human too.

To me, this is a cautionary tale. All my life I searched for love in order to make up for what I felt I lacked. The imperative of this desire was so strong, for such a long time that it was self-destructive. I have had many issues of trust with men because of my relationship with my father. Thank God for therapy, realizations, second families, self help books and the power of compartmentalization. Thank God that I am still here and with introspection and patience can continue to work through this myself. Because I have vowed that it will not screw me up anymore than it already has. One of the things your parents show you is what NOT to do. In the final analysis, I thank my father for one of the few right things he did, the creation of Lisa, Du Vaughn, Stephanie and Freddy II.

On the far side,  I am now connected to all my siblings. We banded together after his death and I saw his family, as well, for the first time since I was 10 on 11/22/10. Sadly, it was at the funeral of his mother, Katherine. What a bittersweet stew…



5 thoughts on “On Losing My Father: A Bittersweet Stew”

  1. Wow, this must have been difficult to write but I’m glad that you finally wrote it. Not only was this an enjoyable read it was heartfelt and I truly thank you for sharing this with the world.

  2. Coco, you are an amazingly beautiful woman. I am so proud of you for sharing this part of your life with us, your readers. I am also sorry for how this aspect of your life played out. Thank God you found your way through this all, and it made you a stronger woman. God’s speed. Stacey

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing. You are a talented writer, and the emotional difficulty of composing this piece brings out the clarity of your voice. It’s good you’ve found the silver lining of connecting with your siblings.

    Keep your chin up today.

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