There is going to be family strife over my posting this, but I do not care. Aside from one phone call shortly after moving to Texas and a "this is not the time or the place" conversation at my sister's wedding a few years later, I have not spoken to my father in over eighteen years. The specifics of why do not matter. After eighteen years, it is what it is.
Nine days ago, the man I knew as Dad suffered a near-stroke and almost died. This information was conveyed to my sister and me days later, but nothing about it surprised me. I have been dreaming about something happening to him for the past few months. Now, the impression I received was that I should be reaching out to this man. Not happening. I prefer my life without him. But I will acknowledge that there are some gifts he unknowingly gave me for which I am grateful.
Without my troubled childhood, I may not have become the passionate reader I am today. I do not remember not reading. My parents were both readers. At some point, reading became my escape from the environment I was in. I wished for Pa Ingalls to hug me the way he hugged Laura after traveling to towns far, far away. I wanted the freedom that the Sweet Valley High twins were given every day of their lives. Reading was an opportunity to stop paying attention to what was happening around me and live very different lives than my own.
Without my troubled childhood, I may not have become a writer. I journaled. I wrote poetry and short stories. Most of my writing reflected the chaos I was living in, and the few adults I shared it with pushed and mentored my skill. Without the chaos of my teen years, I do not write the same today, but I can still string some pretty good sentences together.
Without my troubled childhood, I may not have developed the ability to speak my mind. I had no self-confidence as a teen, and I did not know that I had a voice with which to speak against the wrongs I encountered. I did not know that I had a voice with which to express thoughts and opinions. It was not until I got away that I found my voice. By pushing me to cut him from my life, the man called Dad gave me something that he kept from me. I will never give it up again.
Without my troubled childhood, I may not have developed a strong work ethic. My mother worked hard, and my father ran his own business. My mother excelled at what she did; my father did not. I refuse to be like him in this regard. I push myself beyond my own limitations because I need my own personal successes. I need to know that there is value in what I do. I need for my own children to grow into responsible, contributing citizens.
Why are these the greatest gifts he gave me? I am an English teacher because of them all, and I love what I do with all my heart. I have students who sit in my classroom whose lives are far worse than my own childhood was, and I give them everything I have got. I want them to develop passions. I want them to find their self-esteem and their voices. I want them to be strong, independent, and hard-working. And I want them to discover that now, while they are young.
I know by writing this I open myself up to more grief from extended family, but this whole situation has given me time to reflect on the decision I made, and I want my younger sister to know that we can continue living the lives we have built. They are good lives for us and our children. There is positive in the negative, and that's where our focus needs to be.
So to the man I once called Dad, thanks for giving me these things without knowing you did. I will forever be a better person because of them.