There’s a curse in my family. On the maternal side. The daughters are left without a dad…young. Not little kid young, but adolescent/young adult young. The daughters get to have their dads for their childhood. But not their adulthood. We are given the standards and the foundation of how to be loved by a man and what we look for in a man, through our fathers. We are given the standards of the kind of father we want for our children, through our fathers. But whether we find that or not in a husband is up to us. Because they have died. Young.
Obviously, this includes the angle that the wives in this maternal line are widowed young. My grandmother was widowed at 36. My grandfather dropped dead at 42, I believe…and well, back in the 1960s, that was what happened to a lot of men. His name was Bruno Scotti. Can you imagine having a grandfather named “Bruno Scotti”? Can you imagine what kind of grandfather he would’ve been? I can. A fun one, a loving one, a witty one, a smitten one, for sure. But that’s all I have. My imagination. I never knew him. I’ve seen maybe 2 pictures of him in my lifetime. I’ve never had a grandfather because my paternal grandfather died when my father was 7. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is to highlight – briefly in a blog post – the generational curse in my family of young women without fathers. The three generations of Daddy-less Daddy’s Girls.
My father died in an accident when he was 51. I had my dad for the very start of my adulthood but not for very long. He pinned on my Second Lieutenant Butter Bars when I was commissioned as an Army officer. I was fortunate that he had the chance to walk me down the aisle when I was 22 years old, and then I was fortunate to be able to see him in action – briefly – as a grandfather. He held my oldest daughter. He bought her a Strawberry Shortcake bike that she wouldn’t be able to ride until long after he was already gone. But he never knew my youngest daughter. She was 6 1/2 months along in my uterus. He never even knew she would be a “she.” My girls were robbed of their grandfather. I can only imagine the kind of grandfather he would’ve been.
And now my girls. Daddy-less at 22 and 19. No college graduations or wedding aisles or grandchildren. No advice about life or career choices or men or fine dining or how to make proper ribs on the grill or choosing a car or or buying a house or starting a 401K or managing debt/income ratios. No talking about those God-awful tween years and making amends for parental shortcomings during them. No apologies or hugs or talking out the tough old stuff or intimate father-daughter talks on the back porch about galaxies or God or the significant differences between bourbon and whiskey. No sharing of Ally’s “first” (ha!) cocktail at a sports bar on her real 21st birthday. And what about the underlying need of a girl to have the approval of her father? When she grows into a woman and did good with her life…did good by her father’s name…what about hearing her dad whisper to her one day, “I’m so proud of the woman you grew into.” These girls don’t get that. These girls never got to grow into themselves yet. And he was taken away before they did.
My mother lost her dad when she was 16. I lost mine when I was 25. My girls lost their dad when they were 22 and 19, respectively. I’m sure that if she thought about it, my mom could easily look back at her life and see all the places and spaces in which she could’ve used having the love and support of her father. Sure, many good men have stepped in. She married my father who took care of her. Her brother walked her down her wedding aisle. When my father died, there were his biker friends who looked after her. Her son stepped in and looked after her. These are the surrogate fathers who showed up where Bruno Scotti could not.
Now, I look back at my own life, through the sobering lens of middle age, and I think about all the times I could’ve used my father. His advice, his humor, his support. I sure could’ve used his strength and ability to carry others on his back as I went through the most horrifying experience of my life, and as I continue to wade through it today and in the years to come. I, too, was fortunate enough to find my own surrogate fathers through all these years of being daddy-less, not the least of whom has been my father-in-law. But no one was my father. No one else can be Art Dupre and what he meant to me as a woman, as his little girl.
And now our girls? It’s easy to point out the milestones. Sure, who will walk them down an aisle on their respective wedding days or dance that daddy-daugher dance during a reception? Knowing them and the strength they both have had throughout this living nightmare, they might say, “I’ll walk my damn self down the aisle!” “I’ll dance with my damn self.” They will find their surrogate fathers along the way. My mother did. I did. But in all the places that Eric DeJong will not be present in their years ahead…there is simply no one else who can replace him. When they are in their 40s, and when they are in their 70s, when they look back…where will they see all the holes within their hearts and lives? How deep will those holes be? How plentiful? How much scarring will be evident?
How will they keep their dad alive to their own children, who will someday look at photos of a handsome youthful man and point out, “That’s my grandfather. But he doesn’t look like a grandfather.”
No, he doesn’t. He will always be stuck at 47 years old. With a shaved bald head and a clean cut chiseled face and a Tommy Bahama shirt and a wily smile.
My youngest daughter wants to write a book. To her I say, “Write your book, sweet Pook. Because it needs to be written. I hope that my simple random thoughts about the tragic thread that binds three generations of women in our family inspire your story.”
It’s a big story, about three truly good and wonderful men, three loving daddies of daughters, who left us way too early.
Thanks for reading,