Editor’s Note: We asked for contributors for our Father’s Day blogs. This story was written by Megan Bandelt, a theater-maker, mostly found as a writer and dramaturg. She is a consumer of gluten-free cookies living in NYC. Currently, she is touring her one-woman show Garbage at PortFringe Theater Festival in Portland, Maine and helps run the nefarious pirate ship, Horse Trade Theater Group, which is docked in the East Village as the Marketing Coordinator. Megan is a MA Candidate in Theater History & Criticism at Brooklyn College. Follow her fortunes and misfortunes at meganbandelt.com.
And, Now the Story
Other six-year-old girls were holding their father’s hand at softball games. I was holding a phone, pulling on my blonde pigtails with one hand. My other one was placed upon a glass window.
My father has medium olive skin and dark brown eyes and was then clad in orange. He was on the other side of the glass.
He’d often ask me to tell him in detail what my day was like, what book I was reading and how my teddy was. Sometimes, he’d even ask other prisoners to draw cartoon characters for me.
Suddenly, the bell would ring. I was sad as my father was whisked away from me into the foreign building. The end of our visits was always the same. He also constantly reiterated the same phrase.
“You’re such a good girl, helping Mommy and doing so well in school. Daddy is proud of you and everything you accomplish. I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy. Can you come home soon and play with me?”
He’d falter a bit and not quite know what to say. How does a parent answer that question?
When I was little, he was Daddy. Sometimes, he was Dad. Other times, I just called him my father.
My Father, Without the Glass Separating Us
After what seemed like forever, our family was finally able to afford bail. My father came out of jail another person. I couldn’t figure out who he was. It seemed longer than a full two minutes. He looked sallow and frail.
I first mistook my father for my uncle until he rolled his eyes, and scoffed, “No!” I looked closer and studied his face. I recognized a hint of the mischievous sparkle that mimics my own. And, then, I began to cry as I ran into his arms.
If I could tell you this is a happy story, I would be lying. It isn’t. The truth is, I lost my father at five. The state gave me back the hollow shell of an innocent man. He filled the void with alcohol for fourteen years after his release.
It’s a story that I don’t really talk about. Especially not publicly. I very seldom speak about my father’s time in jail.
My father’s case was extremely high profile. Even though I was younger, it is etched in my memory. It was a turbulent and terrifying time for my entire family. Day after day of testimony. Thankfully I was too young to be there.
And then, having my father back was not the dream I hoped it would be. At all.
Matters grew worse throughout the years because of undiagnosed mental illness. There was PTSD and addiction issues. My father blatantly refused to face his own demons.
He became the self-appointed firing squad. Meanwhile, my mother and I were the targets. We both suffered emotionally because of it. I was forced into therapy when I was in kindergarten. It allowed me to become a functional human being.
As a Daughter, I Struggled with Forgiveness
Forgiving my father for his abuse was impossible. I could have guaranteed that it would never happen. But nothing is really ever that certain.
One day, my father stopped drinking.
Two weeks passed. Five months passed. We are now on six years coming up of his sobriety.
I wish I could tell you this is a sort of a happy story.
Years of addiction often end in disease. I am no stranger to cancer, but watching my father go through it twice has been difficult.
Last March, my father almost died at the negligence of the Veterans Administration. He’s slowly mentally deteriorating, relying more and more on medication. He has been fighting with the state for his disability.
It’s frustrating to watch and endure my father’s hot temper when the world works against him. He sometimes apologizes. I forgive him anyway when he doesn’t. Because things are different than before.
I’m writing this while packing to finally move to New York City, where I have crafted a life for myself as a theater-maker, graduate student, barista and activist. I am quite well adjusted and stable for someone who has endured what I have.
My father is in the room next to me, arguing with himself about his phone case and fretting over our feral cat, Tom-Tom.
Pleasant Memories of a Father
He’s an okay guy. He likes Facebook a little too much and one time broke his ankle because he was trying to get a photo of a duck. I’ve seen him attempt to kill a groundhog for eating his lettuce.
When I was fourteen, my father skinned a deer in my backyard. He’s pretty good at barbecuing and taught me the art of haggling and cussing. All-important talents for today’s modern woman.
When a major storm happens, he runs around outside with a camouflage bandanna yelling at everyone to take cover. He knows about Area 51 and cannot fathom why I like having purple hair, tattoos and piercings. Sometimes, we pile our medications together and laugh.
Despite everything, I have to at least like the guy. Without his genetics, I wouldn’t have such an amazing tan.
Sometimes, I don’t like him because of his actions, but I always love him.
This is a happy story.