My parents got divorced when I was eight years old.
A few years after that, my father told me the story of how it happened. We were living in Northern California, and my dad was in the hospital for cataract surgery on both eyes. When he woke up from the anesthesia, my mother was waiting for him. She sat on the edge of his bed as a shadowy figure because he could barely see, but he said there was no mistaking her voice.
“Glenna and I are moving to New York next month,” my mother announced. “What are YOU going to do?”
I don’t think my father even saw it coming. He adored my mother more than anything, and I was the apple of his eye and forever a Daddy’s girl to the irritation of my mom. She must have known I wouldn’t move across the country away from him without a fight.
My father was almost completely blind from his operation and would need help until his sight got better. He was completely vulnerable, and my mother knew it. She struck a devil’s bargain with him, telling my dad she would help him recover if he encouraged me to go to New York with her. My dad had no choice but to agree.
I remember my parents telling me they were getting a divorce and that I took it badly. It seemed like they were being completely thoughtless. Still a child, I believed the world revolved around me, and I could only see things from my own vantage point.
“What about me?” I cried to both of them. “Did you once stop to think about that?”
I never got an answer. It was a done deal. My dad came home for a few weeks while we were packing for New York. As he promised my mother, he encouraged me to leave. It was the last thing I wanted to do. My father and California were the only things I knew. There were times my dad looked sad, but he always said he was fine. He said he would visit me often, but he was completely at my mother’s mercy.
The day my mother and I left for New York, I remember all of us going grocery shopping so my dad could stock up on food. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be okay. My dad was the strongest person I knew, stronger than Superman, but the reality was that he didn’t have a job or a car or the things he needed to survive.
My mother tugged on my arm somewhere in the middle of the milk aisle.
“Let’s run away from your dad and watch him try to catch up,” she giggled. I thought it was a joke, so I hurried alongside her as she pushed the cart faster and faster.
When I turned around, my dad was still standing where we left him. For the first time, he looked smaller to me. Even at the age of eight, I saw a man broken and alone. I rushed back to his side as he tried to navigate with his bad eyesight.
“Here I am, Daddy,” I said as I cradled his arm. My mother sighed loudly and kept walking. It’s the last memory I have of us as a family.
Once my mom and I got to New York, I grieved constantly for my father. My mother told me back in California that I could call him anytime I wanted, but after we moved she said it was too expensive. We didn’t have that kind of money. I wrote letters to my dad every day. He wrote me back and seemed so miserable as if his heart was black and empty without us.
My mother got involved with a married man who couldn’t make up his mind about whether to stay with his wife or leave. It seemed like my mom was going through a rebellious phase like a teenager. She started drinking alcohol heavily. I’d never seen her take so much as a sip in California. She started acting out without a thought to anybody else. There were nights she didn’t come home that scared us all to death, only to have her laugh about it when she finally appeared.
After living in New York for about six months, I got a call from my father with exciting news! He’d saved enough money to fly out and visit me for a few weeks. His eyes were much better, and he had a job that was letting him take some time off. I danced around the room and hollered with joy, getting tangled in the phone cord, but I couldn’t help myself. My daddy was coming!
When the day of his arrival finally came, I felt so much happiness I could barely contain it. My mother volunteered to pick him up at the airport. I hugged her tight and told her to hurry back. My daddy and I would finally be together again.
While I was waiting, the phone rang, and I was surprised to hear my father on the other end. Wasn’t he supposed to be on a plane? I told him I was cleaning up my room to make it look nice for him.
“Glenna, I’m so sorry. I can’t come to New York after all. My boss just can’t give me the time off work.”
“WHAT?” I screamed into the phone. “That’s not fair! You have to come! You promised!”
“I know I did,” my father said sadly. “It’s just not going to work out this time.”
I hung up the phone as my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. When my mother returned home, she held me as I sobbed in her lap. How could my father have let me down?
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that my dad told me the real truth about that day. When he called me, he’d already landed in New York. My mother met him at the airport and told him he had to fly back to California so he didn’t disrupt my new life. She told him I already had a father in her married boyfriend and didn’t need him messing things up. He believed her and made the call that left me doubting whether I could trust him anymore. My father never forgave my mother for sending him away, and when I found out I felt the same way.
It seemed like a mystery how my mother once loved my father so much that she ran off to Hawaii with him while pregnant with me. She left her whole life and her family behind to be with him. How could she have gone from a loving wife to somebody that hated his guts?
I’ve never understood that about relationships, the way people just stop loving their partner without a second thought. The fear of that kind of abandonment clouded my judgment about men as I grew older and started dating. My mother always warned me that men would always let me down, but she would always be on my side. Men couldn’t be trusted as far as you could throw them.
My father finally made it to New York where we reunited. He often asked about my mother. He never stopped loving her, even after she’d been so mean to him. In his heart, he still hoped they would reconcile one day. That never happened, but my dad’s devotion made an impression on me. I vowed that if I ever fell in love, I’d love that person forever and never change my feelings.
I wanted unconditional love like the kind my father gave me and the kind I was willing to give somebody I loved. I’ve always believed in true love and that it’s worth waiting for. My mother was wrong. Men don’t always let women down, and we don’t have to settle for somebody who doesn’t love us back.
My father passed away in 2003 after complicated heart surgery. When I went to visit him in the hospital, he was confused and agitated from the anesthesia and pain medications. He didn’t recognize me. He thought I was my mother.
“My wife is here,” he called out to a nearby nurse. “I want my wife.”
I took his hand and tried to calm him down. There was no point in correcting him. He was convinced I was my mother coming back to him. He’d just been through major surgery, and if the idea of my mom gave him some peace, I wouldn’t argue with him. He never stopped loving my mother no matter what she did, even if she didn’t love him back.
I’ll forever be a Daddy’s girl. He loved me and taught me how to love in return. I’m married today and adore my husband beyond all measure, but I realize now that it takes more than love to make a relationship last. It’s how we treat each other on a daily basis that keeps our love going strong. My husband is my favorite person, and I make sure he knows that every day.
I have my dad to thank for that.