I was thinking about my dad yesterday. My parents, older sister and I were all born in England, but when I was six-years-old, we relocated to Canada, something my father had wanted to do for years. My mother refused to leave England as long as her mother was alive, but when she died, she finally felt ready to embark on this adventure, a decision that she would come to regret bitterly, but that’s a whole other post.
During World War 11, my father had been a member of the Royal Air Force, and he was stationed in Canada for five years. It was during that time he met a young woman and began a long-term affair with her. When the war was over, he returned to England, presumably to tie up loose ends, since he had promised this woman he would return to Canada to be with her. My father preceded my mother in death, but they have both been gone for many years, so I have no idea what his true intentions were in returning home. I definitely don’t think he had his heart set on producing the child that would turn out to be me. Was he going to let my mother know he was leaving her and my 12-year-old sister? Did he return for some stuff he felt he couldn’t live without, or did he never have the intention of returning to his Canadian love? My father died when I was 21-years-old, and we never had that conversation. In fact, I knew nothing about this piece of family history until years later.
There was a lot I never knew about my parents’ lives. People seemed to keep things to themselves in that era, at least in my family. My mother would hint at dark secrets. “I could tell you some stories,” she would proclaim from time to time, but she never went any further, and my sister and I, preoccupied with our own lives, never pressed her for more details, so the stories remained untold.
It was only after my mother’s death, while I was going through some of her papers, that I came across a marriage certificate that revealed a secret. My mother, who had always seemed so prim and proper in my eyes, had been pregnant with my sister when she married. Back in those days, if she hadn’t married, it would have been quite a scandal. This explained a lot. My mother and father had always seemed totally unsuited for each other. They were not a couple who appeared to be headed towards the bonds of Holy Matrimony, at least not without a big push or the proverbial shotgun to seal the deal.
My mother conceived me after my father returned from the war. My sister remembers my weeping mother imploring her husband not to leave her. Did she think that a new baby would be the glue to hold her faltering marriage together? Did my father abandon plans to return to Canada out of a sense of duty and obligation, perhaps the same qualities that caused him to make an honest woman out of my mother in the first place?
Obviously I didn’t know my father before he returned from the war, but my sister remembers a different father coming home to her. He was resentful, sullen, bitter and angry. He no longer treated her with affection, and he all but ignored his new baby daughter who, at the very least, should have had the decency to be a male child. My father often complained that there would be no one to carry on the family name, although I don’t know if he would have treated a male child any better. It was obvious that he felt stuck in a place that he did not want to be. He probably felt that he had made a great sacrifice to do the “right” thing even though it was a sacrifice that brought us all a great deal of misery.
The Canadian woman did not give up on her British solidier without a fight. She sent letters and pictures to our home, so obviously he had been in contact and given her the address. When my mother got her hands on the letters, it would cause her a great deal of distress, so my sister would intercept them and tear them to shreds. Once there was a picture of this woman with a little boy. Did she send that particular picture because my father had bonded with this child, or do we have a half brother out there somewhere? These are secrets buried deep in the past that, short of a miracle, will never be revealed.
When I was six and we moved to Canada, did my father hope to rekindle a romance with his war time love or was he just trying to recapture the happiness and contentment he found in a distant place? I have no idea whether he ever made contact with his Canadian love once we arrived there. In any event, he stayed with my mother until his death, and in their latter years, they seemed to develop an attachment and unity that had in earlier years eluded them. I think my father had finally made peace with how his life had unfolded. My sister was grown when we moved to Canada and married a few years later after we had relocated to Michigan. We never again lived in a beautiful house with a large garden, which we had left behind in England. In fact, my father, a brilliant but unskilled man in his forties, had a very difficult time finding a job in Canada, and he grew even more distant and rejecting, mired in his own unhappiness. One of the rare pleasant memories I remember sharing with him was the two of us standing side by side on the deck of the ship on the way to Canada. It was in the evening and the big, round silver moon shone over the ocean. My dad pointed out the flying fish to me. He seemed peaceful and fascinated by how the fish leaped out of the rolling waves. Perhaps he envied their unabashed freedom and joy. Maybe he thought that’s what he would find once again in Canada, but that didn’t happen.
I believe my father’s rejection of me took root and flourished in it’s bitter soil. I had no understanding of what it took to make a relationship work and no sense of being beloved in the eyes of God, since my earthly father didn’t love me. I didn’t realize it was no reflection on who I was. I didn’t even realize I had a broken heart, and I refused to give my father the satisfaction of knowing how much he had hurt me. Because he didn’t allow me to know him, I had no idea of how deeply wounded he was. Only after his death, did my mother reveal to me that he was brought up in an orphanage after his father died, and with younger children to raise, his mother felt she had no recourse.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and on the way back to my house she played a Nat King Cole song my father had loved. It was called “A Blossom Fell.” My dad had a good voice, and he used to sing that song. Unexpectedly my eyes filled with tears. I have forgiven my father many years ago, but listening to those lyrics was healing for my heart. I felt the remaining slivers of ice melting away, replaced with a tenderness towards him I did not know I could feel.