As I grew up, my dad and I remained close. He wasn’t around often, but when I needed him, he was there.
At 14, I was raped, my virginity stolen by a guy I hardly knew. I felt so dirty, and I was sure that nobody would believe me. But, a week later when I finally told my dad, he knew the words true, and he did everything he could to convict the ones involved. He never made me feel as if it were my fault. He took me to live with him and his second wife, and protected me from the threats of my rapist and his friends. My dad was once again my prince, and I felt so adored by his love and affection. It seemed no matter what mistakes I continued to make in my life, he still loved and accepted me. I, in turn, gave the same back to my dad. No matter what he did, or what choices he made, I would forgive him and love him no less. Unfortunately, we so easily gave that same kind of mercy and grace to others who didn’t seem to appreciate such an amazing gift.
Over the years I continued to give love, or what I thought was love, to many. This resulted in only having my heart broken again and again. I would sit nights on end in tears, wondering why there wasn’t another man who would love me unconditionally, the way my dad did. My dad, as well, was experiencing much of the same heartache himself. His second wife eventually cheated on him, leaving him to experience a little of what he had put his own family through. Unable to be alone, he quickly and often took in many women who didn’t deserve a piece of his tender and giving heart. He would give, and the women would take. I hated to see the pain it would cause him. It was clear to me that he was choosing the wrong ones to love, and yet I couldn’t see through my own fog of similar decisions. I was amazed though, that through all his heartache, he was still able to love so unconditionally. Not just me, or the women he dated, but the way he loved the homeless and the destitute that rode the city bus he had been driving for over 20 years. I always heard about the different people he helped, and saw how often he went out of his way to make them smile. It was sweet, and it only made me love him more.
My dad’s habits continued. There had been many women in his life, and all had been a temporary fix to loneliness, so I never expected his relationship with Carol to be any different. This woman was trash if I’d ever seen it. He had met her on his bus, and had only been dating her a few weeks. She was quite a bit younger and a whole lot wilder than he. Among the many problems this woman had, bipolar disorder combined with a heavy drug addiction were at the top of the list. My dad had a need to “fix” people. He wanted to help them, and I figured she was just his latest project.
But, behind all four of his daughter’s backs, he married this “project” for better or for worse. It was the last straw for my three sisters. This was the last mistake they could watch him make, and the last heartbreak they could feel from him. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stay angry. Maybe it was the fact that I knew that none of his relationships lasted. Or maybe I just realized that I couldn’t change him, and I had to learn to love him despite how I thought he “should” be. (living two states away helped a bit too.) I also think that a little part of me recognized a similar pattern in my own dating life. I was no better at choosing then he was.
Things may have been bad in his life then, but we had no idea how much worse things were about to get.