‘All I could muster at the party was, ‘Are you serious?’ over and over, as if my husband would use such heavy words to joke. ‘Yes, they found him in his room.’: Woman recalls complicated relationship with incarcerated father

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“He always requested burgers to grill, Velveeta cheese to melt on them, and cherry cheesecake for dessert. That’s what we packed for every family day visit at the state penitentiary. I still remember the long and curvy mountainous roads. I remember my grandmother gasping in panic as the barbed wire walls came into view. I remember the shake in her voice as my aunt tried to calm her nerves before we walked in. I remember pat-downs and intrusive touching just for the chance to see my dad.

‘Yes, it is necessary. People try to sneak things into the inmates through their kids all the time,’ said a gruff female guard as she felt under my bra and between my legs.

‘It’s okay, I have to have two-cavity checks every visit but it’s worth it to get to see you, baby girl.’ That was dad’s way of comforting my discomfort.

‘What’s a cavity check?’

I can still see a smirk cross his tan face, ‘I have to get naked and bend over. They want to make sure I’m not sneaking anything in my butt cheeks!’ He laughed to make light of our reality. He liked to make me laugh.

A speaker blaring Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ is a sure-fire ignition for a flood of memories. He loved classic 80’s rock. He loved to sing, and he would always sing this song to me. When I tried to join in, he would stroke my head and say, ‘Well, you didn’t get everything from me. Don’t try to make a career out of singing, baby girl.’

As for me, I think Kid Rock’s song, ‘Only God Knows Why,’ was written specifically for him. For all of his shortcomings, he loved me unconditionally, just not in the way I wanted to be loved, not how I thought a father should love. It took his death for me to realize he loved me the best way he knew how.

Is it fair to ask for more?

I just want to say sorry. After a lifetime of waiting for you to change, I gave up. Jaded by years of broken promises, penitentiary visits and revolving doors of drugs and women, I finally put the last brick in the wall I’d constructed. I’d be damned before I let you in again.

I just wish I would have said yes.

For months, you begged me to invite you over for dinner. You even agreed to eat my ‘hippie vegan food’ without complaint but I said no.

You always asked with a smile and I turned you down with a look of indifference.

I could defend my reasons, believe me, they were plentiful. I’d soon discover they wouldn’t matter as much as the guilt of not choosing unconditional love.

For days, weeks, probably even months now, I would walk out of my way to avoid your embrace. I felt cold to your suffering, reasoning you had inflicted it upon yourself, not to mention what you had brought down upon me. I’d avoid saying your name but when pushed, I’d call you ‘Stoney,’ your given name. It felt like a knife on your exposed flesh. I could see it in your eyes but that wasn’t enough to make me say ‘Dad.’

The last conversation we had was neither dripping with malice nor seasoned with grace. It was simple and for that, I’m grateful. We spent our time together in Granny and Pa’s living room or kitchen because that’s where you lived now: with them, in my old room. You were complaining about not feeling well. I asked if you were drinking enough water. You sat up from your hunched over position. Your forearms moving from resting on your thighs and in your high-strung way, explained how many glasses of sweet tea you’d drank just that day alone. Humored yet annoyed, I exclaimed that sweet tea did not count towards your water consumption. Using your hands in the same way I use mine to get a point across, you argued sweet tea is mostly water, therefore you were drinking water.

We laughed a little and agreed to disagree.

Some days later, as you were buckling your youngest into my backseat, I paused. Generally quick to hop in and shut my door and avoid any awkward interaction, this time I stood there, waiting. I hugged you and told you I loved you too.

December 20, 2015, we were hosting a Christmas party with friends when Casey intercepted the call. I don’t know why all I could muster was, ‘Are you serious?’ over and over, as if my husband would use such heavy words as a joke.

‘Yes, they found him in his room. They think it was a heart attack.’

It didn’t seem real. You were really gone and with you went every opportunity to have the relationship with my father I so desperately longed for. You never got that ‘hippie vegan meal’ but I’m so thankful our last interaction ended with a hug and an ‘I love you.’ I just wish I could remember if I called you dad.

Our parents were not against us.

They were for themselves.

Fighting their own demons

And we were there … or not

To witness it all.

I get that now.”

Courtesy Raquel McCloud

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Raquel McCloud, 31, of North Carolina. Follow her family journey on Instagram here and her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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