Dad & Family

Re. My Dad

How are you coping with the loss of your dad?

There’s no way to not have this sound jarring: My dad isn’t dead and was never sick.

In 2003, when I was 17-years-old, I was told by my mother that my dad had been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia (FTD). And that, if he was lucky, my dad had 10 more years to live. My Dad wouldn’t live to see my 27th birthday.

My siblings, our church, and our entire community was told that my dad was dying. That dementia was slowly robbing us of him, one little piece at a time. And that he wouldn’t always remember he had dementia — but his lack of awareness of his health condition was, itself, a heartbreaking symptom of the deadly illness.

It’s 2019 as I write this. I’m 32-year-old. And my dad is perfectly healthy.

My dad lives in Seattle, works full time, has been in the same committed relationship with his girlfriend for a decade, has many active hobbies, and doesn’t have any trouble remembering things from the present nor past. When I first talked to him on the phone after years of being separated, he remembered my exact height.

My siblings and I grieved for our dad for over 12 years. It was a loss that ripped me to the core. It made it hard to relate with peers who hadn’t went through such a profound loss yet. I sobbed myself to sleep for years … and for no reason.

It feels like someone played the worst imaginable practical joke on my siblings and our community. It’s so awful, so unimaginable that it makes me feel sick. How our mother could put us through that and why she would even think to is by far the biggest mystery of my life.

I financially supported your family because I thought your dad was dying.

I’m so sorry you were taken advantage of.

I’d like to personally thank everyone over the years who gave my family such thoughtful bereavement gifts — free regular access to a vacation house, a subscription to locally grown organic vegetables, thoughtful homemade gifts, money and gift cards, food and household items, even things for the cats.

Your compassion was blatantly exploited. Your gifts, however, weren’t wasted. Life wasn’t kind to my siblings and me as we were growing up. Your gifts added light. Thank you for your love, support, and generosity.

Your dad missed your wedding because you were lied to. I’m so sorry.

Thank you. I really appreciate all of you who’ve expressed sadness over how this impacted my wedding.

As many of my long-term readers know, planning my wedding was incredibly painful because of the grief of losing my dad. It was the first topic I wrote about when I started freelancing. I wrote about Wedding Planning as a Fatherless Bride for Offbeat Bride and then had it republished later on The Huffington Post. I wrote about the feelings of grief for HelloGiggles in How I Realized There is No “Right” Way to Feel When Planning a Wedding. And it’s a topic I wrote about in depth here on my blog over the years.

Those were always articles and posts that made me cry to reread, but now that I know that I never should’ve been feeling that way. That my dad was alive. That I lost not only time with my dad but that I lost the opportunity to enjoy wedding planning and getting married, I can’t reread those pieces at all. They gut me.

When I first found out that my dad was alive and well, I immediately realized: “Oh my god. Dad could’ve been at my wedding.”

This sounds like the perfect essay for the NYT Modern Love. Have you published anything about it yet?

I seem to know a lot of Modern Love readers! Thank you to everyone who has suggested aiming high publication-wise when I eventually decide to write about this. Your encouragement and support mean the world to me.

It definitely is a wild story, that’s for sure. I haven’t published anything about it yet. I’m taking some time to process first.

For anyone worrying, yes, I’m taking lots of notes, saving all correspondence related to my dad’s health, and filling up paper journals. There’ll be plenty of material whenever I finally feel ready to write.

Have you thought about writing a memoir about this?

Yes, actually! When I told some of my writer’s groups that I’d just found out my dad was still alive the responses were all along the lines of “OH MY GOD! THAT’S A FUCKING BOOK!” and “Are you taking notes? You need to take notes for when you write the book!” and “Please, write this book! I want to read it!”

There’s definitely interest in the utter strangeness that is my life. I know it’s not something I want to write presently though — taking time to process and all that. I’d probably start with writing some personal essays to see if it’s a topic I’d want to stick with for an entire book. But who knows. If I have enough material, maybe I’ll just dive right into writing a manuscript.

Re. Family

After all that, are you still in touch with your mother?

No, I’m not and neither are my two siblings. It’s been 4 years since any of us saw our mother.

Surprisingly, our mother is the one who cut contact with us.

After I wrote a blog post about how hard it was growing up bisexual in a homophobic religious setting, she immediately cut contact with all three of her children, to the point of even blocking us on Facebook.

That must have been so painful.

It was definitely the exact opposite of how someone hopes their parent will respond when they come out, that’s for sure!

But it honestly was a blessing in the end. If she hasn’t cut contact with all three of us, I doubt we ever would’ve realized the stories about our dad’s declining health didn’t all add up. And I’m positive we never would’ve gone looking for him. It was painful to be rejected by someone who should love you unconditionally, but it’s the reason we know our dad is alive and well. It’s been such a huge step towards healing.