by Johanna Kumpula
I grew up missing someone I never knew; a role model turned monster. When I was born, my father started drinking. He would leave in the middle of the night and hole up in a musky bar with cheap beer and stale peanuts. Sometimes he would be gone for weeks, with no explanatory note or phone call to check in. When he finally did return home, he smelled of alcohol and fruity perfume. My mom would be worried of course, all she wanted was a simple explanation on why he didn’t call, but his excuses were pathetic. He would get mad, because she didn’t believe him or because she had the courage to question him, and he would yell at her. He would never hit her though, because bruises are proof. Her word against his was not.
Ironically, I was a daddy’s girl; the pride and joy of a desperate man. At least I was until my seven-year-old self could comprehend what he said about my mom and brother. He always laughed about it, as if calling my mom a liar or my brother a whiny bitch was a hilarious joke that all of us would find funny. I tried to ignore him after that, I’d refuse to hand him the remote or get him another beer from the fridge. I wasn’t his slave and I wouldn’t bend to his every beck and call. That decision of mine led him to tease me, calling me things no father should ever call his daughter.
Eventually, my mother had enough of the emotional abuse and divorced him. What followed was years of court disputes and restless nights to settle the custody disagreement. I got angry because I wasn’t allowed to testify on my mother’s behalf during the court proceedings. At one point they let us talk to the judge, to explain our side of the issue. My brother and I had a lot to say about our dad and none of it was good. Our mom on the other hand, was our saving grace and we made that extremely clear. The judge asked us if we had been coached because we couldn’t be telling the truth. No child has only good things to say about their mother. I left the room when he made that claim, I wasn’t going to be a part of a coup against my own mother. When all was said and done, my mother left the court room with full custody and my father left with visitation rights every other holiday. He never even showed up for any of those.
I honestly do miss him; I miss the side of him my mother told me about in stories. I miss the man that took me to the top of what I saw as the tallest of mountains, only to slide all the way back to the bottom; who lifted me on his shoulders when I got so tired I couldn’t complete our adventurous trek back home. I miss the father who took me to carnivals and bought me blue cotton candy which he eventually regretted because I couldn’t stop bouncing from my sugar consumption. I miss the times he’d stay up all night fighting off the raptors from under my bed because I most definitely was not old enough to watch Jurassic Park. I miss the long days fishing, the days where I couldn’t tell where my fingers ended and the dirt began.
I miss the man who brought me to the pound to adopt my first dog when I turned seventeen, who laughed when I decided on one who only had three legs; a dog that – much like me – wouldn’t really fit in. I miss the words he’d call me, unique, adventurous, special, different, and I miss him reassuring me that none of it was a bad thing. I miss the man who threatened the first boy that ever came to my house, but then invited him in to share words of wisdom about how much of a handful I was. I miss the man who took time out of his day to tell me he loved me. I miss the man that never existed.
None of that ever happened – none of it was actually real. I had to walk home during the dark, cold night by myself. I had to fight off the raptors with my own determination and bloody fists. My first dog was a gift promised to me by my mother and he’s definitely just as strange as I am. I grew up and became everything that he wasn’t, all while he stood idly by drinking his life away. He was never the man my mother wanted to father her children, never the man to love someone more than he did himself. He was never someone to spend time with his kids; take us on outrageous adventures or tuck us in at night. He was a selfish man who cared only for his next beer and his next paycheck.
I never had a father, and yet I miss him every day.
Johanna Kumpula primarily writes fiction within the genres of fantasy and sci-fi. She’s currently in her third year at APU studying to earn her degree in creative and professional writing. When she’s not writing or studying, you can find her fishing at the Kenai River or playing video games with friends. She enjoys long walks on the beach, rainy days, late nights, and her all-time favorite food chocolate chip cookies.