He left behind a note. He also took whatever notes he could get his hands on. And he never looked back or even tried to contact me again. I imagine he thought it took balls to do that as well.
I was five when this happened. I have a vague recollection of him carrying me on his shoulders or holding my hand round supermarkets. I wish I didn't. Even a slight emotional connection to a parent can devastate a child when they disappear. It haunts you through your formative years. It riddles you with a deep and dangerous anger. It affects the way you interact with people. For me it was a crippling shyness. I could hardly raise my eyes at anyone in primary school. I turned in on myself. It wasn't for attention. It was for a more heartbreaking reason. When a parent leaves, the natural reaction for a child is to blame himself. It's like being punched constantly in the guts over and over for years. It never leaves you. The thought that you drove that person away and the thought you'll drive anyone away that you come into contact with. That you're a curse. And for that reason, you shouldn't really bond with anybody. That you should just go in a corner and shrivel away.
A good stepdad saved me. No one ever mentions them much do they? But imagine having that much compassion that you're willing to take on another man's child without even batting an eyelid. That's the essence of a real man right there. It isn't measured in machismo or strength, it's measured in patience and empathy. I wanted to hate him of course, because I wanted to punish any man for my fathers actions but he wore me down. Kindness does that, however angry you are, because it makes you warm inside when you're young. It cracks the ice. And I did crack. Crack up that is. At silly things. Jokes. Our hometown football team that couldn't win. The mad alcoholic down the road. Shared memories replacing the gap where my real dad should have been. I'll always be eternally grateful for that kindness I think it will move me to my dying day.
And sad too, because although neither of you ever quite wants to admit it, it's just not the same. Your real dad is in your blood, your DNA, however much you deny it. You call your stepdad your dad of course but you both know the score. It's just always off by a slight degree. The hugs. The arguments. The tears. And always that ominous feeling that a long lost ghost might return. In my case that what my real dad was - a ghost. Something I was never quite been able to exorcise.
Even now I think of him. I think of his selfishness and how much of an iron heart you must have to carry that through. It's a pitiful thing when you think about it. Not the abandonment but the silence. Being mute. Raising your glass to strangers as your history fades into dust behind. I'm middle aged myself now and I don't think I'll ever understand that. I'm not even angry about it anymore if I'm honest. Bitterness is a terrible waste of time. I learned that a long time ago in the midst of my childhood and it very nearly finished me.
Saying that, I know I'll never see my real dad again. Not even at his funeral. I'm a great believer in taking responsibility for your own actions and the karma involved in that. Dad's don't particularly have to be heroes. They can he flawed and difficult and brutal even. What they must do however is be there, even if it's just for a fraction of the time. They must also be deserving of your love or respect. I have neither. I don't want to stare into a coffin at a complete stranger and feel nothing. I just don't. It would almost put me on par with his actions. That feeling of ultimate apathy and the nothingness left behind.