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Dad

I wrote this almost a month ago, but didn’t feel ready to share it until now. At least, I think I’m ready?

Today, I talked to my dad for the first time in over 25 years. I’m still processing it, holding onto the more sentimental soundbites in case it’s the only time I’ll ever talk to him, dissecting the strange and awkward moments and overanalyzing every single word. I’ve already thought of at least ten things I should’ve said or asked, and I’ve already thought of ten different ways we can go from here. My head is spinning, pounding, full of sharp, prickly thoughts that are making it difficult for me to type without mixing up words and letters and I’m not even sure I’m making coherent sentences.

Oh my goodness, you guys. I talked to my dad. I’m not sure how I’m feeling. Come to think of it, I can’t feel my fingers and toes.

I alternate between being totally “fine” and trying to remember how to breathe. It felt equally strange as it was completely natural; I just picked up the phone and called him, like it was the most normal thing to do. When he answered, we talked for one hour and eighteen minutes. He sounded the way I remembered, save for a slight twang I thought I detected, at times — not entirely surprising, given where he has been. The further North you go in Florida, the more Southern it gets.

I wouldn’t sound the same, since I was just a kid the last time he heard me speak, but he said my voice was the way he imagined in his head. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because I sounded so heartbroken.

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that at 33, I still cry when I talk about my dad, and talking to him only amplified that. When I wasn’t choking back tears it was only to let them flow freely, despite my intentions to hold it together. I couldn’t help it. It’s a polarizing, lonely feeling to have a parent in prison. Save for two letters written fifteen years apart, he hasn’t communicated with me. I’m not sure if that made it more or less bearable, because I couldn’t compare it to anything else and no one could relate, not even my sister — she didn’t remember him at all. All I know is this: it has been a lifelong mourning of the loss of a father who is still alive but not there, and just a phone call away but completely unreachable. I tried to visit him and wasn’t allowed, tried to have my name added to his list and was repeatedly denied. I wrote a letter to him last year, asking him to please let me come and see him, and he responded months later with a refusal — something I never talked about, because it was a horribly low point in my life and I didn’t handle it well. Was he protecting me from having a life tied to prison visits or did he not want a relationship with me, period? With little to no communication came less to no explanation, and I spent many nights trying to figure it all out, to cope without any closure from him or anyone who knew him. It’s lonely to have a parent in prison for many reasons, and one of those is that no one ever wants to talk to you about it. It’s a shameful secret at worst, and an uncomfortable subject at best. Adults can come up with a million reasons as to why it’s for your own protection when you’re a kid, but when you grow up, it’s just more of the same. I had no other choice but to keep up with him through his public record, and I never knew if he was keeping up with me.

Today, I got that answer.

He didn’t know anything about me: where I live, what I do, whom I’m with, what I look like. He asked how my feet were, if I had trouble walking, because his clearest memories of me were back when I wore braces and corrective shoes with a bar between them. And he worried that I followed in his footsteps, maybe had a drug problem. He wondered if I turned out to be like him. I told him I’ve never touched a drug in my life; I’ve never even had alcohol. He simply said, “Once upon a time, that was me.” It made me feel defensive; I wanted to tell him that no thanks to him, I was doing very well. I was a straight A student. I got a scholarship and went away to college. I moved to New York and made it all on my own. I’m a good person! But instead, I just quietly wondered why no one in the family told him that my little sister and I were happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults. If not for his benefit, why not for our own?

I’ve waited my whole life for the day my dad got out of prison. I’m not sure I even gave much thought to what would happen on the day of his release, because having a tangible but very far off date made it easier to put out of my mind as soon as it would pop up. Because until then, what else could I do but live my life and just wait? You learn to cope and it starts to feel normal. At times, I took comfort knowing that at the very least, I knew where he was and that he was alive, hopefully clean and somewhat at peace. It was more than I could say for much of my childhood, when I waited and waited and saved my pizza crusts for the day he came home, not knowing where he was or why he wasn’t with us. With his last sentence seemingly his death sentence — I still don’t understand how it works, because his release date was much earlier than the years he was sentenced to — I didn’t have to wonder if he would come home. Because he couldn’t. And I was no longer a child, no longer living in that familiar address where once upon a very brief time, we were a happy family.

How strange to think how much has changed while he was stuck in a place where time stands still. How strange to think that at this moment, he is trying to navigate through a world that’s almost two decades beyond his last day as a free man. How strange to think that when he left, he had a home and a family, and now he has nowhere to go.

I’ve often thought about the things I would say to my dad, the questions I’d demand answers to, the screaming, the crying, the hugging that would result from our tumultuous reunion. Instead, I found myself worrying about him: where he is, what he’s doing, how he’ll find a job, if he has identification, how long his parole will be, if he’s allowed to leave the county, how he’ll adjust to life outside of prison. I didn’t want any answers because I no longer have any questions — and he didn’t offer any answers, anyway. Living with addicts gave me much more insight into my dad’s struggle, and though I’m not excusing or minimizing the horrible things he put us through, I’m not angry anymore. I’m just sad, worried, confused as to whether I should be hopeful or heavily guarded. To be honest, out of all the men who have screwed up my life, he’s the one I resent the least. Maybe it’s because he had the decency to stay away when he couldn’t get it together. Or maybe it’s just because he’s my dad.

I don’t know where we go from here. My expectations are very low, despite some worries that I’m being overly optimistic and need to keep my distance. I’ll just take it day by day. Even if it ends right now, it’s already more than I’ve ever had or expected from him. As I’m writing this now, he’s trying to text me. He keeps asking if his texts are going through, because he doesn’t know how to work his phone. Each text is coming through several minutes apart, and I can just imagine him struggling to figure out today’s technology.

“How many grandkids do I have?”

Unbelievable. There’s a lifetime of catching up to do.

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55 comments

  1. Liz says:

    Keiko, I don’t know what to say but, I’m sending you a big hug from California. You took a huge step and all I can tell you is to take one day at a time. I wish you the best of luck with this

  2. Gabby says:

    I have just recently discover your blog, and I’m not really one for leaving comments.
    But with all my heart, I want to tell you thanks for sharing so private moment with us. Thanks for showing that not every blogger has a picture perfect life and that it’s OK. Everyone has a different story.

    I’m sending you virtual hug and hope everything turns out better than you hope.

  3. Anne says:

    Thank you for sharing ♥️♥️♥️

  4. e says:

    In 11 days, the love of my life goes for his pre-sentencing interview. He was a professional at the top of his game. He had been sober for 3 years, when the pressure to keep up at work started crumbling in. Needless to say, he made horrible choices. We broke up. I moved out. His choices got worse. He will go away in a few months, for how long he won’t know for a while. I don’t know what his life will be like after. I don’t know if we will ever be together again. Your post makes me sad and yet free at the same time. May you be filled with peace and keep living the life you have worked to make exactly as you want.

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      My heart goes out to you. Addiction is such a hard struggle for both the addict and their loved ones, and though I don’t wish it on anyone, it seems to affect everyone. I hope you both come out on top, whether together or apart. <3

  5. Laura says:

    this is so beautiful and heartbreaking. sending love your way and hoping for a happy next chapter for you – whatever that means in your case! xxx

  6. Andrea Smith says:

    You’re words are so profound. I’m thankful for your story and the courage to share. Women are resilient

  7. Dee says:

    What a moving post! Just my opinion but somewhere someone may be going through something similar and see your blog post and think that if this stylish, well put-together lady can manage a painful situation like this in life and still manage to smile, to pursue the beauty and positive possibilities in life maybe she/he can too.
    Your openness and frankness will help someone, it’s already touched others deeply.

  8. Kris says:

    Ohhh Keiko,
    This story is all too familiar. So many fatherless girls out there. I met mine after 24 years. He was not in prison but stayed away on his own. Can only imagine how one would think so little of oneself that you keep a distance. Was it best? We’ll never know. I’m almost 20 years older than you, and he’s gone now. I will say that sometimes we become the role model, the teacher, the parent. You’ve lived your life with abandon and done so many brave and beautiful things for your community and those close to you. During an especially challenging time for me, fighting breast cancer, we had a phone conversation that was so healing and put all into perspective. He called me “love” and told me how proud he was of me and how strong I was and how I accomplished so much. He said he was not there for me and had nothing to do with it all. Stunned, I replied…….but you had everything to do with it. Know you understand.

    Stay forgiving and open and oh so true to yourself. This history made you the incredibly empathetic, socially aware and multilayered human you have become.

    Most importantly by sharing your story….stories, you’ve helped others navigate their lives in a positive way.

    ❤️Kris

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      Thank you for this sweet message. I’m glad you found some healing with your father. And I hope your fight against breast cancer is in the past and you’re healthy and happy!

  9. Kelly says:

    This is unbelievably beautiful, and heartbreaking and so so real. Your honesty is breathtaking and I just want to send you love!

    I have never met you, but it’s easy to see how much love you put out into the world, how much dedication to your family and friends you have and most importantly, how you fight for others and animals. That speaks volumes. Praying for your peace and every happiness your heart desires. You, Keiko, are so deserving of it! ❤

  10. B Sheppard says:

    I worked in the prison system for a number of years and saw what becoming sober and realizing the enormity of their mistakes did to a person. It was much, much easier when they could numb them. I do not know what your dad did, or what the circumstances were but my only tiny little bit to put forward is, people can change. At some point accepting someone, flaws and all, and having a relationship that accommodates and addresses those isnt the worst thing. Regret and wish I would haves and if only’s can be just as damaging. Go in with a clear head, compassion and a solid emotional support system and try. His reality has been very, very different than what he is living now and it will be a huge struggle for him to adjust. Without support from others, he will fail. I wish you the best of luck, whatever your choices. It is unfair that you have to make them.

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective — it’s great to hear it from someone who has worked in that field. Seeing other loved ones struggle with addiction gave me a better understanding of my dad — I only knew him as a child, but I watched someone I love dearly and know like the back of my hand turn into a completely different person under the influence, and it opened my eyes. They made the choices to do drugs, as many people do, but once the addiction took hold it didn’t feel like a choice anymore. I can’t imagine what that must be like. Truly, I wish I could promise that I’ll be a rock for him but I don’t know what our relationship will be like. Luckily, he has brothers who are helping him navigate his new life and we’ll just have to take it one day at a time.

  11. KC says:

    Oh, you beautiful soul. Thank you sharing. My dad was an addict too. I stopped speaking to him at age 11 and we didn’t speak again until I was 30, when he was on his deathbed from cirrhosis of the liver. It’s so hard to forgive and process these things but do it for yourself. Sending you love and support. .

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      Sending you love right back <3

  12. Carol saxton says:

    wow, what a story. Im sure he always loved you, how could a parent not. He stayed away for your protection Im sure you realize that now. A terrible thing to go through but look who you have become, you should be proud. Yes, one day at a time is all you can do.He will make his way on his own, you will never be responsible. In the end it will go or grow, only time will tell. Best of luck

  13. Samia says:

    I’m so glad you decided to share this! My dad spent my middle school years in federal prison which wasn’t something I could hide from my friends because his trial was on the evening news. As if middle school isn’t hard enough already. While a short period of time compared to yours, i do some what understand and wish you luck navigating your relationship in the future. Meeting you in Florida with Jesse seems like another lifetime ago. I have so enjoyed following you since then!

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      Aw yeah, we were babies back then!
      It’s so crazy because sometimes I think about the things I went through as a kid and I think that I could never survive it as an adult. I’m not sure if you feel the same way, but as hard as things were, I feel like I was stronger and more resilient. Or maybe I just felt like it was normal. I mean, I was a total basketcase but at least I got through it.
      Sending so much love to you and your family, Samia!

  14. Janel says:

    Awe. I did not grow up to know my father, as he was in and out of jail due to alcoholism and abusing my mother. My two memories of him are, at age 2 of him slapping my mother and me defending him and telling him he could never do it again with my hands on my hips and second, he brought me a tricycle for my third birthday and that was the last time I ever saw him. My mother divorced him and remarried and my stepfather adopted my sister and I. He was the best dad ever! He passed away this past August. Our bio dad is also gone now. My sister met him a few years ago and asked all the questions. I had no desire to know him but didn’t wish him any ill will either. I hope your dad finds his way back into the world and I hope he is very proud of you when he gets to know who you really are. Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. Anna says:

    Keiko, you’re so vulnerable and brave for sharing this. Though my father wasn’t in prison, he was an addict and eventually took his life. So many of your feelings are things I’ve thought and felt…especially how people don’t like to talk about it. When you mention “prison” (or in my case, suicide) it’s as though the air gets sucked out of the room and everyone becomes uncomfortable. But, you sharing your heart and journey truly encourages others to do the same. We need these spaces where it’s inviting and “normal” to experience real things without feeling uncomfortable for others or ashamed. Sooo – THANK you for being brave and sharing. So deeply touched by this. Best you you on this journey.

  16. Sarah says:

    Keiko,

    I cannot express how amazing and brave it is, that you would open your heart and expose your scars to us in the name of transparency and honesty. I personally don’t have too much experience with a family member in prison, but my mother’s favorite uncle was in prison until he passed.

    Thank you for being vulnerable, for being honest, for being an open door to a new world of conversations and encouragement. I’ll be praying for you and your dad and your relationship together. Much love to you guys.

  17. Nawar says:

    Keiko,
    I think you’re an amazing writer and I love your posts. But this one made me cry. It’s strange for me to feel so emotional, since I can’t cry easily. But having read your story, I’ve realized how strong you are. I could also relate because I grew up with a single parent, my dad. I had little to no contact with my mom for many years. While we are in touch now, a part of me always feels mad at her that she wasn’t there for me when I needed her the most.

    Anyways, I just wanted you to know that you’re a great writer and your message really touched me. Thank you and I wish you all the happiness in the world!

  18. Kaili says:

    My father died at 56 of a stroke back in December. The first time I saw him in 12 years was in a hospital bed, unresponsive and on life support. He was battling his demons and I completely cut him out of my life. I’m never going to forgive myself for what I did to our relationship. I envy your strength! I admire you. This must’ve been so difficult for you. I so wish that this could been something I had been brave enough to do while he was alive. I miss him so much and the relationship I essentially destroyed. You should be so proud of yourself!

    I realize how difficult this must have been to share. While I will never get my own closure. It helps so much to read this. It hurts, but I’m grateful for people who share stories that hit so close to home. I hope you know that you are not alone. Thank you so much for sharing this chapter of your life with us.

  19. Maria says:

    Thanks for sharing! I definitely know what it’s like to grow up without a father but a have such an amazing mom that I honestly never needed one, so I’m very grateful for that. Stay strong and rely on the love of your close family and friends! Your readers love you too!

  20. Hannah says:

    My father passed away when I was 5 and as a 33 year old I just recently got in contact with his side of the family! My grand mother’s first question to me was about my feet as well. Did you also have bilateral club feet? I grew up in corrective shoes and a bar separating my feet as well and this whole post really stuck home!

    Thanks for sharing! <3

  21. Lenae says:

    This was a wonderful read. I have a parent in prison, and it is indeed lonely. He’s been there off and on for most of my life, and he may stay there for another 10+ years. He didn’t know where I was for almost 21 years. It is mind-blowing now for me to think that we reconnected almost 9 years ago. It’s impossible to make up for the lost time, unfortunately. But through those 15-minute weekly phone calls, he and I have forged a beautiful friendship and I never want to be without him again. I’m so happy for you, getting to have this experience.

  22. Cristina says:

    You’re not alone. I had an absent father (by his choice) and a drug-addicted mother who was constantly arrested for petty theft to buy her fix.

    I get it completely and I thank you so much for being vulnerable and showing that we’re not all that social media portrays us to be. Theres layers to us: layers of love and layers of pain. Layers of beauty and layers of disaster.

    You’re beautiful in and out.

  23. Natalie Topete says:

    Wow. I’m seriously emotional after reading this post. This took a lot of courage to do and to even talk about.
    The subject of absent fathers and their rejection has been a subject this past week for my nephew as well.. which is why this stirred up so much emotion for me. I hope that you and your father find peace and that it turns out for the best. 🌼

  24. Nad says:

    ❤️ thank you for sharing! I can’t imagine how unbelievable difficult it must have been to write this all out and share it. Best of luck to you and your dad.

  25. Linda Jenkins says:

    What an emotional post, Keiko. I believe writing and talking to anyone helps sort things out many times. I wish your father and you peace and love no matter how your relationship turns out from here. I am glad you picked up the phone. You are a very strong woman all on your own. ♥️

  26. Julia says:

    Keiko,

    Thank you for sharing. For a number of reasons I can relate. Is it odd that after reading this post a number of times, I feel a bit of envy? One of the things I felt while reading your post was that while you are cautious it seems you remain a bit optimistic. That optimism, that hope – is something that faded for me long ago. While there is comfort in accepting the situation for what it is and getting on with life, I do sometimes miss the feeling of hope for a better relationship with my father.

    Please remain cautious and remember when someone misses you becoming an adult, they tend to adjust very slowly to the reality that you have become one. I hope you, your family, and your father find a balance that works for you in time.

    Please also remember that you are brave, you are strong, and you are a star just as you are. Nothing your father does or does not do will ever change that.

    Best,

    Julia

  27. Mary says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us all. It was beautifully written.

    I hope you keep us posted on any updates but understand that this is an incredibly complex journey. Wishing you the best!

  28. Lacy parker says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. As someone who didn’t really have their father in their life, due to his choice to be absent, it makes me feel better to not be alone in these feelings. From the “do I want a relationship with him” in the occasional times he reaches out, to me feeling bad when I don’t answer a text. It’s all so confusing and there’s no right or wrong answer or way to handle it. THANK YOU for your honesty.

  29. Kirsten says:

    Wow, Keiko. Thank you for being so open and honest with us. My best friend growing up had a father in prison as well. Her mother ended up not being able to handle caring for her and her sister and she moved in with her grandmother. I could see the toll that it took on her and unfortunately, while her sister grew up very well, she didn’t end up taking the best path in life and now suffers the same issues as her father. It takes a very strong person to go through this and come out on the other end so successful and composed. Doubtless, there are issues that you will have and deal with your entire life because of this but I’m sure that it also made you the amazing person you are today. I wish you luck on whatever path you and your father decide to take in the future. <3

  30. Lauren says:

    Dear Keiko, I know what it’s like to randomly pick up the phone and call a parent who you haven’t seen or heard from in years (my dad). I also know what it’s like to have a parent who struggled with addiction (my mom). Sometimes our parents just can’t be our parents. I wish you the best while you naviagte through these emotions. Whatever happens, it’s OK. <3

  31. Crystal says:

    I too spoke to my dad for the first time in about 20 years too a few months ago and I know how you felt. I live in CA and he lives in NY.

  32. Ana says:

    Hi Keiko 🙂 I wish I could put into words how deeply this post and your experience is affecting me right now. It’s bringing up a lot of my own memories of life with and without my own Father-an addict who also put my mother, my sisters and I through so much pain. I am inspired by your strength and courage to share this. I hope this is a healing time for you ❤️

  33. Natasha says:

    Keiko. This is huge and at the same time, are you okay? I’m stunned that he didn’t know about you and your sister, but it sounds like there’s a possibility of a future. Sending you love and hope for the best.

  34. Lindsay Turner says:

    Wow, this post left me feeling super emotional. You are so incredibly strong.

  35. Christine says:

    That last question made me cry. I wish you light on this journey.

  36. Chelsea says:

    Wow, this is a heavy read. You are so strong to be navigating this world with such grace after dealing with a hard upbringing!

    Truly inspiring.

    ♥️♥️

  37. pati says:

    So brave of you to share such a personal matter. Hope you both find a way to live and cope in this new stage of life ahead.

  38. Nicolette says:

    I’m so proud of you, your vulnerability, and your strength. Love you, friend.

  39. Katie B says:

    Keiko,

    I can’t express how powerful this post was for me. I also had a Father in prison and have not spoken to him in nine years. It is a complicated heartache that is so hard for people to understand. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for bringing to light something that so many of us live with everyday.

  40. Christie says:

    Such a personal, heart-wrenching, touching post! I hope there is peace for him, for you, and your family.

  41. Jillian says:

    Oh, Keiko. I can’t imagine what a difficult thing this must be to navigate for both of you. Sending love.

  42. Vanessa says:

    Sending you much love ♥️

  43. Kate says:

    Keiko this is so brave & beautiful. Your ability to share your experience is no doubt difficult but I know it’s going to help others in similar situations. I have admired you for years & today that admiration just grew. You have so much compassion, grace & forgiveness inside you! You bring such light into this world & this journey with your dad is one I hope continues to grow. God bless you!

  44. Cassandra says:

    I’ve been following you for years but never wrote any comments on your blog or instagram. But this post.. not only brings tears to me but I can only imagine the agony you’ve been through. Thank you for sharing and I feel like giving you the biggest and the longest hug the universe can give.

  45. Lauren says:

    Goodness this made me cry. I know you don’t know me, but I’m proud of you every time you put yourself out there like this. We need more vulnerability in this world. Thanks for sharing.

  46. sara nena says:

    I am soooo touched!!!!! You know what, thanx for sharing, you really made me think of the life in prison, the problems that one family can have…I felt so far away one hour ago, and now back to reality. It was really brave from you!!!!!

    http://7-sevendays.blogspot.gr/

  47. Patty says:

    Thank you for sharing this. As always, I appreciate your vulnerability and bravery. But this was a whole new level and I’m in awe. It’s one of the sweetest, most heartfelt posts I’ve ever read. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve been through, and happy you have found a little slice of peace. No matter what lies ahead. Thank you for being you!

  48. Jessica says:

    Oh wow, Keiko. So much love to you. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3