Today is an anniversary of a day and a time in my life that I wish I could forget.
My dad passed away 15 years ago today. He was a positive influence in a lot of people’s lives in our community (he was a band director at my high school), but I grew up knowing a very different side of him. I’m not writing this to shatter the perception that many people had of my father – I’m writing this as a way of processing and working through a lot of feelings and memories of one of the darkest times of my life.
My dad and I were at odds with each other when he passed away. He had decided that the gift of $12,000 he had given me towards my new house was suddenly a loan that he expected to be paid back in full. We had all but stopped speaking at this point, as this had been the nature of our relationship for the previous 12 years. I had also had a falling out with my close friend and band mate Pat at the time, I was playing with another band that I truly wasn’t enjoying working with (and the feeling was mutual), and Michal (my now ex) and I were barely speaking to each other. I felt like I was “everyone’s enemy”, and now there was a funeral to prepare for.
My dad’s memorial service was 90 minutes of my life that I will never get back….not because of the unresolved feelings with my dad, but because the event quickly turned into the perfect storm…I didn’t know that Pat would come (which was VERY awkward), a lot of my people from my past who thought my dad walked on water (but thought very little of my brother and me) were there, and to top it off, the expectation was that my brother and I would perform music to honor our dad. The pastor overseeing the ceremony actually said “after the eulogy, the superstars are going to perform!”
I remember the extreme rage I felt at that moment, wanting to stand up and say “this is a funeral, not a fucking recital, motherfucker!” , but that would not have gone over well. I ended up singing Amazing Grace through clenched teeth, and all I keep thinking about was that my dad again got the last laugh…where most parents encourage their kids to be the best they can be, we grew up under the dark cloud of “do your best….OR ELSE.” One of my friends posted an email right after the service that was like the highlights of a sporting event…what should have been a day where I had space to grieve became a day for everyone else’s entertainment, and this was incredibly disturbing.
Thus the downward spiral began…I felt like a horrible, untalented human being, and I was the first time that I seriously contemplated suicide. I say seriously, because I had a list of 25 ways to kill myself, even categorized into “ways that would look like an accident.” I felt like I never was able to grieve my dad’s passing, and I was conflicted about if I even wanted to. Michal was being an INCREDIBLE pain in my ass (more so than usual), and I just wanted to stop hurting, because everything felt like a reminder of all my failures. I pulled myself together to go to Buffalo to sing at my “sister” Maria’s wedding, and I’d started speaking with a local pastor for support, but all I could think about was taking my own life, as I “wouldn’t be everyone’s pain in the ass anymore.”
On July 3rd of 2005, I called the Suicide Hotline. I spoke to an older man named Jerry (not sure if he spelled it with a J or a G)…..he listened to me, but more importantly, he HEARD me. We talked for what easily was two hours. I was sitting in my Honda Accord in the parking lot of the Park City Mall in Lancaster PA, and when I first dialed the number, it was make or break, as I was very close to just ending it all. I told Jerry EVERYTHING I was feeling, and he didn’t try to fix my problems. We didn’t talk about religion, but we talked about spirituality….it gave me hope that I didn’t think existed in my life.
I’ve learned to forgive myself for the unresolved feelings I had with my dad, and I had made peace with Pat a couple of years later. I’ve also learned to forgive myself for wanting to take my own life. This is what is on my mind today. I never told my dad about my sexual abuse, because deep down I knew he’d either blame me, or use that as an example of how he thought I was weak. In hindsight, I realize that I allowed my dad to have a power over me that I never should have allowed him. This lasted right up to the day he died. And yes, I’m very thankful for Jerry, wherever he may be. If not for him. I don’t know if I’d even be here right now. (For the record, I still struggled with suicidal thoughts for another 10 years, but had absolutely no impulse to act on them, and therapy has been a tremendous help). I wish I could say that this is a great day for me to remember my dad, but I know that this day still is for a lot of his former students and colleagues, and I respect that very much.
Happy Anniversary Dad. Rest In Peace.