Reclaiming My Dad, On Father’s Day

Also Featured on Huffington Post, read it here.

Dad, six months before he died

Dad, six months before he died

When life throws you a 100 mph curve ball, that hits you in face… and then another, and another, there are lots of things you can do; if you’re a child, set on survival, you block it out, and move on.

My father was killed in a car accident when I was ten– 42 years ago, June 9th. I’ve said those first 12 words countless times in my life. It’s been a defining detail of my entire life, and something I wrestled with in endless scenarios in my head, since the morning we heard– on a cruel sunny day. I remember the tiniest details with Technicolor precision. And yet, I forgot some of the most important parts… until two months ago.

Life threw another curve ball ten weeks ago that brought all those memories back, and has changed everything. Everything– about who I thought I was, what I thought much of my life was about, how I see the people I’ve loved, and how I want to live my life from now on. I’ve spent weeks unscrambling a world of hurt that I’ve needed to digest and come to terms with– understanding that I may never have all the answers I want.

Before we were broken...

Before we were broken…

When I was 7 years old my parent separated. The oldest of their three children, I had a 5 year-old brother and a two year-old sister then. I remember my parents arguing; I remember them happy as well. I remember that when they separated my brother and I felt like the world was falling in. I remember living with dad and my great-grandmother, Nini, and feeling very loved, surrounded by people– grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighbors, who thought we were the most important people in the world. I felt safe; loved, and important. Times with my mother weren’t quite that way, and as young children, we grappled with many of the same things that children of divorce feel as they negotiate two homes and less than ideal circumstances.

My mother took us back east when I was nine. My father delivered us to her apartment, planning to pick us up the next evening. As soon as he drove away, a moving truck picked up all of her things and we boarded a 747 the next day for Massachusetts. I remember my mother told us it was a surprise, and that we shouldn’t tell our dad. It all seemed so exciting and surreal to my nine year-old brain. It never occurred to me that she was taking us without my father’s permission; it never occurred to me that I would never see him again.

Suddenly our world was filled with new grandparents, new aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighbors. They loved us and we loved them, but from that day on there was a hole where my father and his family had been. I wondered why dad never called, why he didn’t come get us, how he could just let us go. My mother told us that he was a “good daddy, but that he didn’t take care of us.” She told us that she “had no choice but to take us away, so that that she could be with her family, to care for us.” Over the years, she painted a picture of a classic Peter Pan syndrome father: who didn’t pay child support, wasn’t there to care for us, but was good when it came to play time and fun. I knew from the way she spoke, that none of this was good, and while it didn’t fit with my own memories of the love and safety I’d felt with him, I too began to describe my father as “a good daddy, but not a good father.” I am sure I said those words 100 times through the years. I said them to friends; I said them to my own children. And over time, I buried anything that didn’t fit my mother’s picture.

I forgot that it wasn’t true.

Taken the year my dad died, I see wariness and grief in these eyes...

Taken the year my dad died, I see wariness and grief in these eyes…

Children do not understand the truly devastating things that adults will do when they feel trapped, and my mother spent most of her life feeling trapped. Even the most abused children cling to the parent that abuses them. They try to be perfect and hope that they will be loved and valued. While I wasn’t the most abused child, things were not good, and I knew that I needed to believe whatever my mother told me, to win her approval. I knew that things seemed much less stable with my mom, that my role went from child to co-parent overnight, and that our father didn’t want us anymore– but most of all, I knew that I needed to believe whatever my mother told me.

And so I accepted that my father had moved on, and that maybe there were other children he loved now. I came to believe that the magical times I remembered with him and his family were figments of a young and wishful mind. When he was killed in a car accident a year later, I grieved– inside everything felt black and empty– but I grew up accepting my mother’s version of him.

Throughout my life I’ve struggled with confusing memories, and details that never added up. In describing time, the years didn’t fit with the memories; the math was all screwy. This seemed really strange coming from a person who has such vivid memories of so many things– extremely detailed memories of so much of my childhood… with my father. And that’s just it, I’ve always struggled with the memories of my mother; there were none, for a long stretch, and that never fit with the stories she told me, and that I accepted. Two months ago, my father’s sisters set it all straight, and I’ve been unraveling the shock ever since.

My mother abandoned us. She left me with my two small siblings, alone in an apartment, for my father to find, and then she disappeared for 16 months. No calls to check on us, no visits for birthdays, nothing. She simply disappeared, and my father raised us with my great grandmother and his family. They celebrated our birthdays, took us to school, and loved us. They never spoke ill of my mother, but they circled the wagons and made sure we knew we were safe and loved.

Still, I was old enough to know that something horrible had happened. Each night I lay awake– hyper-vigilant and afraid that my dad, my great-grandmother, and maybe even my siblings would vanish too. I checked each one as they slept; I sat by the curb in the day, waiting. No one heard anything from my mother as my father and his family tried to make up for that giant missing piece. We all worked on getting beyond that curve ball. We rubbed our bruises and worked on healing.

The day she took us was the first time we’d seen her in at least 16 months. I’ve always remembered how wary I felt with her when my father drove away that day– again, viscerally clear in my memory. For most of my life I’ve felt guilty for that; for being scared when we got on that plane, and when we met all those new family members. I felt guilty for not trusting my mother, most of my life. And yet, I forgot why. The trauma of her abandonment and then my father’s death left me clinging to her version of things, completely burying all that had happened in those critical months when she left us behind. When the words came out of my aunt’s mouth “what else would your dad have done– your mother abandoned you for nearly two years!” it all came crashing back– every missing memory, every dark detail; the math suddenly added up again. I had no memories of my mother for so long because she wasn’t there.

sc086272bcIn the two months since all of this came out, I’ve struggled to come to terms with all of the implications and realities of this shocking truth. My father never abandoned us; my mother did. He wasn’t a careless father, or a man who didn’t pay child support. He wasn’t a Peter Pan caricature who moved on when his wife stole his children; he called and searched. He was a man who “was never the same, from the minute he went to pick his children up and found an empty apartment.” He was “devastated when he couldn’t find them for five months,” because his wife’s parents denied knowing where they were. He grieved every single day, and worked to get his children back, at a time when jumping on a plane was a monumental feat. He worked to save the money to see his children again. He never forgot them; he mourned their absence each day.

My father was killed two weeks before a scheduled visit back east, to finally see us. Is there a crueler irony? We were so excited that he was coming; now I am haunted by what that probably meant to him. I believed my mother’s story that they were going to try and fix their marriage; I’ve clung to that romantic vision. Now I believe his only intention was to get us back. I’ve dug in those sad places and asked questions. I’m searching for truths. I’ve spent these weeks, remembering every detail that has been buried for so long, and talking to other people who remember.

Celebrating with Nini

Celebrating with Nini

I remember. My father loved us. He took good care of us– working long hours and living with his grandmother, in order to give his three young children a safe and loving home. We had a garden we played in; we had dinners with my dad and Nini each night, where we were expected to have good manners and eat every bite. There were boundaries and a safe rhythm to our lives. Baths at night, and long bike rides on sunny days. There were strawberries we planted together and picked in the spring. We walked to school with our friends, with lunches packed for us. We were loved, and cared for.

This Father’s Day I’m missing that father who took such good care of us, who loved us so much, and lost us. I’m missing the father I lost through death and stories. I’m asking forgiveness for believing what I always knew wasn’t true. I’m grieving a daddy that was all of the wonderful things I tried to forget, to not feel the pain of losing him.

If Words Could Make Wishes Come True….

I’m letting go of the stories my mother told me because I don’t need to believe lies anymore. I’m not interested in demonizing her. She was a broken person, who struggled all of her life. I’ve always known that. We did our healing before she died, and I loved her. But, what she did was horrible. She took us from our father geographically, and then filled our heads with stories that took him away from us on a much deeper level. I’ve spent 42 years trying to add things up that didn’t add up, and afraid to trust my own gut and instincts– because all those years ago I learned that survival depended on believing what I knew wasn’t true.

Safe and loved, in my father's arms

Safe and loved, in my father’s arms

This Father’s Day I’m reclaiming my own memories and embracing them. There are so many parents who, in doing what they think is right, leave scarred children in their wake. I am sorry that my mother was so lost and scarred, herself, that she didn’t think about how her decisions and lies would leave me the same way. I understand, but it’s hard to forgive it. But I am not my mother. I’m living with truth now. I was a child whose father loved her very much; I’m a woman who remembers that. Dad, this one’s for you.

“I’ve been afraid of changing, because I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder; children get older … and I’m getting older too.”

 *     *     *

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About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blogging, Death of parent, Healing, Honest observations on many things, Life, Love, Memories, My world, Parenting, Relationships, Tales From the Motherland, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Reclaiming My Dad, On Father’s Day

  1. Shivangi says:

    One of the best blog posts ever… Kids should never suffer at any cost.. Glad you reclaimed your father. I almost cried while reading this. Great slice from your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. susanissima says:

    What an epiphany! Your discovery of the untruth you’ve been carrying around since childhood is truly a portal for entering the rest of your life, Dawn. It was a heavy load and hopefully you can set it down now and move forward. Blessings for that. Your choice of “Landslide” for your dad is a sweet gift to him on his special day. ❤


  3. Kate Yarhouse says:

    I can’t even imagine how you, K and S felt upon hearing this news, seems like a long time difficult thing to process – good for you for tackling it. No words. Concerned about K and hoping she is getting help.


  4. momshieb says:

    How courageous and how honest of you to write all of this! I am sure that your father feels your love and recognition now. Thank you for sharing!


    • I like to think that we exist beyond this physical place, and I hope my dad knows how much I love him. That was always there, but now I see him in a clearer, stronger way. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, momshieb; it’s much appreciated.


  5. Carrie Rubin says:

    What a traumatic thing to uncover–discovering that a relationship so pivotal in your life wasn’t at all what you thought. I imagine Father’s Day weekend will be a tough one to get through. But as you say, you are finally reclaiming what you were once deprived of–and it’s not just memories of your father, it’s knowledge, too.


    • So true, Carrie… for weeks, things just fell into place, but in such a bitter sweet way. The mere idea that I had buried so many memories was as disturbing as hearing the truth, in many ways. As they came flooding back, it was dizzying. A powerful Father’s Day indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Reclaiming My Dad, On Father’s Day | ugiridharaprasad

  7. Holding you in my heart as you process all of this. Nothing I try to say sounds quite right. Incredible writing. I understand the shock of finding out the truth of childhood memories. I didn’t have many memories for years of my childhood. I found out, it was for good reason.

    My mother was also taken by her mother, and she was told a bunch of horrible lies about her father. She finally reunited with him in her mid 20’s, where she found out that he had always wanted her and had a room waiting for her.


  8. The more I forgive, the stronger I get…The older I get, it gets easier to understand and accept the mistakes my parents made. I believe our past should never be our burden, just the stepping stone to our future. I hope you break the surface soon and breathe fully again. ❤


  9. How fortunate you were to finally find out the truth and can share it with your children. I look upon an experience like that as opening a wound to the air so that it can heal at last. I had the opposite experience. My mother had the need to share things about others that I wish she had kept to herself. We were often alone together when my dad was at work and I became her confident. No way am I going to pass that information along to my children. I don’t feel any need to do it. It’s important to know some things, but other things are best forgotten. I hope your healing is thorough, and I wish all the best for you and yours, Dawn.


    • My mother was someone who shared those kinds of things too, Suzanne. I often felt conflicted: knowing too much about too many people! I’m sorry you experienced that, but I know you have been a supportive mother to your children. We can break the cycle… xo


  10. 143coaching says:

    Happy Father’s Day Dawn!! So glad you get to have him back fully–celebrate him fully, again. I know he’s not here and ideally he would be, but your heart can make full sense again. He can finally make that trip he planned, except you made sure he didn’t have to go east to get to you. Waiting out west all this time…no flight necessary for him. Sorry this has all been so painful. Hope you can access the forgiveness you seek. 9 year olds are very much dependent on the adults in their lives and must do whatever they feel they must to survive, right? You didn’t have the wisdom at 9 that you have today. You did brilliantly well, Dawn, and created a gorgeous life, bubbling over with love despite your Mom’s desperate and destructive coping strategies. Much love to you!!! XO


    • Thanks so much Sue. It’s been a painful and powerful opportunity for sharing. I was 10.5 when my dad died. I was old enough to be very aware of so many things, but yes, too young to fully understand. Thanks for your lovely and supportive comment; it means so much. xo


  11. Ruth Lerner says:

    We were very moved by this Dawn, and can barely imagine the impact this has had on you. Please know that we are thinking of you with our arms around you, and all our love. Ruth and Mike

    Ruth Lerner


    • Thanks Ruth. It’s been a long and challenging few years, frankly. Perhaps you can better understand why I am unwilling to accept anyone who chooses to “abandon” me again. I don’t have the energy for that anymore. xox


  12. Beautiful timeless and heart wrenching but healing words. I am so grateful you found them.


  13. ME says:

    I feel for your loss, so happy for your newfound wholeness. It is a miracle humans are so resilient! My Dad temporarily did the same thing to my mother. Reading my parents’ divorce agreement was eye-opening. The judge thought neither a fit parent, but that us kids liked the house, so whoever got the house should get the kids. My brother felt guilty for turning 18 because it meant the house had to be sold.

    Fast forward: I remember having my first child and could not believe that they were letting me leave the hospital with him without having to pass some test to verify I was of sound mind. The jury is still out….

    Liked by 1 person

  14. franceshowardsnyder1 says:

    What a sad story. I feel for both you and your father. I’m glad you found out the truth and can remember him well, even though it’s gotta hurt reimagining your mother like that. i’m also impressed that you managed to grow up to be healthy, sane and a great mother yourself in spite of all those scars.
    I was also struck by the eerie similarity between your story and one I recently wrote. It’s fiction but is based on events in my extended family.


    • Thanks so much Frances. I have no doubt that this kind of story is not actually all that unusual. It is played out in countless homes each day. In so many ways, my life went much better than others have had… Thank you for all of your kind words. I don’t always feel successful or like the things these comments state, but I’m doing my best. So, thank you.


  15. Always poignant when you write about your family, Dawn. Thinking of you and all of us who were lucky to have great dads.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Amy Reese says:

    I’m not sure what to say, Dawn, except that this was a wonderful post. You deserve those good memories of your father. I’m saddened by what you went through and that the truth was withheld all these years. You, at least, sound at peace with your mother, as you said you had forgiven her. Parents go through life scarred not realizing the impact on their kids. We all our human and no one is perfect. I hope this Father’s Day you can remember the love you felt with your father. May it warm your heart. I’ll be thinking of you. xox


  17. Keeping you close to my heart, Dawn, as I wipe away the tears. Every time I see a child being hurt, or hear a parent speak an angry word, I know there is damage being done. It’s a good thing we are built to take a lot of abuse…but how sad that it has to be that way.
    My heart sings for your discoveries – as painful as they are, they empower you to reclaim that earlier happy time with your dad…and those memories will blossom and flower in your soul. 🙂
    Thank you for sharing this with the world…I know you have helped many others.


    • What a joy to find you in my comment section today, Vivian. I could not agree more with your words! I think there is so much damage inflicted on kids, often by parents who think they’re doing the best they can… I don’t think that my mother intended to hurt us, but she did. I too am grateful that I can move forward, with a different perspective. Thanks so much for stopping by; I always appreciate your time. 🙂


  18. Valery says:

    Oh, Dawn – 16 months. I can only imagine all the questions you must have. When I first met you, I could feel how much you missed your dad. I could tell by the overly-calm way you told me of his death. Kind of like it was a rehearsed statement. Back then, though, I had no idea how to respond. I had no idea how to offer any kind of help. The young are so naieve and vulnerable, yet amazingly resilient.

    Back then, I mistakenly thought your mom was cool for giving you such freedom and independance. I had no idea that you were being controlled. Hah. And I thought that I was the one who was being controlled and stifled. If only our grown-up selves could go back and explain things to our child selves.

    My mother actually tried to convince us that my dad was the cause of their divorce (12 yrs. ago). But I was no longer a child, and I investigated when I smelled a rat. Such lies. Such needless pain. My brother still can’t deal with it. But I dug further, to find out why she would do that to us. I found more pain, from her childhood. Does it ever end?

    I’m so glad you finally have the truth – the missing pieces – the missing love, from your dad. And somewhere, I’m sure he’s rejoicing that you finally got to find each other. Tears and hugs, 143 ❤


    • Valery, you have been a true and dear friend for most of my life; I’m lucky to have you. I think that as a child, I learned to not– publicly, say too much about what went on in my home, or how I felt. I believed that if I alienated the adults in my life, I would be alone. Alone. That fear drove me for too much of my life! I’m grateful that I can set that down… though, admittedly, it’s not as easily done as it seems. I’m relieved and touched to know this piece of my history, but old scars are hard to move past.

      I’m so glad you were able to dig deeper and find balance with your parents. Your home was a place of normalcy and calm for me, and like you, it’s hard to know that what we saw as kids was not all together what was. Sending you love as well; thanks for always being there. xoxo


      • Valery says:

        This post has got me thinking about my own role as a single mother, and how my actions may have affected my son. I’ve kept so much from him, to protect him and allow him to have the best relationship possible with his father. But it’s always been an illusion, and he’s been so terribly hurt. I never foresaw that, and now I struggle with it.

        I applaud you for breaking the cycle with your own amazing children. And soon you’ll get to share your love and your father’s love with a whole new generation! He continues, through you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • What I tell my kids, over and over, is that it’s never too late to change or move in a new direction. If you worry that you kept too much… he’s an adult now, find a way to share it honestly and lovingly. Let him decide how to feel about it all. That’s my two cents worth (that you didn’t ask for)… I know you’re an incredible mom, Val. Be gentle with yourself on this one. xoxox


  19. Along with the pain and the grief and the loss comes a great gift, Dawn. Your father’s love is obvious in retrospect. From my work with children I can say a child couldn’t clearly understand the situation you were placed in at that tender age, or is even capable of sorting out what is true or not. I hope you have lots of love and support to help you through. Thinking of you.


  20. Dear Dawn,

    if I could fly out your way just long enough to give you a hug I would do it. Beautifully written…no surprise there. Everything else has pretty much been said so I’ll echo all sentiments on your courageous post.




  21. hbksloss says:

    Big heavy duty hug to you for writing your story. Not easy to write about, especially as you are processing it at the same time. My story is different, but I too bought stories my mother told me that I knew in my heart were not true. A lot of my adult life has been spent peeling layers of scar tissue built up around those stories. Many is the night when I use a mantra to remind myself that I am safe and I am loved–neither of which I felt much growing up.


    • Heidi, thank you so much for your supportive feedback. I’m so sorry that you too felt the damage of skewed and troubled love, but how strong and determined of you to work through it and persevere. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and your journey. It’s much appreciated.


  22. sara says:

    Dawn, really I don’t have any words to express my emotions that are stirred by your beautiful essay. It is the way it is (how could it be anything else?) but there is such sadness. My second dad and his wife had a toxic divorce, and his wife was unrelentingly poisonous with her lies to his children. This has had a devastating effect on them and him to this day, and they still don’t know the truth. I don’t understand why someone would do that to their children, I really don’t. Hurt people hurt people.


    • Such painful truth: hurt people do hurt people. They don’t always intend to, or even know that they’re doing it, but it’s almost inevitable. My mother had a very painful life, sad in so many ways… but it’s hard to really get around how that ended up impacted me as well.

      I hope your 2nd dad is able to reach out to and help his children understand the truth. Such sticky places we end up in… Thanks for your supportive words, Sara.


  23. Laurel Leigh says:

    Wow, this reads like LIAR’s CLUB times two. What an amazingly beautiful and cruel story. My dad died when I was in my teens so I know a portion of what you have felt. Thank you for sharing this story, wonderful woman.


    • Thanks so much, Laurel Leigh. I haven’t read Liar’s Club, but I’d be happy if anything I write sounds like a book. A published book… even better. I’m so sorry that you lost your father at such a young age, too. A hard road, growing up without a parent. Thanks for your kind words and time.


      • Laurel Leigh says:

        You’re an awesome writer, and this post is one of my favorite of yours. Mary Carr’s book deals in its own way with that issue of parents withholding information/lying to their children. It’s a brutally interesting story.

        As for you, keep up the great work. If a book is in your planning, I’m sure you will make it happen.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. Reblogged this on TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND and commented:

    Many of you read this when I first posted it (thanks for that!). I’m sharing it again for Father’s Day. I miss my Dad still, all the time, but on Father’s Day it’s hard not to wonder what he would be like today. I know he would love my children, and his only great-grand child. I believe he would be proud of me. I want to think we would be close. But it’s easy to fill in the blanks with the things I want to believe. On Father’s Day I know this: I’m grateful he loved me, and that love stayed with me. It has sustained me. Happy Father’s Day Dad, I love you!



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