I sifted through my USPS “informed delivery” list for incoming mail. And it ruined my day.
First entry: a card addressed to a person whose name had landed in the dead zone over five years ago. That person was me. And the sender, my father.
Good news and bad news.
Three years ago, my father abruptly stopped sending me birthday cards — a ritual he’d engaged without fail each and every year of my life.
So I phoned him. He answered after two rings — with a tone one might use to respond to a telemarketer. He’d immediately recognized my voice.
No, he was not sick. And yes, he intentionally didn’t send a card.
He informed me that he no longer wished to have contact. The energy of his resolve was unspeakably cold. And entirely impenetrable.
I was absolutely stunned. My heart was beating like crazy. After several unsuccessful passes at reaching for his heart, we hung up the phone. Palpable relief on his end.
My father had just escorted our relationship to the door – as he had with my brother and sister before me. His three blood children. Now, strangers to him.
I sobbed uncontrollably at the devastation of this loss and sense of betrayal. Had I not once been his ‘golden daughter’?
Could it be true that I had lost him over a name change?
Allow me to supply some back-story.
During that summer, prior to the big birthday-breakdown, my father and I had hit the skids when he first discovered I’d changed my name. The old ‘dead name’ had lost any resonance with the woman I had become after years of relentless change and transformation.
It was a feeling like, you know, somebody calls out and you look around to see who it is they might be talking to. Where IS that person anyhow?
Nope, haven’t seen ‘em lately.
I must confess, too, that this cast-off name had begun to hold a distinct and insistent repugnance. To the extent that it literally made me cringe just to hear it or see it in print. Like being stuck in a godawful relationship, long past its expiration date.
No harm had been intended by my adventure into the land of new names. Quite the contrary. But clearly, a whopping big offense had been taken.
That July, I mailed a letter to my father — who lived not only literally, but now emotionally, 3,000 miles away. A response to his uncompromising insistence that he had no intention to amend his manner of address. After all, he and my mother had gifted me with that name and I should be grateful to be party to such a fine lineage. End of story.
My letter spoke candidly to him, as perhaps never before. Letting him know that while I appreciated his perspective and feelings, “Respect 101” in my universe meant referring to others by the name of their choice, not mine.
He may not understand or agree with my preference, but I expected him to respect it — as I did with all of the people who shared my life.
He plainly wasn’t going there.
It could have been the “Respect 101” quip that pushed the envelope on his departure. I’d realized it wouldn’t go down easy. And I said it anyway. Just like that.
A long silence ensued between us.
Over time, I recognized my sovereignty in this dilemma. True, he’d broken ties with me, but his behavior did not need to dictate mine.
Since it felt good in my heart to continue sending him cards for birthdays and holidays, I did just that. Fortunately, his birthday doesn’t come until February, so we’d been granted some chill time.
And, wouldn’t you know it? He didn’t skip a beat on the occasion of my very next birthday.
He plucked that good ‘ole-time-card-givin’ religion right back outta the dust bin. Toweled it off and gave it the heave-ho into the US mail.
3,000 miles away was closer now.
The card arrived, addressed to a character who had passed on. As it has every year since then.
I wish I could tell you that this annual collision with a ‘dead name’ has stopped bothering me …
I do cherish the evidence, though, that my father continues to love that girl who used to be.
She’s definitely in there somewhere. Still getting her feelings hurt when her Dad wants her to be somebody else.