The Space Between My Father and Me

#MCW Space

“I entered this essay in Medium’s Writing Challenge with the topic of Space. I didn’t win, but I still feel proud I got my thoughts and feelings down. I’d been carrying this one around for a long time.” — GMD

I turned to look back into the empty space one last time just before I closed the door for good. My father was gone and his house was vacant.

This house was the one he had purchased to live in his retirement after working for more than 20 years for the U.S. government overseas. It was the space he had inhabited just six weeks before. Where trinkets, old photographs, and exotic souvenirs from his world travels sat on bookshelves collecting dust. Where he slouched every night on his old, threadbare sofa watching TV Westerns and Star Trek reruns until he drifted off to sleep.

Nothing was left in his house but the echoes of my footfalls and memories. As the oldest daughter, I had dutifully handled his will, packed up his belongings, and prepared his house for sale. All that was left for me to handle was the gaping empty space that stretched between my father and me all my life, the space that had defined our strained relationship. Even now, years after his death, that space remains open.

My unknowable dad

My father was raised in the mountains of Kentucky in the 1940s by poor, uneducated parents who lived perpetually in a state of lack. There are family stories of my aunt, his youngest sister, taking a stick of butter to school for lunch because that’s all they had. His father, a man I never met, lived hard and left his family early on. His absence left a void that my grandmother was too weak to fill alone. So, she packed up her three hungry children and moved back to her angry father’s home.

My father was the oldest of three, the only boy, and the one who took the brunt of his grandfather’s ire and frustration. My dad was constantly berated and told he would never be good enough, would never work hard enough, and would “never amount to nothing.”

In that small, over-crowded, rickety house in the holler, my father learned to protect himself and survive by holding up armor so heavy that none of the old man’s barbs could pierce my dad’s tender heart.