My "Other Dad"
By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
What is the definition of a hero? The dictionary tells us that a hero is defined as a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. This definition fits my hero like a glove, though if he were here he would argue that what he chose was not to be brave or noble, but simply the right thing to do. For me, a hero is someone who goes above and beyond when they don't have to, but because they choose to. There is one person who comes to mind when I think of a hero, my "second father," Mason.
Mason was and always will be my hero, for several reasons. I met Mason and his wife Jill in September 2002. I was 17 and struggling in every aspect of my life. I started out as a babysitter for their three daughters, but soon Mason and Jill became more than that - they became like second parents to me. My parents would jokingly call them my "other parents," but soon it stopped being a joke and it became the truth. Mason always made it clear to me that he never saw a difference between his three biological daughters and myself; to him I was as much his daughter as his own three. This great act of kindness and courage on his part to help raise a teenager who was not his own and had several challenges to overcome makes Mason, my second father, my hero.
2004 was the last full year that I got to spend with Mason, and I am so grateful for each day of that year that I spent in his company. The days I spent with my second father are not memories of any great adventure or of any wise words spoken to me, or of anything grand, but they are memories of ordinary and simple days, days I now realize I took for granted.
Each day always began the same way. He would be up every morning either right as I got to the house or when I woke up (if I stayed over), and he always had a steaming cup of coffee for me, made just the way I like it. We would sit for two hours or so and just talk about our days ahead, about the past, about the future. He would always find something to tease me about. The conversation always seemed to end up on the subject of his boxers du jour. Somehow his boxers had become a running joke between us. He would always ask me his opinion on what I thought of his boxers, from his polar bears to his sharks to all of the other funny or weird prints that he had. We would talk about my schooling; he always stressed how important it was to him that I do well in school, not just for him but for me. There were some mornings when we sat out on the dock and watched the lake drift by and sat together in silence just enjoying each other's company. Often he would drive me home and put his arm around me and I would just lean my head on his shoulder. I felt safe. We would listen to music, mostly classic rock stuff ("Werewolves of London"), some oldies (his favorite being "Age of Aquarius") and some Beatles ("Yesterday"). I can't remember a day when he wouldn't call home from work at least three times, sometimes more, just to ask how the girls and my day was going and to tell us that he was thinking of us and that he loved us.
In the summer, Mason would leave work early and would take us four girls to the beach club. They would swim in the water and Mason and I would sit and talk. He always seemed to know when something was on my mind and he would drag out whatever it was that was bothering me and give me his best fatherly advice. His advice was always what I needed to hear, whether I wanted to hear it or not. We would take walks on the beach with his arm around me - that was when I felt the safest. Then we would eat dinner up on the deck with the girls, then they would play on the sand while we sat and watched. It felt like home, being with Mason. I never felt out of place; I felt like I belonged. Most nights he would make us dinner at the house. He made the best hamburgers. I remember feeling like I never wanted those days to end, but when they did end I never worried because I knew the next day and the day after that would be more of the same. Some days we just hung out at home and he would grill for dinner. I loved being with Mason. When I was with him everything from my past disappeared, I never worried about anything, and I felt protected and taken care of. I just knew that everything would be ok. He was always the first one to reassure me, to make me feel loved.
My "Other Dad" was and still is my hero because he knew about my past trauma; he knew how scared I was to trust him because of the experiences I had in my life prior to knowing him, but he never took my fear personally. He knew that the times when I hurled insults and sarcastic remarks they were not meant for him. He understood me, understood my pain. There were days when I didn't even have to say anything and he knew what I was thinking or feeling. He knew from personal experience what it was like to struggle. When it came to the way in which I was struggling he was always able to sense what I needed. He knew I needed his understanding and support and he always provided it. He taught me how to trust again, how to be vulnerable, and to allow myself to be loved. He was the one man outside my family of origin whom I trusted and loved 100%.
Each and every day he made it clear to me that he loved me and made sure I knew that he loved me. He was always there to support me even when he was struggling. That's the kind of man he was, not just with me but with everyone in his life, be it an acquaintance he'd met that day or a friend or family member - he always put others first. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was the first person to offer support or a hand in doing a chore, errand, or difficult task. Whatever anyone needed, he was the first person to provide it. Everyone else's needs always came above his own and he never acted put out about it.
The thing I loved most about Mason was that he could always make me laugh, whether it was by his jokes or by teaching me how to laugh at myself. I learned to laugh again, and boy, did he and I have a lot of laughs!
My "Other Dad" will always be my hero because of the battles he fought in his own life, quietly never allowing those battles to interfere with his job, his parenting, or with being a husband. Those battles were ones that in the end he was not able to win. My "Other Dad" battled the addiction of alcoholism. He also battled mental illness, specifically, bipolar disorder. Unless you really knew him well you would never know either of these facts. The alcohol acted as a suppressant for his bipolar symptoms so the symptoms were never present. Sadly, my "Other Dad" made it clear to me in August of 2004 during one of our usual talks that he did not want professional help for either his alcoholism or his bipolar disorder. He felt that accepting help would label him as "crazy." I tried to reassure him that no one would think of him as crazy, but his mind was made up. We had that last year together and I am so thankful that we did, a year though filled with typical run of the mill days was the best year of my life. There was so much wisdom that he imparted to me, so many days of our morning talks, of his tall tales, of small things like the coconut patties he often brought back from his business trips to Miami. While he never showed the side of him that was struggling, I knew it was there, always in the background, always in the back of my mind. Throughout the summer of 2005 he made a few attempts at suicide but thankfully he never succeeded.
The last day that I saw my "Other Dad" alive was July 7th, 2005. My friends dropped me off at the beach club late that afternoon with him and my "sisters." We took a long walk together on the beach and then we had dinner on the deck, the five of us. Mason and I talked about everything and nothing. We mainly talked about my going off to Anna Maria College the following month and he told me how proud he was of me, and told me how important my education was, and to never take it for granted. He told me all the great things he knew I would accomplish in and out of college. After dinner we headed back to my second Mom's and we continued talking about routine stuff. He did a few chores including vacuuming the house. The last picture I have of him is of him dancing with the vacuum cleaner.
We put my "sisters" to bed and we stayed up talking about his taking the girls to Maine to his parents' house the next day, about my leaving for dance camp the next day. I don't remember what else we talked about but we never seemed to run out of things to say to each other. At 10:00 p.m. my friend called to say that he had returned to the house and was in the driveway. I told my "Other Dad" that my ride was back. I told him that I should go since we both had an early day the next day. He agreed and I headed for the sliding glass door. I turned to tell him that I loved him and he asked me to give him a hug.
Two things really alarmed me about that, first that he was never really a physically affectionate person, and second, the tone in his voice, which made my stomach catch. When I turned around he was on his knees (so that he would be at my height). I walked over and dove into his arms. He held me for what must have been several minutes. He told me over and over again how much he loved me; I told him how much I loved him. I begged him not to let go of me. I knew deep down that if he let go and if I left that I would never see him again. Finally he whispered to me that it was time. He had to pull me off of him. I walked out the door knowing I would never see him alive again. I went off to dance camp as planned.
In late August I left for Anna Maria College. Once I settled into college we talked every day twice a day and he seemed to be doing well. He seemed genuinely happy. I was relieved to hear him sounding upbeat and positive. Underneath that relief, however, was a feeling I could not shake. In mid-October, 2005, my second father text messaged me, and while I won't share the contents of that text message, I will say that the message was one saying goodbye. I knew when I received it that he was not going to win his battles that he had been fighting for more than a year. I knew that he was about to succumb to his demons. I knew the end was at hand. I knew that I should call someone to go check on him, but decided that I needed to focus on college and on my studies, and I never acted on that text message.
Every time my cell phone or my dorm phone rang I prepared myself for the phone call I knew was coming. Finally, two weeks later, the phone call came. I thought I was prepared enough to accept the news, but I learned that no matter how prepared you think you are, there is nothing that prepares you for learning that a person you loved more than words can describe has committed suicide. That was one of the two worst days of my life. Getting the phone call and having to face knowing that I would never again be able to sit and talk with him every morning, or laugh with him, or hug him was absolutely devastating. On November 7th, 2005, my "second father," my "Other Dad," my clown, my cheerleader, my confidant, my protector, my rock, my safe place became too tired to fight anymore, and took his life and entered into eternal rest with God and the angels.
He fought as long and as hard as he could and he faced every day with a smile, no matter how much he was hurting. He did the best that he could each day. He lived each day to the fullest that he was able. He was a devoted husband, a loving father, and a friend to so many people. He was the person you wanted to know and wanted in your life. I was blessed to have Mason in my life for the three years that I did; they were three wonderful years with a man who changed my life for the better.
Over the course of the last six years I have felt his loss, some days more than others. In the beginning, the emotional pain and the feelings of abandonment and rejection were searing. The worst feeling I experienced was the feeling of being alone, of feeling like no one understood what I was feeling. I knew that people didn't know what to say to me or how to treat me once I returned to campus and I expected that. What I didn't expect was the feeling of complete isolation. I stayed to myself a lot in the first year; I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable.
After a while I began to feel angry. I was angry at God for taking my second father, angry at God for putting me through yet another trial in my life. Angry that I didn't know how to cope, and angry at how emotionally exhausted I was. For me, it was easier to feel angry than to feel sad and to cry. After some time, especially as my senior year of college approached, the tears began to fall. The tears came with the passing of the first milestone, my 21st birthday. My 21st birthday was the first birthday that he missed in three years. The tears became more at the realization that he would not see me graduate from college the way he had made me promise that I would. Most days I did not let myself feel his loss. With each passing day I adopted the mantra given to me by my mentor: "He made a choice to die, I'm making the choice to live."
At first, that is all it was, a statement to help me to get through each day. As time wore on and graduation edged closer that mantra became my way of life. I started getting up every day and living life to the fullest, the way I knew he would want me to. I cannot honestly say what prompted the change other than the fact that I got tired of feeling bad. I decided to stop isolating myself and became more involved in campus life, and I socialized more and found myself laughing and smiling almost every day. There were still days when I would have a moment of sadness because something reminded me of him, but for the most part I was happy.
Today, as I work to complete my Masters Degree in Youth Ministry, as much as I miss my "Other Dad," I can say that I am living a life that I know he would be proud of. Most importantly, I am living life that I am proud of. He gave me the strength and courage to be the person I am today; in that way his memory lives on and will continue to live on forever.
At the end of each day he would always tell me he loved me. He would give me that Cheshire Cat smile and would say, "'Today Is Done, Tomorrow Is Another Adventure.' I love you."
Every night, I as drift off to sleep, I always say, "Tonight Is Done, Tomorrow Is Another Adventure," and I always tell him in the secret of my heart, "I Love You, Today, Tomorrow, and Always." Rest in the peace of the Lord now, good and faithful servant.
I thought of you with love today,
but that is nothing new.
I thought about you yesterday,
and the day before that, too.
I think of you in silence,
I often say your name,
But all I have are memories
and your picture in a frame.
Your memory is my keepsake,
with which I'll never part.
God has you in his keeping,
I have you in my heart.
I shed tears for what might have been,
a million times I've cried.
If love alone could have saved you,
you never would have died.
In life I loved you dearly,
in death I love you still,
In my heart you hold a place
no one could ever fill.
It broke my heart to lose you,
but you didn't go alone,
For part of me went with you,
the day God took you home.
The Golden Gate stood open
He saw that you were getting tired,
and a cure was not to be,
So He put his arms around you,
and whispered, "Come with Me".
With tearful eyes we watched you suffer
and saw you fade away.
Although we loved you dearly,
we could not make you stay.
A golden heart stopped beating
hard working hands put to rest,
God broke our hearts to prove to us
that he only takes the best.
- Author unknown
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide or feelings of suicidal idealization, please visit: http://suicidehotlines.com/national.html
1 800 SUICIDE
There is help available. There are people who care about you, I care about you.