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There is a difference between being a Dad and being a Father. For the first fifteen years of my life, I had a Dad. He raised me up when I was down, scolded me when I deserved it, funny when appropriate and even sometimes when not, and loved me unconditionally.

It wasn’t just me either. My five year old sister Grace, my one year old sister Zoey, and my three month old sister Eva were all apples in his eye. He was an amazing man.

In fact, there was only one person Dad loved more than his daughters: my Mom.

My parents were the quintessential high school sweethearts. They had me when they were each seventeen, but with the support of all my grandparents – God rest their souls – they were both able to go to college and launch successful careers, he as an actuary to analyze financial risk at the bank in which he works (or as he calls it: money puzzles) and she as an IT information system manager. It lasted until they were comfortable enough financially to try for a boy.

As I grew older, my parents were the foundation to my life. They were always there in a helpful and supportive way from dance classes to school to puberty to my first menstrual cycle to my first crush – nothing had happened and they didn’t give me the full blown sex talk, but it was nice to know why my body was developing in certain areas, even moreso than my friends, and why I all of a sudden thought Bobby Parker was cute.

The summer in which I was fifteen, I found out what it was like to have a Father.

I was watching my sisters so my Mom could run an errand. It was only supposed to last a half hour, but as a half hour became hours and my phone calls went unanswered, I knew something was amiss. It became exponentially so when my Dad didn’t come home at his usual time. I managed with my sisters, doing my best to temper their worries, but not controlling my own. Dad finally arrived at ten thirty at night.

“Dad? Where’s Mom?”

Father’s response was a guttural growl of anger as he flipped one followed by another dining room chair. I didn’t stay for what came next.

For the next three days, Father left early and stayed out late, leaving me with taking care of my sisters. If I wasn’t around, I doubt they would have had anybody to care for them.

A closed casket funeral. That was the day the truth was laid bare before me. Mom walked into the bank which startled the bank robber. He turned and fired several shots and she didn’t have a chance – and I no longer had a Mom.

I had to cope alone. It was obvious Father was struggling, a shell of the man he was just four days ago. He would look at his daughters and I saw it in his eyes. We reminded him of her but we were also the reminder that he couldn’t kill himself to be with her. His staying away made sense.

Neither of my parents had siblings and all my grandparents had passed, so without Father, it left me to be the one to tell Grace, Zoey, and Eva. I mean, how do you tell a five year old, a one year old, and a three month old they will never see their Mom again.

After the funeral, Father’s disappearing act did not end. He’d leave early for work and then stay out late. Anytime I tried to talk, his reaction was the same ferocious howl and a violent act of throwing something. There was no plan for his daughters. When the fridge was bare, I finally acted; stealing the emergency credit card from his sock drawer.

*

Pushing a two seat stroller and a shopping cart with Grace in the seat proved difficult and I imagine that wasn’t because I was fifteen. It also took two walking trips to the grocery store, one just so I could return the shopping cart.

*

My cooking skills were rudimentary, to say the least. It also didn’t take long for me to miss Mom’s feasts. Hot dogs and frozen pizzas everyday was a bland existence that I needed to change.

God Bless the Food Network and the internet. That combination saved, not only myself, but my sister’s stomachs from a life of ground up pig parts and grease. I was very good at following the instructions on a recipe.

*

I will never forget the day I knew I was never going to have a typical teenage life.

It was the first day of school, and after the summer I had of dealing with Mom’s murder and the subsequent fallout, I was ready for a sense of normalcy. Reconnect with friends, homework, and maybe steal a few glances at Bobby Parker was all on my agenda. I put on my black skirt and white top – it wasn’t new, but it was the best I had – styled and curled my black hair, applied some eyeshadow around my brown eyes, a light pink lipstick, picked my best necklace and earring set – a silver heart combination – and then double checked myself in my mirror. I looked good, ready to take on Hilldale High as a sophomore.

My door opened from behind me, “Quinn?”

I turned to Grace with a smile and an excited tone, “Are you ready for your first day of school, too?”

Grace shook her head.

“Oh, don’t be like that.” I then smiled bigger, “I know, ataşehir escort why don’t you and I go to your room to find something cute for you to wear so you can make it through the day?” I took Grace’s hand and guided her back to her room. I knew exactly which of her outfits to grab; her favorite, a purple and pink butterfly shirt and matching pants. “How about this one?”

Grace smirked as she nodded.

I helped her get dressed and rushed downstairs; I had to hurry to the bus stop. I got to the door when I heard Eva cry from upstairs. In the seconds that followed, I didn’t hear Father upstairs, or anywhere for that matter. A quick glace to the driveway told me what I already knew; he was gone, the only car in the driveway was Mom’s Ford Explorer… and if I didn’t hurry getting Zoey and Eva ready, making something for everyone for breakfast, Grace would be late for school… and then I’d have to watch Zoey and Eva all day.

I cried myself to sleep that night.

*

I made it my mission to get my license. I watched every course I could find online as well as any practice test. I practiced with Mom’s Explorer in the subdivision and bribed my neighbor to pretend to be Father to take me to the driving test and watch my sisters as I completed what I needed to do. I was truly happy when my license arrived, because walking to stores, doctors offices, and the pharmacies was untenable.

*

“You’re more like a Mommy than a sister.”

I looked in the rearview mirror to see Grace in her pink booster seat brushing the hair of her doll just as I did for her. “I don’t know about all that.”

Grace’s face frowned.

“Grace, what wrong?”

“I want to call you Mommy like Zoey and Eva do.” Grace didn’t pause in her brushing. “I miss her.”

Eva was barely one, so her vocabulary was limited. I mean, I saw her call the coffee table Da Da before, so anything but Ma Ma for me would have not been possible. Zoey called me Mommy sparingly and only whenever Eva said it. I’d correct her, but it felt more like a game. This was different. This was Grace in an emotional pain over our Mom. I wiped the tear from my eye.

“Do you think it would help if you called me that?” I honestly didn’t know how to respond, but if it helped…

“Yeah,” Grace glanced up at me with a hesitant smile, “Mommy.”

I grinned, “Okay.”

Grace’s face contorted to jubilation, “Thanks, Mommy.”

“You’re welcome.”

Was that truly the right way to handle it? I don’t know. I had always corrected Zoey because I didn’t want to trample on Mom’s name. But seeing Grace so happy about it, I mentally changed my outlook to that of I am honoring her name. I’m acting as she would in the care of my sisters.

After that conversation, I no longer corrected Zoey and I became Mommy to all three of my siblings.

*

My life became a routine. Get up, get kids ready, make breakfast, get whichever kids off to school, come back home, clean, do laundry, pick up kids, make dinner, help with homework, get kids to bed, and then stay up watching some late shows or a romantic comedy just until Father walked in the door to make sure he actually walked in the door before going to bed myself. It only changed slightly when Eva was finally off to kindergarten, with me being able to pursue my GED with online courses in the day. My world revolved around my sisters with not much time for myself.

Which lead to my non existent love life. Although I was interested, I knew romance was not coming my way; or, as I became more curious, even a one night stand… You should have seen the baggage clerk when I asked him out – ran like a deer in headlights saying he had to use the bathroom. Granted, I would have had to take my siblings on any date with me, but yeah, it became a choice: focus on family or focus on my hormonal needs. I have fingers.

In my passings with Father, I never mentioned any of my day to him, and anything I did say, like, “How was your day?” or “Dinners in the fridge,” (which he never ate) or even “Good night,” was met with generic one word answers.

Truthfully, I wasn’t resentful. Was my life what I imagined my teenage years would be? Definitely not. But I found my happiness, a sense of pride instilling Mom and Dad’s values into my sisters. I was the foundation to the family, to help my siblings grow and for Father to have all the time he needed to grieve. Yes, I’d like the man I knew to come back, but he needed time and I loved him enough to give it to him.

Perhaps it was because of what occurred happened so early in my life? When I grew up all I wanted to be was an ice cream truck driver and marry a Jonas brother. That outlook didn’t have the chance to change to something more tangible and concrete. There was no hope or dream to crush. At fifteen, I was a Mom to my sisters and a homemaker to a man I loved who was rarely home but ensured all the bills were paid on time… and I know because I opened every piece of mail just to be sure. By the time I was kadıköy escort nineteen, that life was ingrained into my very soul.

*

“Mommy, can you help me with this one?”

Math sucks. Even fifth grade math. I hate fractions.

I glanced at the timer for my bread crumb encrusted baked chicken – the kids love the crunch – to see it had five minutes left in the oven. I went over to Grace, pointing at the problem, “What you do is…”

Yeah, I could do it… I just didn’t like it.

“And how is your homework coming, Zoey?”

“Almost,” Zoey whispered to herself, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth proving how focused she was. It’s adorable every time I see it. Her hand suddenly flung in the air, holding up her worksheet, “Can I go play now?”

“You can start setting the table, dinners about to be done.” I eyed her sheet, verifying all was well as she groaned but still moved to the drawer with the silverware.

“Oh, that’s a pretty picture, Eva,” I smiled before moving back to the oven to pull out the chicken. “When your done, we can put that on the fridge.”

The front door opened, startling me enough to almost drop the chicken. Not because it was loud or it got slammed, just the sheer unexpectedness of it.

“Daddy!” Eva dropped her crayon and ran to him.

Zoey quickly set down the silverware and followed.

Both of them just happy to see him when they could.

I was nervous, as I was prepared to be protective of them if they needed it. He never showed his anger to them, per se, but his demeanor did show how uncomfortable he was around them. Grace was another story… he was going to lose her soon if he didn’t start showing her some semblance of care. She stood at her seat, but didn’t go over to him.

Father did as he always did whenever he came home and they were awake; he patted them on the head, his demeanor uncomfortable for the briefest of moments before stepping through them in his mission to get what he needed before he left again.

“I forgot something,” Father mumbled.

I corralled Zoey and Eva, “All right kids, dinners ready. Zoey, finish setting the table, Eva pick up your crayons.”

“Okay, Mommy,” both echoed as they did as I instructed.

My Father stopped in his tracks, eyeing me suspiciously.

I pretended to ignore it as I cut up Zoey and Eva’s chicken before adding a small scoop of steamed broccoli and a dollop of melted cheddar to their plate. “And I don’t want to hear it about the broccoli today,” I announced as I set down the plates on the table.

Father went upstairs before reappearing in the kitchen doorway, just taking in the scene.

Grace picked at a piece of broccoli before taking a bite of the chicken, “The chicken is good, Mom.”

“Thanks.” But her little dalliance with the broccoli didn’t go unnoticed. “But you still need to eat the broccoli.”

Grace sighed before shoving the green vegetable in her mouth. “This is so gross.”

Although Grace’s mouth was full, I understood what she said. I didn’t care. She was eating it, so I wasn’t going to cause a war about it. Besides, I always sat on the end of the table with Zoey on one side and Eva on the other. I had my hands full already.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Grace… and be grateful when someone takes their time to cook something for you.”

It was Father… or more like Dad from long ago. I watched him carefully as he took his coat off, hanging it on the back of the dining chair before he went into the kitchen. He soon came back to the table with a plate of chicken and broccoli of his own – my lunch for tomorrow – and sat at the other end of the table, next to Grace and across from me.

Father reached over and hugged Grace tightly for a moment and I remembered what that felt like just seeing it. I saw the warmth and compassion in him, it radiated from his presence, and Grace nearly shed a tear at the affection. “Now apologize to your,” he hesitated before finishing, “Mom.”

Grace had a genuine smile as she looked at me, “Sorry, Mom.”

“It’s okay.” Some emotion leaked out in my response, but it was inevitable after what had occurred.

Father, err, Dad stayed throughout dinner, and was surprisingly talkative. He spoke more in twenty minutes than he had in the past four years combined. It was more than the cliche of a switch turning on… It was as if a switch that was turned off because a fuse was broke and when the fuse got replaced, the switch turned on as if nothing was ever wrong, if that makes any sense. His words were of wonder to Grace, Zoey, and Eva, encouraging all three to open up about school and things they liked. So much so that he had to remind them they were at dinner when they all wanted to show him something they each found to be precious.

I wanted to speak with him as well, tell him about everything and nothing just like my sisters were able to converse. But no… All I got was this peculiar look, and it seemed like it was after bostancı escort bayan every time one of the kids said the word Mom or Mommy. Everytime he stared; it was almost like he was trying to convince himself of whatever he was thinking, and with each look, the certainty becoming more clear.

I took a breath, happy for my siblings for having a Dad, at least for one night, hoping this will continue, regardless if I’m left out or not. They need him.

*

I heard the deep breath before the footsteps from behind which was followed with a hand being placed on my shoulder.

I tensed up, knowing whatever Father was thinking throughout dinner, was now upon me. I wanted him back as he was, got my wish tonight, and now was the ramifications.

In the hushed moment, all I could do was concentrate on washing the plate in my hands. My body may have developed into a woman, but he was still nearly a foot taller than me.

“What’s going on here?”

The words were a breath in my ear, his tone a deep questioning to what was, until he arrived, a fairly typical evening. Not having been around him too often these past four years, I felt at a disadvantage in this moment. I couldn’t read him… And he was still my Dad… Father… I don’t know anymore… but even from when I was a child, I wasn’t used to this. To him, I was an adult now and he was talking to me like one for the first time in my life. I truly didn’t know how to react. My frustration was mounting because it felt like he was questioning me in regards to how I raised my sisters.

I steadied myself against the counter as I put the plate in the drainer and turned off the water. Were the dishes done? No, but there wasn’t much left and I felt too uneasy to continue. I turned, “I’m not sure what you mean?” My words were irritated as I moved past him to wipe the table. Fine, be a Dad to them and not me; whatever, but don’t question me about how I handled being thrust into being a parent to my siblings. That’s your fault.

Father grabbed my wrist and demanded I face him with a pull. “Are you trying to replace your Mom?”

I was scared for half a heartbeat… a breath of a moment until I caught his eyes. “I don’t…” I truly didn’t. Not under his interrogating gaze.

Father’s grip strengthened. It wasn’t enough to hurt, but it was enough to show I needed to answer as he echoed his question again. “Are you trying to replace your Mom?”

Was I truly trying to replace Mom? No… My sisters needed me to be Mom. That was the difference. But this was getting infuriating. I didn’t even want a thank you from the man, but the hounding of me was offensive. I did the best I could; what more could he possibly want? “Well someone had to!” The words rushed from my throat and were spoken in a more heated tone than I had intended, but they were the truth. Someone had to be the parent in this household. I pulled from his grasp, shucking him away as I went to wipe the counter.

Father stepped torward me again, his hand resting on my waist. This time, his touch was completely different. It wasn’t forceful, nor was it meant to be intimidating. It felt warm, loving. Like he needed to hold me somewhere… and it completely crumbled my defenses. “We need to talk in private.”

As Father led me first to the living room and then toward the stairs, I saw Grace watching television while Zoey and Eva were playing a game on the floor. “Grace, watch your sisters, please; your Dad and I need to discuss something.” After all I witnessed, and his combativeness, it didn’t feel right to call him just Dad… I added the modifier ‘Your’ out of spite. The effect seemed lost as I felt him smile as I spoke.

“Okay, Mom.”

Father finished our trek in his bedroom. He let me go in front of his bed and I turned to face him. He took one final breath before he spoke again, “You are trying to replace your Mom.”

It wasn’t a question and I seriously wondered what I owned up to. My hands instinctively went to my hips in a preparedness to unleash everything that I’ve been through in four years… not that I regret any of it, but for simple courtesy.

In a blink of an eye, my world was turned upside down. Father kissed me. His lips pressed against mine with a soft touch full of need while his arms embraced all that I was, one hand allowing a gentle rub at the base of my neck while the other was placed firmly just above my butt.

I was shocked into oblivion. It truly was my first kiss… and it was with my Father. As he continued, I felt his desperation; his arms tightening, his lips pressing harder, his mouth parting, his tongue pressing against my barrier. Now I understood what was going on with him. He wasn’t mad, he was hoping. That peculiar look all evening long was hope. He needed me to be replacing Mom.

Did I want this?

Did I want the happy Dad back in my life, or at the very least, in my sisters lives?

This choice was still mine. If I reject Father now, I’m certain he’d stop and leave. If I accept, I’m certain he’d stay, and be who he was tonight. What did I want?

The answer came easier than I thought. Perhaps because I was willing to make the leap with my siblings already, so why should Father be any different? I am the foundation for this family.

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