The notice was sent to my work email the day after Thanksgiving. Because the individual who had written it was not in my contacts, it went straight to the junk box. Had it not been for the subject line, I would have deleted it without blinking.
But the subject line made me pause long enough to care.
Frank Alameda Jr.
Just the name and nothing more. The sender was an individual I didn’t recognize. The email address was obscure but it didn’t matter. My gut told me exactly what this was about. I clicked the email open and confirmed my hunch.
First let me express my sympathy for the subject of this email.
My father had passed away. The author of the email me was a funeral director asking me to contact him about what to do next, an interesting circumstance for me given one very good reason.
I never knew my father.
Frank Alameda and my mother divorced long before I could remember and their marriage, from what I understood, did not end amicably. The only image I ever had of him was from pictures taken of the two of us during the first two years of my life. That’s not to say my mother hid me from him. That’s to say he never chose to see me. To be fair though, my father did send me Christmas cards up until the age of 14. After that, nothing. Not that it bothered me.
It never bothered me.
Growing up, my mother did her best to explain why they had divorced. She would ask me if I had any questions. I never did mostly because I never cared. By that point she had remarried, our lives had moved on, and Frank Alameda was merely a footnote in my life. A name on paper and nothing more. It stayed that way for a while, a long while, until two months after Baby Girl was born.
When the number popped up on my cell phone I didn’t recognize it. I let it go to voicemail. It was my father’s sister, my aunt, a woman whom I had not seen or heard from since the first time I remember meeting her in seventh grade. She told me Frank Alameda was in hospice care in Indianapolis. Cancer. It didn’t look good. She wanted to know if I would be interested in flying out to see him before the inevitable. I called her back and said thanks, but no thanks. She said she understood.
About 48 hours later, I was on a plane to Indianapolis. The reason for my change of heart of simple. I had wondered about this scenario. What if, years down the road, Baby Girl asked me whether I had sought out my father before he passed. How could I justify not seeing him before he died especially if I knew where he was? How would she react to that? No, I wanted to tell her that I had done the right thing. The right thing was saying goodbye.
It hadn’t been hard to track him down. The magic of the internet helped me discover his location pretty quickly. When I got off the plane, I rented a car and drove straight to his complex. I rang the bell, heard his voice on the intercom, introduced myself by my name not my relation, and was buzzed in.
He was waiting for me outside his door in the hallway. It was like staring into a mirror if the mirror had come from forty years in the future. My father and I looked very much alike. I introduced myself again, shook his hand, and realized quickly that something was off. He had no idea who I was. So when we entered his small one bedroom apartment, I told him I was his son. There was a stunned silence followed by some stammering.
I spent the next few hours with him. I sat in a chair while he explained his love of golf. Showed him pictures of his new granddaughter. Took him out for Chinese. We never delved deeply into the big questions. It became very clear to me that his mind was jumbled. He was an unreliable narrator. His dates were all mixed up. His stories didn’t make sense. Whatever answers I was seeking, I wouldn’t find them. But the thing was, I wasn’t was really looking for answers. This was nothing more than a courtesy call. Enough to tell my daughter that, yeah, before he died, I allowed him (and me?) some closure.
He lived another five years. In that time I made no attempt to reconnect. Neither did he though that wasn’t his necessarily his fault. He had tried to get me to write down my name, address and phone number on piece of paper before I left. I wrote it in chicken scratch so he couldn’t read it. It didn’t matter. A few days after I returned home, the woman I learned was his girlfriend sent a thank-you gift to my work. The magic of the internet worked both ways.
He named that same woman his power of attorney. Before he died he gave her very explicit instructions about what to do after he passed. To her credit, she wanted me to be consulted first as I was his only next of kin. That led to the email from the funeral director. That led to me sitting in my car debating my next move.
I called the director who outlined Frank Alameda’s wishes. He confirmed that the woman agreed to take care of the costs. She just needed my permission. I gave it. I asked for no details other then cause of death. It had been natural. Frank Alameda had gone to sleep. He had not woken up. With that, I hung up the phone and wiped my hands of it.
Except, it didn’t quite leave me.
I called my mother to let her know what had happened. She reiterated to me what I already knew. I had more responsibility here than I was accepting. There was more for me to do. There were a few more calls I had to force myself to make. If nothing else, in the name of my children.
The first call was to an attorney who was advising the woman. It turned out he was cousin of mine who had met me when I was two years old, shortly after my parents had divorced. He said somewhere there was picture of him, my father and me at his wedding. We spoke for maybe twenty minutes. It was surreal.
The second call was to another cousin whom my mother had pointed me towards. She was the daughter of the aunt who had contacted me five years earlier. Around that time my cousin had gotten in touch with me through email in an effort to connect to a side of the family she had never known. I had politely passed on her offer. At the time I had no desire or curiosity to get to know my father’s family. That decision made this conversation a little awkward. By the end of it she extended another invitation to get to know her. I accepted.
The last call I made was to the woman, the girlfriend. Her first reaction was my first reaction – offering the other condolences on their loss. I didn’t know how to respond to her. She was the one who had lost someone special in her life, someone she was clearly emotionally attached to. I felt she needed to the condolences more than I did.
We spoke for while. Her view of my father was, of course, quite different from my mother’s. She told me stories of how they met twenty years ago, how she loved him, why she loved him, the impact he had made on her life. She shared his shortcomings, what he had told her about me, about how much he thought of me. None of it struck an emotional chord but was nice to hear all the same. She also informed me that there was no will, nothing of note left behind. Nothing for his grandkids to remember him by. Which seemed fitting.
By the end of it I let her know that I was allowing her to go through with whatever burial plans he wanted. She affirmed that she would take care of everything. I said thank you. We left it at that.
Then I hung up.
How do you mourn someone you didn’t know but who so was vital in your creation? An individual whom you owe half of your existence? I’m still not quite sure.
I have an idea of where Frank Alameda is buried. If I ever want to see the site it wouldn’t be difficult to find. And yet, I don’t have much curiosity in that regard. That’s not out of spite. That’s out of indifference. That’s what I am. Indifferent. After all, the day I received that email from the funeral director in Indiana, I said in my mind what I had to say.
Goodbye to the father I never knew.
Copyright 2017 Damien Alameda. All Rights Reserved.