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Different Dad This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Looking back, I realize there were times when I was extremely upset with my dad for never visiting me. My parents were never married, which made getting to know my father difficult. Every few months he'd take me out to eat, but the conversations would always be forced. He'd ask, “Any boys I should be worried about?” and I'd reply “No, Dad” in a bored voice. His response would always be, “Hey, just got to ask.” Then we'd go back to eating in silence.

During these silent moments, I would sneak glances as he ate his hamburger and drank his soda. I saw all the tattoos that covered his arms and legs. Whenever I saw him he seemed to have a new one. Once he had to have one of his tattoos changed since it was of his ex-wife. It was at that moment that I realized he would have to live with all those tattoos forever, even when he didn't want them anymore.

I also noticed my father playing with his tongue piercing whenever things got awkward or he had nothing to say. I was both fascinated and disgusted by the tiny silver ball inside his mouth. During car rides, I wouldn't talk much because I was too busy thinking about everything that made him different from all the dads I knew.

When he dropped me off at home, he would always say “Sorry things didn't work out and we don't see each other that often.” My response was ­always, “It's all right, I don't mind.” But the thing was, I did mind. I minded that he asked me the same lifeless questions every time we saw each other. I minded that he had so many tattoos. I minded that he had his tongue pierced. And I minded that he went through apartments and girlfriends like I read books. I minded because he didn't look or act like a dad. He acted like a teenager. It felt like I was the kid, not him. Since we continuously struggled to find things to talk about, we stopped making plans. If I could go back, I would have tried to see him more and get to know him better.

Our relationship has been as if he were a patient in a hospital. When someone is in the hospital, or your parents separate, you visit pretty frequently – maybe every weekend or so. Then after a while, your trips to the hospital become less and less. But in the case of my father and me, he literally sees the inside of a hospital more than he sees his own daughter.

The first time I learned about his illness, I was about 12. My mom took me to visit him in the hospital. The visit lasted 15 minutes, with half of it spent staring at the TV in his room. Except for looking a bit tired, he seemed fine to me. I had no idea that his heart was dying and that three years from that day he would be hospital-bound, unable to function without a machine pumping his heart. No one explained what was going on, so I thought his visit at the hospital was a one-time thing. Boy, I was so wrong.

A year ago, my mom woke me one night because my stepmother was on the phone. She explained that my dad might not make it through the night because he had had a stroke. I remember wanting to cry, but couldn't even though I should have. I remember driving to the hospital in my pajamas, wondering if I would have a dad in the morning.

It wasn't until after I got home from seeing him that I finally cried. I cried for all the times we hadn't hung out, and all the empty conversations we had had. I cried because instead of seeing my dad in that hospital bed, I saw a person who had slowly faded from my life.

Sometimes I see photos of us together, and I try to imagine what was happening when the picture was taken. It really bothers me that I can't actually remember. In my head the photos transform into homemade videos. Although they don't actually exist, I imagine my father and me sitting on a couch in my parents' apartment, just fooling around and talking. In my fake movie, I am about three years old, which means my dad is twenty-five. I am a curious little girl with short, curly hair, and my father is a young man. I imagine myself talking to him as I look at the camera. The person taking the video would be my mom, and she would be laughing and talking in that voice parents only use around little kids. The movie would be faded and distorted from being played too many times.

Now my dad has had his heart transplant, and he's home; I think he's the best he's ever been. He might not be able to talk or walk very well because of the stroke, but he's trying. We've been working on making new memories and spending time together. When he tries to talk to me, I can tell he gets frustrated when the words don't come out of his mouth. Now even though he asks me the same questions he used to, like “So, any boys I should be worried about?” in his new, softer voice, they mean so much more because he needs to fight to speak every word, whereas before they meant nothing to either of us. Now I find myself holding on to every word he says, so I can understand what he's trying to say. And I don't mind anymore.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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