Lessons from My Father

Photo Source: Kat Kelly.

Kat Kelly – My dad died today. Well, it wasn’t technically today, rather it was yesterday. But, I’m still awake and it is almost 2 AM on the east coast, so it’s still the same day to me.

Now, I know people aren’t usually that frank, but I like to keep things real.

I did the usual thing and posted about it on social media. While I was not looking for condolences, I received a bunch, which I do appreciate.

My dad was a strong man for most of his 85 years on this earth. I was estranged from him for about 25 of those years after a brutal divorce between he and my mother. The truth is I believed in treating him kindly, although he was not always kind to me.

One of the songs that was my “dad song” has long been Everclear’s, “Father of Mine.” It really captures some of the abandonment I felt from him. Also, after the death of my mother, he disregarded my emotions to push me aside in order to get money that he felt she had been taking from him unfairly. While I will not go into the personal dynamics of their relationships or the court orders, I will say that I don’t believe it was unfair.

After that inappropriate exchange three days after losing my mother, I wrote my dad a letter and took another break from talking to him. It was a rare occasion for people to share emotions with my dad. After all, he was a retired officer from the United States Marine Corps.

We eventually began talking again, albeit a bit less regularly.

Then came the election of 2016. That was polarizing for many of us and very polarizing for myself and the surviving members of my birth-family, my father was no exception. After the election, I stopped hearing from my father at all.

Things continued to decline after that. In the last few months of his life, I listened from a distance getting updates via text from my relatives who were caring for him and for whom I was very thankful. I offered my best advice and support for them. I tried to call my father and spoke to my step-mother periodically.

I felt like it was all business at this point. I struggled with guilt of feeling nothing pondering the end of his life.

But, the truth is, I do feel sadness. I do feel loss. I do feel relief knowing that he is not suffering. But, mostly I feel like I know how to treat people better because of how he treated me.

Many in my family would tell you how kind they remember him being. That is not the man I knew. He was not kind to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was kind enough. But, he seemed to forget that I was his daughter and not his punching bag, both figuratively and literally.

I remember a man who did the best he could. I am proud of him. And I loved him in a unique way.

I am who I am today because of him. Not because he chose to be there, but because he chose not to be for much of my life. All of that is ok now. I worked through it and he considered it “water under the bridge.”

Because he was vacant for much of my life, I am fierce, I am independent, I am loyal, I am capable, and I am strong. But, I will forever mourn the loss of my father, knowing the truth is that I lost him a long time ago. It will always be emotionally hard, but in the words of Maya Angelou, “but still, like air, I’ll rise.”

Rest in peace, major….


Kat Kelly is the daughter of a United States Marine and a Coal Miner’s Daughter and she’s really proud of both of those things.