I had a proud mama moment last week. My oldest had placed first in his grade in his school’s Fun Run, which meant that during the half hour each grade had to run, he completed the most laps. He was proud that he had not only done more laps than everyone in first grade but also in the second and third. We used it as a lesson to talk about how important endurance is, after he questioned how he could have beat out other kids who are usually faster than he is when they race on the playground. His grin of pride melted my heart.
But, it also made me think back to what I heard all the time when I was growing up.
Oh, you are your father’s daughter, you must be a runner.
In the small town where I grew up, my father was known as the runner. After several illnesses that should have killed him and close to twenty different surgeries, he wanted to devote his life to physical fitness, healthy eating, and helping those who were dealing with the same illness he had. He was a widely-liked teacher and ran everywhere, always training. He ran marathons including the Boston Marathon several times, every local road race, was selected to carry the Olympic torch when it came through our area during one of the Olympics, and coached track.
One year, he ran across the country over the course of a month, raising money for cancer research. I was only 4 at the time and I remember that trip.
Doesn’t he sound like such an amazing man?
He loved the press- loved them telling his story and presenting himself as one who wanted to “do something socially significant.” He would say that he didn’t mind the pain and suffering of such a long distance run if only it would ease the suffering of a cancer patient.
He knew how to turn a phrase.
As I was growing up, when people in our town would hear my last name, they would make comments about how I must be a runner, too.
And for a while, I was. Because running in races with your 7 year old daughter with her ponytails swishing from side to side made for a good story for the papers. And going on runs with her around town would show everyone what a caring father he was. That he was someone to be trusted.
What people didn’t know…
…what they didn’t see behind that great running teacher, was that after so many surgeries, he had become addicted to pain pills. An addiction that would make him steal prescription pads from doctors and fill those prescriptions at various pharmacies all over the area so that no one would catch on, especially not when the name on the prescription would be for one of his parents. An addiction that led him to steal pills from the homes of people who knew him as that nice runner and would let him stop in to use their bathrooms when he was out on one of his runs… especially if he had one of his kids with him and it was them who had to use the bathroom.
Sometimes, he’d get caught. But he’d tell a sob story about just how hard everything was, how badly he hurt and he’d apologize profusely. And he would be forgiven for it. Countless people let it go because he was such a nice man.
Until he got caught by someone who wasn’t so forgiving and he ended up in jail. He lost his job, he lost the respect that he had in the community, and our family fell apart.
I went from being the runner’s daughter to being the drug addict’s daughter.
And I didn’t want anything to do with things that people associated him with. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew it wouldn’t be a teacher. And though I was a good runner, I stopped.
My father was still part of my life for many years after that and I did still love him. But I didn’t want everyone to instantly think of me as his daughter. I wanted to be my own person and judged on my own merit, not by his mistakes.
It’s been about six years since I last spoke to my father. Though I forgave him for the mentally abusive way that he often treated my brothers and me, I couldn’t overlook that(according to my own opinion and views) he had never actually given up his addiction, despite his claims otherwise. And I couldn’t expose my children to that sort of behavior.
Though I have since learned that I could have things in common with him, like being a teacher or a runner or helping raise money for a charity, and not become like him.
Note: the details of this story are as I remember them as a child. Other family members may view these differently and some facts may be incorrect as I can only write my own experience- and when we write something from our childhoods, it’s entirely possible to get details wrong. But, this is how I see this story.
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