It took me 21 years to muster up the courage to visit my father.

Here's why.

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an image of the author and her father

In 2011, I finally made the long journey to visit my father…it had been over 21 years since I had been in his presence. During the long car journey, I reflected on the two strongest childhood memories I associated with my father. First, I remembered him being there to see me crossover from being a “brownie” to a junior girl scout. In our ceremony, we walked across a moss covered bridge to our new girl scout group. My father, standing tall at 6’3 with a swagger and smile like LL Cool J, was waiting on the other side of the bridge with a big smile on his face. I still can vividly recall the pride in his eyes as he strapped the Velcro pink and grey watch he gave me as a present on my arm.

My second memory of my father is him playing barbies with me. He even helped me construct a tent in which we would both sit cross-legged under and talk about fashion and food. He would always be my best friend Skipper.

I kept those two memories close in my heart in the years leading up to my visit. Unfortunately, those are the only two memories I will ever have of my father because he was tragically taken from this world when I was nine. I still remember hearing my mother hysterically crying as she received the news.

In the early 1990’s, there was a serial killer going around killing taxi cab drivers in NYC. My father had the misfortune of being one of them. His wake and his funeral were a blur to me. However, I do remember his light blue coffin, the woman who sang Bette Midler’s “Hero”, and driving out to Long Island to Calverton National Cemetery. I do not remember crying. I was nine and in shock. How could my father be gone?

Throughout the years, I often wondered what my life would have been like if my father was still alive. My parents were divorced at the time of his death, so I knew they wouldn’t have been together, but it would have been nice to have a fatherly presence in my life. I am saddened that I never got to know him for myself. I have to depend on others in my family to tell me stories about the kind of man he was, both the good and the bad. I would have loved to form my own opinions about my father as an adult. To this day, my great-aunt always mentions what a voracious eater my father was, but I wish I could have observed that myself.

Twenty-one years after my father’s funeral, I finally mustered up enough nerve to visit his gravesite at Calverton National Cemetery so I could really say good-bye. It was hard to find him among all of the identical tombstones, but when I found him I immediately started to cry. It hit me then that my father will never know the kind of woman I turned out to be. He would never meet my future husband or children. I began to sob uncontrollably.

It made me reflect on all of the increasing gun-related deaths in the United States. We rightly mourn the deaths of those who died, but it angers me how fast society moves on. The stories of those murdered are quickly forgotten. Do we even consider the families that are left behind? My father might have been 72 years old today if a serial killer did not choose him as his next victim. As Father’s Day approaches, I mourn the fact that I will never get to let him know how much he meant to me when I was a child.

I can only hope and pray that my father is happy with the woman I have become.

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