This is the last postcard that my Dad sent to my Mum when he left us in 1962. I found it in a folder of old photographs that we have been scanning. Over the years, I had wondered how my Dad returned to the States. As a family we flew from San Francisco to Glasgow via Iceland on KLM in 1961. His departure was rarely talked about in our house because he had asked my mum’s family for money to return but then abandoned us. The money was never returned and it was a source of contention.
The written text on the postcard reveals so much about my Dad’s personality. He was undoubtedly narcissistic. He referenced the minor difficulties of boarding the SS America – ‘WHAT WITH STRIKES’ in unnecessary uppercase. There seemed to be little affection for his only daughter who was just two years old. I contrast this note with letters that my own husband sent over the years. Teddy would have expressed how desperately he was missing his wife and family.
My Dad may have felt trapped by my unwanted impending arrival in 1960. There is no excuse for his behavior but behind it lay a family history of alcoholism with both my paternal grandparents. As I gazed at the image, I wondered if my Dad felt huge relief sailing back to his homeland or regret at leaving his family. Perhaps he had fully intended to send for us and repay the borrowed money. Who knows what vicarious pleasures or habits led him astray?
Then I mused about my mum. Was she longing for him to contact us again or was there cold comfort in his absence? It must have been very hard to endure the mostly silent reproach of her family members. Of all the men in America; why did she have to marry a conman? She worked long hours to support us both until her major mental breakdown in 1971. It touched me that she never threw the postcard away, even after the divorce in 1976. She must have felt bitter about him sailing back to her beloved America on a luxury liner. Interestingly, SS America had a fascinating history of military service ending in destitution which uncannily mirrors my Dad’s life.
Then I found this telegram.
Do I sense some excitement in my Dad’s brief words in the telegram, even if he spelled my name wrong? I was born prematurely, underweight and put in an incubator – it would have been a very stressful time for both parents. My mum, who also had TB during her pregnancy, said that I looked like a skinned rabbit and I really did! If only we could go back in time and ask the right questions, there might be an answer.