By: Parshae Robateau
Here I am having the time of my life at yet another quarantine party in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m calling friends and relatives to check in on them, hoping I could bring them a bit of happiness and positive light. The night was going great– but of course all good things must come to an end. By the time I call my brother, all of the light had left my body. With steady calmness in his voice, he’s informed me there had been a death in the family. As I took a step back from the crowded party to process his words, I couldn’t help to think about our last memories together. Little did I know, my last drink of the night would be in mourning of my father’s death.
Wilfred C. Robateau passed the morning of March 21st, 2020. They say the cause was heart failure, but after learning about my fathers other underlying health conditions, I knew he’d given up. He was in and out of hospital for the past five years and each was the reasoned for him neglecting his health. The morning after, my brother called again to check on me and to discuss my father’s arrangement during the coronavirus. He took it upon himself to handle my father’s arrangements since my eldest brother was incarcerated and I live in a different state. Instead of grieving, I felt angry. It’s been five years since I’d seen or heard from my father and even longer since we’d had an actual conversation. I felt our father, daughter bond shifting on a downward slope after my parents divorce when I was twelve years old; I felt as if he didn’t want to be a father without being a husband. My brother and I both agreed that the best option was to have him cremated since funeral and memorial services were not allowed during the coronavirus pandemic. He thought it would be nice to spread our father’s ashes between his children but I thought it was best to keep his remains in one container as it would bring us all together if we ever wanted to visit him.
My most fondest memories of my father were when he had us for the weekends. My two older brothers and I were in a tug of war between two single parents. Every Friday afternoon, my father would come to the Union Train Station in Los Angeles to pick us up and take us to his East L.A. home. There stood a widespread one-story brick house. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an open area that held our dining room, laundry room, and kitchen all together. Each room connected together by a short-stack of stairs. Some going up and some going down, just enough to stumble into the next room and fall into the darkness because we were too lazy to flip the light switch. Every few years, my father switched up the color of the house based on his mood. Orange, brown, pink, and baby blue were four out of nine outrageous paint colors for a house in a rough neighborhood. The cross streets read 94th Street and Hoover Avenue; this is where I spent the best years of my childhood.
Saturday mornings, I’d tag along with him to work when he was still the head mechanic at AARCO and then to the barbershop to get cleaned up for our “Daddy-Daughter Date”. My brothers preferred to spend the day at home playing video games and reenacting wrestling moves from Wrestle Mania, but I’d follow our father around running errands and picking up car parts for work. Later on Saturday evenings, we’d go to the movies, and after, go to dinner to catch up on him pursuing his career of owning his own auto body shop and what was expected of me for the next week in school.
Years would pass and we’d stop seeing much of our father. The weekend visits stopped and the phone conversations became shorter. He made promises to me and my brothers he would not keep and never dared to apologize for letting us down. Our father started become a stranger towards us. It’s like he didn’t want to tell us “No” when we’d ask him to come to our high school graduations or our basketball games; rather he’d wait until the day of to not show up or call ahead of time to say he wasn’t coming. When he did call, they would end quickly with acknowledged dead air in between words and moments of silence. I remember one time I called him after school, excited to tell him about my cheerleading competition. The phone call only lasted 30 seconds; he cut me off as I was explaining the details, “That’s great sweetheart . . okay . . I love you, bye.” A little piece of my heart would break each time he rushed me off the phone or would not call me or my brothers.
As a child, I would have countless nights wanting to ask my mother why she and my father weren’t married anymore, but I think I was afraid of what she might say or if she would say, “I’ll tell you later.” There was a day she was home all day and that day I wanted answers. I begged my brothers to ask her and let me in on the family secret. I guess she felt it was easier telling them because they were older and more understanding than I was at that age. As loving and gentle as our father was, he was very abusive towards our mother and the multiple drugs he was on at the time, when I was just seven years old, influenced him to overreact towards the smallest conflicts. My brothers told me our mother didn’t want us to know too much about our father’s violent addiction nor the nasty details about him beating on our mother. I found myself slowly pulling away from her, realizing if something is bad, she will never tell me the truth about something if she can help it.
When I turned 18 and was able to drive on my own, I went to Inglewood, CA to visit him. Turned out we now had a heroin-addicted stepmother and a nine-year-old brother name Kobe’; our father was sick and jobless. Something definitely happened overtime for him to have given up on his dreams and his health. Our father was never known to tell his children the whole truth about our family affairs, but I was certain I would find out soon because family will always expose the truth over one’s death-bed.
I had been angry with my father for so long, that hearing about his death made me more upset. Here I am on the phone speaking with my brother and my mother, pacing back and forth, asking them all the questions I wanted to ask my father. It didn’t matter what they told me, it didn’t make me feel any sort of relief because the words were not coming from my father. I felt unloved and unwanted; an unparented child. Both told me I needed to forgive my father for his wrong doings, but I’m having a hard time accepting. As a child, we look up to our parents and expect them to be there when we need them most. But parents need their children’s helping hand as well, my father was just too stubborn to admit he needed help; that is if he ever wanted it.
Left as a teenager and now an adult, I know the true story of my father and the life he chose to live. I assumed he didn’t want to father his children any longer, only to find out he was keeping his health hidden from his family. Here I am left with an empty space and empty thoughts of my father; emotions and feeling disappointed because he wouldn’t let himself open up and be honest about who he truly is. His struggle to connect with his children was obvious for me at a young age and now that I’m older I understand that maybe he never had the strength to be a father. My only wish was to make him proud and hopefully then he would want to be my dad again, but now I will never get the chance.