I’m a Bad Daughter

I’ve been a bad daughter lately.

Let me step back…

My Dad, Joe; me; and my brother, John, at my grad school commencement from Emerson College in May 2007.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m adopted. My Mom, Liza, shared some of her insight about why she decided to put me up for adoption in one of her previous posts. An uncle and his wife adopted both my mom and I, so I was raised essentially calling my mom, my “sister.” She moved to California when I was still pretty young, I think maybe 5 or 6 years old. We didn’t see each other much, maybe every few years or so. Upon talking with her and reading her reflections about our relationship, I now have a slightly better understanding of why we had such a distant relationship for so long. It wasn’t until recently, that we’ve become closer and  I started referring to her as “mom,” which is a completely different post for another day.

My adoptive parents – Joe and Dona – were great. Just much older. They already had grown children. My “youngest” brother, John, and I are 18 years apart. He’s like my second dad. My Dad was born in 1930 and my Mom in 1924. So…if I do the math right…they were 51 and 57 when I was born. Mom would always tell the story about the judge who did the adoption. He commented that, “Why would someone your age want to adopt a child?” She always said that they didn’t believe she was that old and they took 10 years off her age on the adoption papers. Don’t know if that’s really true or not…

Mom died back in 2001. I was 20 and a sophomore in college. My dad, who is the youngest of 13 kids, is still going at 86. He lives in a senior home back in the hometown that I grew up in.

Now, we can get into why I’m a bad daughter…

Back in 1990, Dad had a really severe heart attack. Basically, doctors told him he had 10 years to live because about 1/3 of his heart tissue was dead. He was a smoker for many, many years before I came around. But once I came into the picture, he stopped, cold turkey. He swam every day at the gym (part of the reason I love the water as much as I do and I followed in his footsteps of becoming a competitive swimmer at such a young age). He’d go to his follow-up appointments and the doctors were shocked at how well he was doing. His heart actually was starting to grow new tissue. Of course, there were a few other health scares from time-to-time where we almost lost him, but for the most part, he kept a pretty healthy lifestyle going.

Once Mom died, things started to change. Money woes kicked in. (He worked for years as an anesthesiologist and then as a family practitioner in Milwaukee inner city clinics for the under-insured.) The state took away his license because of back taxes that were owed so he couldn’t work and, in turn, lost the house all of the kids grew up in. (Makes total sense, right? Take away a person’s license so then they can’t even work to pay you back?) During that time, I was going to grad school in Boston. John was left to deal with a lot of the broken pieces. He had his own problems with work and life and grief over Mom’s death (also, a completely different post for another day). I took a leave of absence from school for two years to move back to Wisconsin to try to put things back together.

Brett and I had only been dating for a few months but he followed me to Wisconsin right after his graduation in 2005 instead of taking a sports broadcasting job in Nebraska. Amazingly, he stayed by my side and with my family through everything. We shared a tiny two bedroom apartment for five years with my Dad and brother. We lived for the first two years of our marriage on a twin bed. Sometimes, I jokingly say to him, we’ve survived that…we can survive anything. (fyi, we have a queen-sized bed now, but I still crowd over to him all the time)

However, I lost my job in 2010. That led to us moving back to New England. Since then, Dad’s health and mental clarity has increasingly been getting worse. He was doing pretty well when Brett and I first moved back to Massachusetts in late 2010 but then things started to go south fairly quickly. He began falling around the house. Broke a bone. Had a mini-stroke. John just couldn’t provide the care to Dad that he needed. It weighed on him a lot mentally and physically (again, a completely different post…)

I finally had to step in and become my Dad’s legal power of attorney a few years ago. He wasn’t processing things well anymore. Dementia and the early effects of Alzheimer’s started to show.

I don’t get back to Wisconsin as much as I know I should to visit and to check-in on things. I work with my Dad’s social workers and health care team, mostly via email and conference calls to get updates at least once each quarter, if not more. However, recently things are getting bad again. He’s starting to have delusions, nightmares and become physically violent. A lot of it started last year. My oldest sister, Patricia, passed away after a long illness. He took it really hard even though Patty was his step-daughter. He wasn’t well enough to make it to her funeral service about an hour’s drive away since he had just had another minor heart attack and stroke. I worked with his assisted living facility’s chaplain to come up with a mini-service just for our family to go to in the chapel there. That was the last time I was back in Wisconsin in spring 2015.

When I found out I was pregnant with Emmett, I waited a bit to tell my Dad. I think I was almost into my second trimester. Brett and I called him one afternoon after work and gave him the news. He was pretty lucid that day but still not sure if he 100 percent understood what we were telling him. I just remember him saying to me constantly, “Take care of yourself and eat good things.” John, who’s able to visit him more at the assisted living facility, sometimes has to remind him of things we talk about and get more info out of him that I can’t get on the phone conversations.

We also bought him (and my father-in-law) a picture frame for the first picture with a note that they’d be new grand-daddys. We were able to give my father-in-law his since he visited us from Ohio and we had Brett’s family over to surprise them all. However, I’ve never been able to send mine to my Dad to give to him. It’s still sitting in the box on a table in our house somewhere.


Brett and I had planned to make a trip to Wisconsin sometime during my second trimester to celebrate in-person with all of our family and friends. Sadly, we never were able to do that. I had wanted to go this summer to see everyone after we lost Emmett, but I’ve kept putting it off. I still don’t have an official trip scheduled, even for the holidays. I know I should but money is tight for us and I keep just making excuse after excuse.

I’ve barely talked to my Dad or my brother since the loss. I’ve become very distant. Yesterday, I got another text from John that there was a new incident with my Dad. I need to call the social worker to find out what’s going on with the investigation. I’m just putting it off. I don’t want to deal with it.

It stresses me out that I can’t be there with my Dad and John. I couldn’t cry with them and tell them in person that I lost my son. They were never able to hold him and be with us at the hospital in April. There will never be a photo of both of them holding Emmett, like there is for my mom.

I think a part of it is I feel like such a disappointment. Dad is getting older. I never know how much time is going to be left. I feel like we’re just living on borrowed time as it is. This was my baby and his grandson. He has other grandkids from my two sisters but this was going to be my chance, my baby. I don’t know if we’ll try to get pregnant again. If we do, I don’t know if he’ll be around still.

I’m always trying to fix things for people and make them OK. I’ve tried so hard to do my best for my Dad and brother for the longest time. I feel so responsible for them but I just can’t get past the feeling of disappointment and how I feel like I’m letting them down so much, especially this year. My brother lives in a homeless shelter because I can’t help him and I don’t know what else to do.

I just feel like such a failure at times and don’t know how me and my family will ever recover. Ever since Mom died in 2001, I feel like it’s just one problem after another. There’s always something that’s broken. There’s never been a time where it’s just been ok.

I’ve failed at my duties as a daughter, as a sister, as a power of attorney. And now, as a mother. I can’t escape that feeling and overwhelming hurt in my heart. I know deep-down they don’t think that of me. But, I think it of myself. I’m a fixer and I can’t fix this as much as I want to. It’s broken beyond repair.

I’m just a bad daughter…




One thought on “I’m a Bad Daughter

  1. You’ve “failed” at your duties? Bull&@%#!!!! You are NOT a bad daughter, sister or mother. Every choice you made as a mother was in Emmett’s best interest. NOTHING you did caused Emmett’s problems. You have spent your entire adult like taking care of your family. Your dad knows that and John knows that. You were 20 and taking care of everyone. You took care of your mom when she was still here. I know you feel bad not being here and not being able to do more for your dad. But, he’s at the point where there isn’t much you could do even if you were here. John’s an adult. You do a lot to help him, but it isn’t your responsibility to do more than you are. Your mom would be very proud of the daughter, sister, wife, friend and mother you became. So am I.

    That said, call me if you need some boots on the ground with your dad.


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