Being able to do anything for 40 years is significant. At 47, it is only now that I am grasping a true understanding of what Time does to us during our human experience and why we mark milestones.
Today is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death. I am grateful to the strangers who posted the photo online of his tombstone in Arizona. When they posted this picture, the only one I have of “him,” I found out the exact date he died. I remember clearly being told the news by his mother. I remember clearly being 7 years old. I remember clearly being in Mrs. Rosenberg’s 2nd grade class, sharing the news with her and seeing the pity in her eyes. But without the kindness of these strangers, I wouldn’t have been able to mark his exit on this date for the last few years. It is as important for me to honor this date as I continue my earthly existence, hopefully for many more years, as it is for my father’s soul, wherever it may be.
In the last 40 years while my father’s body lay under his tombstone, I lived a life he helped to create. And when I say that, I do not simply mean in the biological sense. Even though I don’t have memories of looking into his eyes, hearing his voice or holding his hand, there are few things as significant in how I viewed myself and the importance of my life than his abandoning me as a baby then dying when I was a child. His deliberate absence to kiss the boo boos he inflicted upon me taught me a lot. Much of those things were wrong but he wasn’t there to correct me. I was a child who learned to fend for myself emotionally at an all-too-young age.
As I got older, my pain hardened into anger then fermented into rage. Directed at my father. Directed at myself. Rage and self-hatred do not make a solid foundation for a life. They are fodder for bad choices. And despite my pragmatic nature, I did make bad choices. Some on an epic scale the consequences of which I am still dealing with.
Thankfully rage can’t fuel an everlasting flame. As decades passed, I worked on making the corrections that my father wasn’t around to guide me through. No words of wisdom. Only his ghost that I made certain still haunted me and some degree of mental illness.
It was when I became a mother that things really changed. I mean, as a parent your entire life shifts. Here I mean my relationship with myself in turn my “relationship” with my father really changed. As my baby girl and I went thru life together, achieving milestones, making mistakes, maintaining mundane everyday lives, I thought about all the things my father missed out on. As I accumulated tools in my mental health toolbox to combat my chronic depression first motivated by motherhood then carrying on for me, my heart started to break for my father. As adept he was as building and creating, his mental health toolbox was empty…and that lead to his early demise after a short life of rage, violence and self-hate.
The scars are still here 40 years later. They’ll still be here in 10 more years for the next milestone of my father’s passing. They make me who I am…and 40 years later, I kinda like who I am. But to a huge extent the rage, hate and resentment that I had so long, so strong, have been replaced with love and compassion for the man who made me but never really knew.
Last year, the REALTOR organization that I have the honor of being president of, hosted its annual charity fundraiser in support of a grassroots organization helping Veterans transition into civilian life and combat PTSD through comedy and the arts. I talked about my father during my introduction of the group’s founder. I think it fitting to share here too as I commemorate the milestone of 40 years without-now-with my father…
“…Tonight I want to share a little bit about…why Project 9 Line’s mission struck such a deep chord with me.
My father, Peter Frank Dajnowski, Jr.,enlisted in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. He dreamed of one day being a pilot. While he never realized that dream, he was proud to don the uniform and serve our Nation, especially during a time of conflict.
His life ended with a bullet in 1977 at age 31. It has been a long-standing controversy as to who put it there…but it has always been clear that HOW it got there was through a series of bad choices and sick thinking. That day, the war was finally over for my father.
My father had mental issues and was gone from my life from the time I was an infant. All I have ever had were stories to bring him to life for me. I was told that from the time he was little, he loved to create things with his hands. He was funny. He made everyone laugh — often without trying — with his quick wit and biting sarcasm. Makes me wish I had a chance to laugh at his jokes.
Fast forward to about a year ago when I met Patrick Donohue at an Islip Chamber of Commerce meeting when he told me about an organization he started. He told me that Project 9 Line works with Veterans, many of whom are combatting PTSD, helping them transition into civilian life through the arts, comedy and a variety of other ways that he will tell you more about in a moment.
I couldn’t help but think of my father. Maybe if there was an organization like this back then, maybe his internal war might have ended differently. Maybe. But it’s too late to rewind that tape.
It is my current hope that we can do through programs like the ones that Project 9 Line offers, that instead of a soldier’s daughter living off secondhand memories, she gets the opportunity to create her own firsthand…filled with laughter. That would be priceless.
So Daddy…I am grateful for the life you gave me and I hope that I am making you proud with how I am choosing to live it. I hope that wherever you are, you finally found peace. And thank you for your service. It might not have showed much at the time but IT MATTERED. Your life mattered.”