All We Have to Give

Kaly Sullivan essays

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When I was nine, my twin bed was pushed up against a street facing window in my room. At night, the headlights of every car that came down our street would scan across my bedroom wall. My nightly ritual was Dad Patrol. With every passing car, I'd bolt out of bed and peer towards the road.

“That's got to be him,” I thought.

Watching a car come down the hill that led to my house, I would squint anticipating that tiny moment of pause when it would turn into our driveway, all the while praying, “Come on, come on, come on, please, please let it be him, it's been 182 days, seven hours and 38 seconds.”

One night long after I should have been asleep, I sat up to look and against all odds the car pulled in.

It was him.


I spent most of my childhood like this waiting for my Dad to appear. Because his visits were mostly of the unplanned and irregular type, I learned to always have one eye on the door at the school performance, the sidelines of the soccer field, or the entrance to my birthday party.

I worshipped the unreliable ground he walked on, and just when I had given up hope that he would ever return, there he would be bearing Men at Work records, hard-to-find Cabbage Patch Kids, or suggesting a trip to Maas Brothers department store.

Dad's visits came with loot. Hush money for having to wait so long. Distractions from how much I had missed him, how long it had been since his last visit, and how all-consuming his absence had been.

His visits were short, full of promises, and next big things. As soon as he made this much money, he would be there. As soon as he figured out the next part of his plan, things would be different.

His inability to stay made him even bigger in my eyes. The shark's tooth looped around his neck on a gold chain, his movie-star looks, and ability to charm helped too. I would be the good daughter and wait. I could be patient with one eye on the door.

As I got older, the shininess of this arrangement started to fade. When he came to town, we would share a meal at a loud chain restaurant or go to the movies where minimal talking was required.

What do you say to a man you see a few hours a year? We knew so little of each other, and yet my entire life seemed to be waiting for his next appearance.

Over dinner at TGI Fridays, I listened to how close he was on a breakthrough deal that would make everything different.

In a sad act of teenage rebellion I said, “I don't care. I don't even know you. I don't even know what you like on your pizza,” my voice cracking with such a simple observation that seemed to hold the world.

“I like pepperoni,” he said.

After dinner, he was gone.

He couldn't quite make my high school graduation or my college graduation. I was disappointed, but of course I understood. That's just how these things go. It was out of his hands. He was working a big deal.

By the time he stopped and stayed in one place, it was too late. I had moved on and started my own life. I wasn't waiting for him anymore.

When my own sons were born, it was unimaginable to me how a parent could breeze in and out of their own child's life. I finally let myself be angry and frustrated and then I was just sad as I came to terms with the father that had never completely materialized.

Now I can see that he must have believed that what he had to offer, himself, wasn't enough.  Pepperoni pizza wasn't enough. And so he was always trying to prove his value to me.

Our wires were crossed. He thought being a father, being a man, meant being a successful provider, but I wanted a dad, a dad that was reliable and present.

When I'm struggling as a parent and feel like every decision I make is wrong and questioning if I'm doing enough, I remember what I needed as a child. I needed shared experiences and common memories with my dad, but he wasn't there to build that foundation.

I remind myself that being there makes a difference. Showing up makes a difference. Letting them know me and knowing them makes a difference.

Pepperoni pizza is enough. Even if it's all we have to give.


About the Author

Kaly Sullivan

When Kaly doesn’t have her nose in a book, she wrangles and referees two elementary age boys and about her often humorous efforts to lead a mindful, connected life. She's the co-founder of Harlow Park Media and is the author of Good Move: Strategy and Advice for Your Family's Relocation. Her writing has been featured on Mamalode, In The Powder Room, and Scary Mommy. You can follow her on , and .

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