On Dahlias, Joni Mitchell, and Dad


Daniela Schwartz -Dahlias, Joni Mitchell, and Dad3

When I was 15,  I found myself living in a temporary situation. I’d left home and my future looked scary. I had an apprenticeship at a hair salon, but at minimum wage, I could not afford to live on my own. I was too young, no one would let me rent a space, plus I was trying to avoid the system. My friends had told me horror stories of foster care and group homes. I would have chosen the streets before I allowed that to happen.

I had been dating a boy and had gotten to know his family. After we broke up, I found out I was pregnant.  I had no stable home and I had to work. I felt I had no other choice but to have an abortion. I didn’t know Jesus then, it was just what I knew girls did when they found themselves in this situation.

I stayed in contact with the boy’s family and one day his mom asked me to come live with them. I don’t know why this family opened their doors and hearts to me but they did. They are saints. I called them Mom and Dad, as did all the kids who walked through their door. I could write a book on how wonderful Mom was, but this is Father’s Day, and I want to pay tribute to my second dad.

Dad was cheeky, with dry English wit. I loved it. He and I argued over what was considered good music. I loved Mariah Carey. He said she sounded like a dying banshee. He introduced me to Joni Mitchell. I hated her music, at the time, but to this day I can not get through the scene in Love Actually where a broken hearted Emma Thompson plays Joni and cries out her broken heart. I now understand the power of Joni Mitchell. Even though my teen self didn’t “get” Joni Mitchell, I loved sitting in the basement with my second Dad and listening to his records. He gave me his time and allowed me into his world.

Dad would drag me out in the evenings to inspect his beloved garden. His garden was a magical wonderland. He had dahlias that grew past my head and were as big as dinner plates. When I walked through the garden I felt like I was in a flower forest. He taught me how to plant properly and how to prune roses. God I loved those times with him. Whenever I see a dahlia I think of him. I have never seen a dahlia as beautiful as the ones he grew.

I lived there for three years, and it was the longest I had ever been in one place. There were meals on the table every night. I could put my head in Mom’s lap when my heart was broken and cry, and she would stroke my head and whisper the exact thing I needed to hear. I’d sit with the family to watch T.V. at night. Mom did my laundry and kept the house, Dad gardened and listened to his records. In the mornings he always brought me milky and sugary tea. It was the most normal and wonderful thing I had ever known.

I wish I could tell you I was the perfect houseguest, but I did what any hurt person does. I hurt people and I hurt them. At nineteen I moved out for a time, but then I needed a home again. Mom is the most loving forgiving person I have ever met. We talked and she forgave me, but I needed words with Dad. I needed to apologize. From my childhood, I had been around a lot of conditional love. Forgiveness was not something I had every really experienced. I was terrified. We sat on the front porch together and I apologized to him. He looked me in the eye and put his arm around me and said, “Welcome home”.

I am not sure what would have happened to me if this family had not come into my life. I do know I would have ended up on the streets. They did not need to take on the burden of a messed up teen. How many people do you know that would do that?

Dad went to heaven a few years ago. He died of cancer. When he got sick, I never went to visit. I was terrified to look death in the eye. I wish I had been braver and stronger. I wish I had told him all I needed to say. I wish I could have told him how much he reminded me of Jesus. I miss him. I wish I could thank him to his face for all he did for me. I wish I could tell him how glad I am that he came into my life as my Dad and that I truly love him. Regret is a hard thing to live with. There are some mistakes you never really make peace with, you just learn to live with them.

I know Dad is in heaven, watching over us. I remember him when I work in my garden with my six-year-old son, Oliver. When my brown thumb appears I can see dad jokingly shaking his head. I remember him when I make my son milky, sugary tea. I remember him when I listen to Mariah Carey and Joni Mitchell. Being in this family was a miracle.

I remember Dad and I keep watching for that forgotten, written off teen. I will never forget what was done for me, and I will always have a place in my heart for the kid nobody wanted.