I was in seventh grade when the inaugural season of American Idol aired, and I was being too cool eating excessive amounts of frozen personal pizzas and talking with my friends on AIM to care.
I was probably crying to one of my best girlfriends about how fat I was during the auditions. When the live shows began, I was likely really busy at theater practice or cheer (yes, cheer) to tune in.
But as singers were eliminated, I finally started watching. I didn’t have cable until my freshman year of high school, so the show was always on at home, because we had about four channels to choose from. I remember hearing Kelly Clarkson’s voice and being mesmerized. When she spoke, it was like I had known her forever. She was so lovable and personable. I had no doubt in my mind she’d be the clear winner of the competition.
Cut to high school when Clarkson’s music started to become really popular among my friends and on the radio. I went through an “edgy” stage where I wore band T-shirts and dyed my hair black and got huge blonde, chunky highlights. And by edgy, I listened to Shinedown and Nickelback on repeat and scratched a My Chemical Romance CD so bad that I had to buy a second (and third). When one of Clarkson’s power ballads took the No. 1spot on MTV’s TRL, upsetting My Chemical Romance’s “Helena,” I was mad. How could she do that to my favorite band? Obviously it took me minutes to get over that.
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Cut to last week when I learned Clarkson’s recent American Idol performance of her single “Piece By Piece” was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award. I was not a regular watcher of American Idol, but I did watch the final season because the top two contestants were Mississippians. When I watched her perform the song, which is a tribute to her absent father, I didn’t even try to swallow hard to stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks. Every time she had to stop to collect herself as the piano played, I had to take a breath, too.
I don’t ever talk about my real dad. It’s something that I think I purposefully blocked from my mind. He and my mother were never together, but he moved away in the middle of kindergarten, and I haven’t seen him since. When he left, his family left, too.
At first, my dad’s parents would pick me up for holidays and watch me on some weekends, but when I was seven, he came back into town for Christmas. His parents didn’t call me that year. I didn’t hear from any of that family. I waited. And waited. I was the kid looking through the living room window, waiting for my grandparents’ car to come down the driveway.
I remember my mom finally breaking the news to me that he was in town but I wouldn’t be seeing him.
And at that point, I decided to just forget about it.
I’ve had breakdowns along the way. Some of my cousins have reached out to me on social media, and we keep connected that way, as many of them live in different parts of the country. When my dad’s father died, I thought about going to the funeral, but I decided not to attend. It wasn’t the time or place for a probably not-wanted family reunion.
I dug around and found out where my dad was and thought about taking a road trip and just showing up in his city just to see his face again. I remember his features and the ARMY T-Shirt that he wore often. I remember his love for hunting, shooting guns and Toyota trucks. What I don’t remember is what hurts the most. I don’t remember his voice and I don’t remember specific times that I spent with him. I don’t remember any trips to see him or seeing him when I graduated high school or college. I don’t remember him calling me for holidays or for birthdays. I don’t remember him being there to support my mother financially while she struggled to make ends meet, which she always did.
That’s probably the hardest pill to swallow. I had to watch my mom cry about money so I could have what I wanted, while he got a “get out of your kid’s life for $97 per month” card.
At the moment when I heard Kelly sing about her dad leaving her when she was 6 years old, a lot of feelings came rushing back.
I often find myself listening to the song on YouTube and tearing up. I thought I should stop listening, but I took the advice I often give friends who need it — sometimes it’s okay to be vulnerable.
This is probably the hardest blog I’ve ever written. I wasn’t going to put this out there for the world to see. Even though I’m a pretty public person, there are things about me that I’ve already kept private. But if Kelly Clarkson can be brave enough to be vulnerable in front of millions of people, then I can be vulnerable and share my story, too.