My Dad Was A D.A.R.E Officer — But Loved His Students Far More Than Me

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I am 1900 miles away from my mother, and still, as toys litter the floor or a few dishes pile up in the sink, her voice comes. Clear as day, as if she were standing behind me, staring in contempt. Her arms folded across her chest, eyebrows furrowed in that constant look of disapproval, disgust, disdain, disappointment.

“Looks like somebody could use cleaning lessons.”

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She would laugh as if she said something too clever or funny not to.

I drove 1900 miles from my small Kansas town — as far as one could go without a passport — to the Northwestern corner of America to escape my mother, but I am slowly learning no amount of distance could ever magically change the broken parts of me always yearning for her approval.

I am only human, after all.

My parents are different people around other people. They treat me differently than they do everyone else, ever since I was a young kid. And it always confused me. When I moved in with my dad full-time, it was such a shock — everything turned upside down, and he definitely did not know how to deal with it.  

He just did not deal with it. There would be so many days we would go without talking; we never sat down for a meal. He was controlling, mean, scary, distant, strict.

As a police officer turned D.A.R.E officer, he was in no way prepared to raise a young daughter coming of age — alone, nonetheless. It was so lonely to grow up without a mother as I became a woman.

At eleven, I had a restraining order against the woman who gave birth to me and zero contact, except for the time my siblings sneaked me to the lake with her and my step-dad. They did not tell me first because they knew I would tattle.

After moving in with my dad, I had gotten to spend a semester at a Catholic school, which most kids would have hated. But I already had friends there, and really, I was a lost little girl who needed so much faith— I adored our daily Bible lessons and participating in weekly mass.

Unfortunately, my dad made a huge fuss about how expensive it was just for four months. So the next year, I started going to the rural school using my grandma’s address.

Our house was out-of-district, so the bus picked me up from the family farm down the road. My dad would drop me off before going to teach kids not to do drugs and pick me back up after dinner. My grandma was the best for putting up with me, as I often acted out for attention. We sat on the porch swing anxiously waiting on my first day of seventh grade.

“I bet the bus will come in four cars,” she would say.

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“I bet it comes next!” I would cry back. The old wood and metal swing squeaking beneath our weight, waiting for a bus that would never come. My grandma drove me to the school, five miles away, and dropped me off just as the second bell rang and everyone disappeared into classrooms.

I walked in, ready for whatever the world was going to throw at me next.

I was twelve and felt terrible about myself.

Something about my body was changing and when I found blood-soaked panties one day after middle school, I asked my dad if we could go to the store. It was the first time we have said much of anything to each other in a while, so he doesn’t even complain.

I always dread going to the store with my dad. Always. It has always been in my nature to avoid, lay low — for reasons that I am just beginning to understand — and my dad was the same way at home. The two of us could live together and actively avoid interacting for solid periods of time.

In public, however, there was never a time when it was not “Oh my god, OFFICER LINGENFELSER”. Whether it was the kid he taught or their parents or pretty much anybody because everyone knows my dad and my family. That’s small-town Kansas for you.

A short trip to the store would always turn into my dad talking to these people for uncomfortably long, seeing as I could pretty much never remember a time when he had ever said that much to me.

I was thankful, however, for chatty parents and students, as it allowed me to make a break to the feminine care aisle and grab the cheapest box of “regular” tampons — even though nothing about this seemed regular. As we checked out, I discretely set my purchase at the end. My dad bought them without saying a word.

When we arrived home, I locked myself in the bathroom and took out the directions from the cardboard box. Sitting on the toilet, reading “insert into vagina”, I wondered why I thought at 12 I could handle any of this.

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Emily Lingenfelser is a 20-something mom who writes and captures moments to make sense of this messy world. She runs the website, Emily is Fearless.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.