My mother sent me a box of pictures from my childhood, and included was the note I wrote my father the night he left. I was nine, and I can still remember him telling my mother he’d been having an affair. He packed some things as my mother cried in another room.

As he put his boots on to leave, I handed it to him. I remember feeling pretty confident that I’d be able to change his mind, but of course it didn’t work. He read it.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you get a divorce
I’ll be blue, too.

He let out a forced breath, and then tossed the note onto the kitchen table. He didn’t say anything. He just finished putting on his boots, slung the duffle bag over his shoulder, and left.

It’s funny, in that moment I felt like I’d done something wrong. Like my note failed to keep my parents together. But when I saw it mixed in with those photos 28 years later, I felt anger, and I’ll tell you why.

After he left, he was in and out of my life until he died 10 years later from drug addiction. The most consistent relationship we had was when he was in jail. I always knew where to find him then.

But I don’t think I fully realized what we’d missed until I became a father myself.

That night he not only walked out on my mother, but he also walked out on years of bedtime stories, family movie nights, parent/teacher conferences, warm hugs, vacations, arguments over homework, Christmas mornings, camping trips, playing catch, and every other heartwarming, frustrating, and rewarding part of being a father.

I can remember him saying, “You’ll understand someday.” He said that a lot. And he was right. It’s only now that I know exactly what he and I lost.

Divorce happens, but that fatherhood gig never stops. The moment I saw that note, a realization hit me in a hot, angry wave. I finally understood how much I lost the night my father left, and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more committed to my role as a father than I do right now.

This post originally appeared on No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog. You can read more from Clint in his book, Silence is a Scary Sound: And Other Stories on Living Through the Terrible Twos and Threes. This recommendation is an affiliate link, so we may earn a small commission should you decide to purchase it. If we’re sharing it, it’s because we think it’s great!

Clint Edwards

Clint Edwards is the author of the hilarious books on parenting Silence Is A Scary Sound and I'm Sorry… Love, Your Husband. He also manages the popular parenting blog No Idea What I’m Doing. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.