McCrabb: Father’s Day without his baby girl is ‘different’

Updated June 19, 2016

He survived Thanksgiving, his daughter’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Memorial Day.

“Christmas and her birthday were tough,” Fred Shuemake said quietly.

Now he’s facing another holiday: Father’s Day, the first one without his baby girl.

Until this year, Shuemake, 59, never thought much about Father’s Day, he said. The father of four biological children and one foster child never concerned himself with the gifts he received. In fact, he didn’t realize Father’s Day was today until last week, he said.

“This one is different,” he said of Father’s Day 2016. “I want to get through it as fast as I can.”

Last year at this time, Shuemake’s daughter, Alison Shuemake was alive. She died on Aug. 26, 2015, of a heroin overdose. Fred, a retired Middletown detective, and his wife, Dorothy, never hid from their daughter’s drug addiction. In her obituary that appeared in the Journal-News, they wrote that Alison, 18, died from a heroin overdose, an unusual statement that drew national attention.

The Shuemakes have dealt with Alison’s death differently. His wife visits Alison’s grave at Woodside Cemetery every day. He hasn’t seen her marker once.

“Their body is not there,” he said when asked why he hasn’t visited his daughter. “I don’t think dead people are at grave sites. You carry their spirit inside you. You see them. All the little giggles, the little frowns, the good and bad. I try to think of the way she was.”

Meanwhile, his wife only remembers the positives of Alison’s life and he’s more of a “realist,” he said.

“Difficult. That would be the one-word description,” he said when asked about his daughter’s death. “It’s always in the back of your mind. All the time.”

In the months leading up to her death, he saw signs she was heading down the wrong path.

“We were getting a glimpse of what could happen,” he said. “You knew it was a distinct possibility. I cannot think of anything I could have done to make Alison make different choices than she did. And for that I don’t blame myself. While this is a horrible, horrible thing anyone who knew her knew this was a distinct possibility. Everything was not OK. There was nothing in her life at the time that suggested she was turning it around.”

Shuemake said he and his daughter had “an up and down” relationship. Then he remembered a Disney World vacation. There were times when they spent the entire day at the amusement park in Orlando, and ended the night by sitting on a rock watching fireworks.

Just a dad and his daughter.

“We had good times,” he said.

What would he tell her today?

“I know because of the things she said to me just a couple of weeks before she died, Alison loved me and she knew I loved her,” he said.

Then he thought about the question again.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I really feel that she’s at peace and I don’t know if she would have been. I want to make sure she is at peace.”

He said a father should be his daughter’s “rock,” someone they can count on for emotional and physical support and as a role model. But that doesn’t mean fathers have to be their daughter’s best friend. They probably have enough friends.

They need a father.

“You can be a friend but you can be too much of a friend and you don’t offer guidance or direction,” he said. “Human beings need direction. The world doesn’t work that way.”

This also will be a bittersweet week for the Shuemakes. His oldest daughter, Jessica, 32, is getting married Friday and there will be an empty chair at the reception for Alison, a bridesmaid.

Then the conversation turned to all the violence in the world. Shuemake, who retired three years ago as a Middletown detective after 35 years, has seen plenty of chaos in his career.

“The bottom line is the person is gone,” he said. “All this stuff in Orlando, all this stuff that happened in Paris, Sandy Hook, the people are gone. That’s what people have to deal with. They’re gone.”

Fred Shuemake is dealing with that every day.

Today more than ever.