One Year Later, Stephen Stymiest’s Daughter Wonders About the Dad She Didn’t Know

It’s been almost a year since the death of Stephen Stymiest, the homeless man who was was a fixture and a friend to many neighbors around Precita Park.

Stephen is remembered warmly in Bernal Heights, but over the holiday break Bernalwood received an email from Stephen’s daughter, which sheds some light on the complexities of his biography.

This is what Kara Messinese is thinking about, one year after her father passed away:

Some of you may remember, some of you may not. Some may have known him, may have spoken to him. Others may think he was just a bum. It’s easier to think he didn’t have a history, but that is not the case.

A year ago, a man died. He lost a battle, a very long battle. He was a homeless man, an alcoholic, a disabled man. His days were spent in a park from what I can gather. He spoke to people, was friendly to kids and animals, and to some, made the park a safer place. To others, he was just another homeless guy sitting on a bench. To me, he was my father. His name was Stephen Stymiest.

Many days it crosses my mind, as it has for the past 15 years, wondering where he is, what he’s doing, and why he never came back for us, his children. And now for the past year, when I have those thoughts, it slowly dawns on me I know where he is. And I know that I will never have the answers to the questions I always wanted to ask.

Following his death, a reporter contacted my mom and informed her of his passing. Then there were posts on a blog with pictures of people holding a memorial in his honor. An artist had created artwork in his memory. We asked for stories people had of him and people responded. But, my brothers and I had questions. And no one was there with answers.

Did he ever think of us? Did he ever talk about us? Why did other people get to see him for the past 15 years and we were just left wondering? Is it wrong to be jealous of those people? Why, when everything was getting worse, did he not contact us? He knew our names, someone could have googled us. If the reporter found us pretty easily, I’m sure someone else could have.

I continued to hope that at some point I could reconnect with Stephen. I’m not sure what I wanted out of it. I wanted truth. I wanted the answer to the question ‘why’. I wanted an apology. I wanted him to care.

It’s not as if I’ve been without a dad for 15 years. My mom got remarried to a wonderful guy who raised my brothers and I as his own. He adopted us a couple years after Stephen left us and my brothers and I have all graduated from high school. I graduated from college, married, and have a wonderful family with a beautiful one year old daughter (she was born just a couple weeks before Stephen passed away). Brent and Jerad are both in college working on their degrees. We have grown up to be intelligent, independent adults. But, there will always be a part missing. Something that was part of us that is no longer around. Knowing we can never access it again. We only have the material items, things Stephen had with him, things my mother had that were his. We have divided these evenly so we all have a little bit of him.

Someday I hope to make it to San Francisco, to Precita Park. I want to see what Stephen saw everyday. While I will never see it the way he saw it, I can still see it and maybe meet some of these people who cared about him.

From the daughter who did not get to know him as well as one should, who saw the bad sides of him, and was old enough to be hurt by his abandonment, but from someone who knew he was capable of so much more. I thank those of you who talked to him, who sat with him, listened to what he had to say. No matter how many nights I was upset or cried over his disappearance I hope that he got some enjoyment out of talking to people and meeting people in the park. I hope he was able to get some peace in the end. I’m still working on finding that peace.

PHOTO: Steven Stymiest memorial service in Precita Park, January 2012. By Telstar Logistics

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6 Responses to One Year Later, Stephen Stymiest’s Daughter Wonders About the Dad She Didn’t Know

  1. eye says:

    I seem to have something stuck in my eye.

  2. Anon says:

    Very touching and thoughtful. I’m sorry for your loss (including before his passing).

  3. Tony Tavares says:

    A testament to how the disease of alcoholism affects those closest to the alcoholic. Steven was a kind man, I always enjoyed talking with him, but as a recovering alcoholic myself it broke my heart to watch his disease progress and kill him, as it eventually does to all alcoholics unless we manage to recover and keep it in check. If anything, watching him deteriorate and die was a daily reminder to me to keep my own disease in check. It was heartbreaking for me to read this letter from his daughter, and to get a sense of the pain she must have felt for so many years that her father’s disease compelled him to choose alcohol over his family. Heartbreaking.

  4. Beth Devener says:

    Can we reach out to his daughter on this site? Will she have access to it?? If so I would like to tell her that her father was a good man, and perhaps it was shame that drove him away from his family and he probably thought you would all be better without him. Obviously that is not the case, but in his state that was probably his way to justify his abandonment. I am sure that it pained him every day, as it did you and your siblings. Know that he did make an impression on those of us who knew him ever so slightly, as little as I did know of him, he was a good man and always pleasant to me and my dog. I cared about him because I could see that behind the pain and disease, he truly tried to do good. I never considered him homeless, he was the guardian of the park and I felt comfortable that he was there every day. I used to give him money on occasion hoping he would get some hot soup, he was very appreciative and I felt I was paying him to look after the park. I really hope you can find peace, I am sure that his not having peace with his decisions led him to his demise. We all make poor decisions and alcoholism muddies everything. Let him rest in peace and may you find it yourself. Sincerely, Beth and Frankie

  5. Kara says:

    Hello,
    I have been looking at this site ever since we found out last year about his death. It meant a lot to see the comments and memories people posted. And when I sent this to Todd, I intended to keep reading. It struck me after writing, after getting things off my chest, that if even one person can see it and it helps them with a family member who may be recovering from any type of addiction or it serves as a reminder to someone who lives in recovery every day, then I have done something good. I have not only survived my situation and grown from it, but helped someone else see the whole picture. I’m not sure who else in my family still reads this, but I do, so if there’s anything else about Stephen or your experiences with him, we’d love to hear it.
    Thank you everyone for all of your support
    Kara

  6. Sam C. says:

    Stopped me dead in my tracks. Seems we either romnanticize, lionize or vilify homeless folks, especially the charming ones we meet. The stories behind them are exquisitely painful like his daughter’s and the people who are left wondering what? Why? I had a friend who became homeless and died under the overpass fo 101/Bayshore and no one knew. I was called by the coroner – my number was on his body; I had attempted to get him social work. We were all left wondering – why?

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