Father’s Day has always been a thorn in my side. I celebrate it now, but for a big chunk of my life, it was sort of a blank canvas for me. I didn’t have these fantastic memories or love to bestow upon my dad once a year telling him how much he meant to me. I have a fantastic stepfather, whom I am very grateful for, but he came into my life when I was 12. I grew up without my biological father. It was just my mom and me for as long as I can remember in my early childhood. The circumstances surrounding the reasons why are understandable as an adult, but as a little girl, I had a hard time discerning why my mother didn’t speak much of my father. There were no pictures. There were no stories. There was nothing.
The older I got, the more I found out about why my father wasn’t in the picture. It’s kind of hard to explain to a child that her daddy beat the ever-living crap out of her mommy after a night of drinking. How do you tell her that you had concocted a plan to leave in the middle of the night, taking a few necessities and telling no one, driving cross-country with a two-year-old, just so you could escape the abuse? The short answer is, you don’t. Or, at least my mom didn’t until I was old enough to understand the severity of the situation. She had to make difficult choices to keep herself and her daughter safe.
All I knew about my father was that he wasn’t a good person and he hit my mother. I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t have a relationship with him. Didn’t everyone have a chance to know their father? To at least knew what he looked like or what he sounded like? It dawned on me much later in life that having children is a privilege and those that cherish parenthood, cherish their children. Part of that cherishing is treating their mother with enough respect to keep your fist away from her face.
My mother allowed me to meet my father in 2004. I was 19 at the time and still ignorant to all the facts surrounding my fatherless life. Looking back, I can’t imagine how much my mom had to hold back telling me. Everything she wished I understood and everything she knew I’d find out somehow down the road was probably on the tip of her tongue, but she kept it to herself. The only warning she gave me was, “It may not be what you’re expecting. Just remember that.”
My mother was right. My father was in bad shape at the age of 53. He was mostly scooter-bound, as he had a hard time getting around. He was slowly dying from a genetic disorder called Fabry disease. Along with his red hair and gapped teeth, I had also inherited this genetic condition from him. I was un-enchanted by our meeting, yet still optimistic. I was also meeting my older sister, one of my older brothers (my father had three children from a previous marriage), and numerous family members from my dad’s side.
A few things I laugh about to this day are that he bought me beer from a discount store and offered me marijuana a few hours after we met. I thought, “Surely this is a setup. Parents don’t offer their kids weed.” It wasn’t a setup. He genuinely offered it to me with no hidden consequences attached. I politely declined (good job, Mom!).
My father passed away the following year. I was so angry. I never got to tell him how I felt about all of his actions that subsequently robbed me of having a relationship with him. I’ve moved on. I’ve accepted the way things turned out. My father was a part of my life as short as a blip on radar, but the words I wanted to say are forever written on the walls of my heart. They’ve molded me into someone who understands how his decisions affected a woman who feared him and a child who naively yearned for him to be a part of her life. The words I never got to say used to bear on me heavily. They no longer do.
So, here’s a thank you to the dad I never had. Thank you for showing me how strong my mother is. Thank you for letting her teach me about independence, resilience, and gumption. Thank you for showing me how high my standards needed to be when choosing a mate. Thank you for showing me how not to parent. And thank you for letting me give all the credit for how I turned out to the parent who deserves it most: my mother, who knew she had to create a safe life for me far away from you.