In one way or another, all the paternal figures in my childhood betrayed their role. Their presence — or absence — still shaped me. I am human. I have a biological father. Instinctively there is a place for him in my psyche. While I do have survival instincts and have armed myself with tools to repair the damage caused by the abandonment and dysfunction, I cannot eradicate the place for him in my psyche that is present by virtue of my humanity. This is huge. This is why I take issue with the compulsion more and more people have to wish Happy Father’s Day to the mothers who are undertaking both sets of responsibilities.
I absolutely believe that mothers who are doing it alone have earned massive accolades. I absolutely believe that they should be given praise daily with particular attention on Mother’s Day along with the acknowledgement of the dual role. I absolutely believe that by wishing these mothers a Happy Father’s Day does two terrible things:
- It minimizes the role of the father in the child’s psyche; those unique sets of needs and expectations that human development requires.
- It’s society’s endorsement of the father’s abandonment of his role thus compounding the problem for the individual mothers who are left behind in the struggle to fill both roles and for society as a whole by allowing this destruction to continue.
I tell you from my firsthand experience, being a child who was abandoned by her biological father and betrayed in a variety of ways by the two paternal surrogates I was given, the damage is permanent and devastating…and comparative to many with similar upbringings, I am a success story. Most times it doesn’t feel that way.
My mother and father divorced before my first birthday. The only thing that could have been better than that is never meeting and marrying in the first place. But they did meet and shortly thereafter they did marry and soon after that, I arrived. With my arrival came great responsibility. Neither of my parents wanted that…but that didn’t erase my needs. My mother has always resented that fact and acted out on that resentment. My father simply walked away and never looked back.
Had my father lingered and been part of my life in some capacity, would it have been a positive experience? I have no way of knowing for sure. However, I do know he had mental issues and was physically abusive. I am thinking that the experience would’ve been similar to that of my mother, who was around yet never present.
I can tell you with absolute certainty many of the things he left behind and took from me when he abandoned me.
- me. I was a cute, chubby, cuddly baby. I didn’t care about where my father came from. I didn’t care what he did for a living. I didn’t care about any of it. All I wanted was to be in his arms, safe and protected. I didn’t get that then. To this day, I still don’t truly feel safe.
- I was left behind. I was left feeling unwanted. I was left feeling like I was disposable. I was left feeling unlovable. For decades I wondered what it was about me that made my father want to throw me away. For decades I saw myself as garbage. I know now that his leaving had everything to do with him and nothing to do with me but I still struggle with these feelings. I always will. I just know now how to cope with them.
- Questions that will never be answered. Lately I’ve acquired a slew of facts about my father. Fruits of a life-long search. It would’ve been great to just once hear one of the wacky (or mundane) stories from my father’s lips to bring these facts to life. Instead, so many of my questions will remain unanswered and I have to rely on secondhand accounts (at best) for these tales.
- I learned the world was dark and ugly long before I needed to know. For years I thought that my presence made it that way. I had to learn on my own that I was wrong.
As I travel on recovery road, I find even more.
Today, I am 44 years old. I’ve accomplished far more than my pedigree suggested I would. Today, I am learning that the abandonment had almost nothing to do with me as a person…that my existence is not an abomination. Today, I am learning to replace the anger and resentment for my father with pity for him — and the millions of others like him — for what they missed out on.
My father missed out on a lot of love. Based on what I know about him, he sure could have used it. Maybe if he had it, his decision-making process wouldn’t have lead him to his violent and early demise. Even if the bullet still had his name on it, at least then I would have been able to genuinely miss him.
My father missed out on cutout paper ties, homemade cards and clay ashtrays (lest we forget I am a child of the 70s — see photo above of me on the shag rug for further evidence). These are treasured artifacts of ordinary people’s lives. They are tangible evidence of a giving soul. When I feel empty, I hold the construction paper box my baby girl made for me in Pre-K that she filled with love, realizing that I got at least one great thing right in my life. It makes me sad that someone as lonely as my father chose to walk away from something so pure.
My father missed out on knowing that — absent or present — he was the single most influential man in my life. His absence shaped how I saw all men and how I saw the world. He missed out on being an active part of shaping that. That is a helluva thing to throw away.
Happy Father’s Day to the fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers and foster fathers taking on the paternal responsibilities for your children. It is worth the heartache and sacrifice. Even the wrong choices you make are right if you made them out of unconditional love in the interest of the well-being of your babies. It’s the feelings behind your actions that will impact your children for their entire lives. Your presence is priceless. This day is YOURS.
Rather than continuing to praise mothers on Father’s Day, I think we should instead encourage those who have fathered children to handle their responsibilities. The abandoned and abused speaking up about the lasting impact. The fathers who did it and who are doing it showing the absent fathers all the mind-blowing things that they are choosing to miss out on. Things that they can never get back.
I think that humanity will be better off as a whole if we individually embraced being human.