Fatherless Day

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Father’s Day has always been a difficult day for me as I had no father. Instead I had some stranger who lived many states away, who long ago participated in a story book wedding with my mother. I only knew that because I had seen the pictures in the bottom drawer of her bedroom bureau. During this marriage he had contributed sperm to produce three children that he promptly abandoned for his gum smacking, hot pants wearing secretary. After leaving my mother and their three daughters his further contribution to us was court ordered child support checks and birthday cards, when he remembered.
I was 8 months old when he abandoned us. When the divorce was final and he moved across town in Tucson from where we lived, but never bothered to visit us, my mother moved us to California. She moved far away both to spare herself from seeing him and his tacky new wife gallivant around town together but also to provide her daughters a legitimate reason why he never came around to see us.
My early childhood was pretty text book I think. I was well cared for, healthy, happy. It is when I entered elementary school that I noticed my life was different than most of the other kids. I had two parental units: my mother and my grandmother, as my grandmother had moved in with us to help my mother with the considerable task of raising three children while working full time as a teacher, but it became glaringly obvious to me, for the first time, that I did not have a father. I would see these dads at school, dads who bent down to kiss the tops of their children’s heads as they dropped them off for the day, dads who came to Back to School Night whereas mine was a stranger appearing in a few old photographs. Seeing fathers on a daily basis made it clear to me that somewhere out there was a man who had LEFT me. That made me different. I was less than any kid who had a mom and a dad because I had been left by someone who was supposed to love and care for me. My father had blithely left me and never looked back.
From this point forward the topic of fathers, and Father’s Day in particular, were a source of real pain for me. The Father-Daughter dances I could not attend, Hallmark commercials for Father’s Day cards, any kid being taught how to do anything by their father; ride a bike, swim, fish, you name it, became a tiny seed of sadness in me. I did not imagine “him” as I had no memory of him but I did imagine that I would feel more whole if he had not left us all.
In early childhood, my only interaction with him came on Father’s Days, during the rare years that he was at home when we called him. On that Sunday, while families were picnicking and barbequing and celebrating together, my mom would dutifully assemble me and my sisters around the three phones in the house and hand one of us his phone number and we would hear his voice for the one and only time in the year, a voice my sisters had some memory of where I had none. This virtual stranger explained that he only had a minute because he and “the family,” comprised of his second wife, her two sons and later their two sons, “the family” had plans. “Thanks so much for calling girls; we’ll be in touch soon.” But we weren’t. Just annually on Father’s Day and always initiated by my mother. Hollow. Empty. Sickening.
My sisters dealt with the loss of our father differently than I did. The eldest sister was 6 or 7 at the time that he left. She took it hard and she felt unlovable and unworthy, after all how could he have left her if she had been anything special? My middle sister seemed determined to defend him, and once we finally saw him in person (we were 17, 14, 11 the first time he made arrangements to visit us) this middle sister sainted him and quickly threw over our mother in favor of this Disneyland Dad and I hated her for it. I was simply skeptical. He had left us and moved on to another family. What kind of person abandons their own flesh and blood? What kind of man does that? How crappy must a person be to justify this? This skepticism naturally impeded the possibility of any bonding. Add to that, he wasn’t particularly likeable: arrogant, superior, and inept with conversation that wasn’t about him and his accomplishments or acquisitions. The fact that this selfish, narcissistic man went into politics should came as no surprise to anyone.
My feelings toward him and towards myself shifted focus on this first visit. I stopped feeling that I had lost something by not having a father in my life all those years and I started hating myself a little bit for anything I might have inherited from him. Half my genes had come from this asshole. I inherited his fair skin, square hands and blocky torso but… Jeezus, what else might I have inherited? I weeded out characteristics with fury. I would apply myself to being nothing like this man who was so morally bankrupt that he could do what he had done. I wanted nothing from him and loathed, until fully removed by me, in me, anything we might have in common. I could do nothing about the physical attributes I had gotten from him but I did quietly hate them and earnestly hide them as though people might recognize these features as signs that I came from his shitty, selfish stock. I wished that I could graft on the hands from my grandmother and my mother’s dark skin so I could erase him completely.
His legacy is painfully obvious. His daughters have all struggled with self-worth or self-loathing. Relationships have presented challenges for each of us. One sought approval from the wrong men, ok, ANY man. One romanticized our father’s flawed character and picked assholes that treated her with the same disregard he did but she makes it her job to defend them anyway. I have never used romantic relationships to work out my “daddy issues” because I never really had daddy issues. I had no idea what having a father might have been like. I had “Me issues.” I applied myself fervently to being nothing like him. I was so terrified that something in my genes would make me selfish, devoid of a sense of responsibility to others that I relentlessly policed myself. Blithe spirits, me-me-me people were cast off as soon as that characteristic reared its ugly head. I didn’t want that influence and I hated those people for being like him. If a person showed me a tendency toward selfishness, a propensity to fish and cut bait, I cut bait first. I wanted, and still want, nothing to do with people who are disloyal or selfish. Neither of those characteristics is fixable. Just ask my mom.
I have come to terms with being made up of 50% genes I’d rather not have. It is impractical to hate half of yourself long term. In all likelihood I made myself a better person because of the effort I put into not being like him. I looked for things in myself that I had inherited from my maternal relatives that I respected and I nurtured those traits instead. My dedication to my family is total and I came to value loyalty in a way I’m not certain everyone else understands.
As for Father’s Day, I still wince a little at those Hallmark commercials but I have celebrated 18 Father’s Days with my husband who also understands dedication to family. He daily contributes to our children’s lives and he has never missed a milestone. Our kids may resent having inheriting a few of his less than perfect characteristics (mine too) but they are accepted with a wink and they are nothing that fills them with shame.
I have healed myself to some degree through parenting. I give of myself every chance I get and I reap the rewards two fold. I will always harbor some hate for my father. He is dead now and I was unable to feel grief when he died and unwilling to feel guilty about that. It is unlikely that my children even know my father’s full name. His branch on the family tree has been erased which is the legacy her deserves. Father’s Day for them will be a day of laughter and barbeques and baseball games, just as it should be.

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About suzygaxiola

I enjoy a well-rounded life. Woman, Wife, Mom, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Volunteer, Writer. I have spent far too many years of my life feeling like a second class citizen because of my weight. Time's up on that story! I want to create a personal community of size. I want a forum of high spirited support.
This entry was posted in Fatherhood, Life Lessons, Personal truth, Self esteem and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fatherless Day

  1. Deb Foster says:

    I wish you were my neighbor so we could have coffee, talk about our wonderful husbands, and compare notes. Great writing. You should be a psychologist. 🙂

  2. Kellee says:

    You have the beautiful gift of writing Suz. I appreciate knowing a little more about you while reading your posts. Genuine.

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