My mom got a boyfriend when I was around 5 years old.
We'd been living with my grandmother, who watched me while my mom finished school and worked the drive-thru at McDonald's to support us. I don't remember seeing her much those days; the few times I did she was tired.
She met a guy at college, and he started coming around to visit. I remember him being really, really tall (to be fair I was really, really short) with geeky glasses and a soft-spoken demeanor. Later on my mom would tell me he was a teaching assistant for her physics class, by which she meant he was really smart but a bit socially awkward.
He had a motorcycle, which did seem cool for a geek. He would work on it in the driveway, and fixing it up seemed more exciting to him than actually riding it. I remember coming out to watch him while he patiently explained what he was doing, none of which I understood at that age. Later on my mom would tell me he hadn't ever wanted children; he didn't think he could handle them. Unfortunately there was no choice - I was already there.
We all went on a hike one day, packing our backpacks up with snacks and an old-school boombox with kid songs on tape (yes, I'm that old). Apparently he loved hiking, but had worried a little kid couldn't keep up. My mom was a very stubborn woman and had insisted, "No, we will - just watch." I sang most of the way and made it the entire trail roundtrip, jumping into the river a few times to splash about until my mom hauled me out and toweled me off. Later on my mom would tell me I had behaved really well, considering I didn't wander off the trail into the poison oak and kept up the entire way without crying or needing carried.
I got my first Nintendo Entertainment System one summer for my birthday. It came with a few basic games - including Super Mario Brothers, which tested my developing hand-eye coordination as well as my patience. I remember staying up with the setting sun, trying to get past levels and burning through lives like tissue paper. Eventually my mother's boyfriend would sit next to me, watching me play and offering helpful hints until I would get frustrated and hand off the controller. Then I would watch him play, noting how he moved and jumped while pointing out hazards to him as they appeared on the screen. Later on my mom would tell me the two of us seemed to be lost in our own world on those evenings.
I don't remember the engagement, I only remember the wedding. We had it in the same church we always went to on Sundays just dressed up nicer, with lots of food. I got a major headache that morning, and they tried to help me through it but it knocked me out until the final ceremony. I sort of understood what was happening, but my young mind didn't really care. Later on my mom would tell me she worried my headache was some sort of sign that she was making a mistake but the day proceeded anyway.
One day both my mom and her new husband met me at school to walk me home. This rarely happened, since usually my mother would come alone instead. She had graduated and quit her job now, so showed up more regularly to see me. They explained as we walked that they'd gotten approval for my adoption; my mom's new geek was now legally my dad. I'd have to change my last name, and they'd already told the school and my teachers so I could start using it in class. I wasn't thrilled about the last name. I only remember thinking about that the whole walk home, how ugly it was and how much kids would tease me for it. Later on my mom would tell me when they had asked how I felt that I had just shrugged and said, "Okay. He's my dad anyway, right?"
My mother had three more children with this man. We never used the words "step" or "half" in our home, and my siblings would grow up to be high schoolers before they actually put the pieces together. My quiet, single childhood would be irrevocably changed by these crying, clingy little midgets and I would be forced to learn empathy and responsibility as my mother constantly nagged me not to treat them like aliens. Later on my mother would tell me she felt a bit guilty that I became a built-in babysitter, but such is the reality for older sibs.
As I grew up I had to share the Nintendo more, but for those first few years while my siblings were teething I had it mostly to myself. Well, me and dad. We still stayed up late at night trying to beat Mario Brothers 2 and 3 now. Mom would only permit me to stay up late if we played together, so it was a handy excuse to miss bedtime. When I reached age 12 I had to start wearing glasses; people used to remark how much I looked like my father and I would just smile. A few years later we'd spend hours sitting at the kitchen table as he used college level calculus to solve my middle school algebra problems, all while quietly driving me insane. Later on my mom would wonder whether my father had married her, or had just showed up to be my dad. Unfortunately, since I was always around, he never got the chance to be just a husband.
Nowadays whenever I have to answer medical questions for my aging body I have to admit that, technically speaking, he isn't my "DNA donor" so his medical history doesn't help me. But the title of "Dad" still sticks. Because for all those years that man put in, beating bosses, fixing bikes, and helping with homework, he earned it. Later on my mom could have him to herself for a change, but for all those years he was the Dad me - and my siblings - could always count on.
And still do.
~ Happy Father's Day, to the all the Nintendo dads, math papas, and motorhead pops who volunteered for their first combat missions without any basic training.
And to all the stepdad's, half-dad's, and mixed families out there who realize that love is thicker than water.
Happy Father’s Day Daddy (I call him Duddoms)
A human man
With hyperbole ears
And unseen masculine tears
A life of the party
Not the talk of the town,
Nor mechanically inclined
Humbly offering his brilliant mind
He's been my protector
My own King Charlemagne
He can do no wrong in my eyes
Rendering my love for him unfit to die
Happy Father’s Day
My father died 27 years ago, two days before my son was born. I was closer to him then than I had been for many years, thanks to my wonderful husband who helped me to accept as enough the kindness, sensitivity and genuinely good heart, indeed, the love, his alcoholism made it hard for me to acknowledge.
My parents divorced when I was five years old. They remained civil over the years and my stepmother and my mom were friendly during his lifetime, and even after he died at the age of 47. He would have turned 48 later that year. My mom cried when he died. And many times over the years since. I think she always loved him but could not let his brokenness break me, their only child.
Because he was broken. Broken by a family that seemed to prefer him defeated to striving for a life better than they had attained. A family that beat down his dreams as nothing more than smoke in the wind. A family that knew its place (my great-grandmother actually used those exact words when I interviewed her for a sociology paper in college), and, apparently, its place was in a broken down tenement on Amsterdam and 164th, in New York City. He let his dreams wither and die, but, even so, he managed a somewhat better life than his family anticipated, working for the city of New York his entire adult life until his health required he retire on disability a mere few weeks before he died.
He filled his brokenness, the void created by abuse, the shadow of dreams unfulfilled mixed with a healthy dose of self-hatred, with alcohol. Like his mother. Like his sister. Like my cousin. But unlike them, he also filled it with working hard. Playing softball. Fishing. Going on trips to Mexico and Puerto Rico with my stepmom. Coming to ballet recitals and making the audience laugh as he screamed, “Don’t drop my baby” as I performed a pas de deux. Taking his life in his hands as he let me practice driving his boat of a car. Getting me my first summer internship at his job when I was 17. Taking me to dinner, just the two of us, as I was growing into womanhood. Coming to my high school and college graduations. Driving me and all my earthly possessions to college. Throwing a surprise party for my 21st birthday. Writing me letters and calling me when I lived in Spain. Giving me away at my wedding. Always loving. Loving me. Loving my stepmom. Loving my cousin’s children when she couldn’t. Loving his mom despite her constant meanness (in almost every sense of the word “mean”). It was never enough, though. Until it was too late to matter.
I am guilty of being unforgiving. Not of him. I forgave him what I saw as weakness long before he died. Thank God. But I could not find it in my heart to forgive his mother. My grandmother. Sadly, I suppose I still have not. I understood that she was embittered by the society in which she lived, a society which closed a door in her face every time she knocked; that impressed upon her time and again that she did not matter; that she had no right to want better; that what little she was permitted was enough. But even so, I could not forgive her for not trying to offer a better vision to her son; for not instilling in him a sense of self-respect, self-worth, self-love. For mirroring to him the same sense of “less than” that he found out in the world. When the world and your family tells you over and over again that your life is worthless, it is not easy to find the strength inside you to prove to them and yourself that they are wrong. Given his circumstances, he did rather well, I think. He loved, something I am not certain my grandmother ever managed to do.
When my son was born, two days after my father passed, I used to fantasize that their souls met in passing, or, alternatively, that God was giving my daddy a second chance at a happier life, with me as his mom. Either way, I hope he is happy with the mom I have been. And I hope he knows, wherever his soul might be, how much I love my daddy.
Happy Father’s Day to all the daddies. Wishing you much love.
To My Darling Daughter
I walked out on you. I chalked my own path.
I crossed the barbed wires. And made my own hearth.
I left you all alone. Not once did I turn.
That doesn't mean that my heart doesn't burn.
I made you cry, feel very bad.
I apologize. I'm sorry for that.
I ran away, made your heart ache.
But all I did was for your sake.
I missed out on you and missed you a lot.
Remember my girl, Daddy never forgot.
Life hit you hard and I hit you too.
I broke your heart but Daddy loves you.
And darling dear,
It slow kills me, poisons me here,
That you grew up and I wasn't there.
Note for the readers: I generally do not explain what I write, but this is something I wrote from my father's point of view... And I wish I am correct, hopefully. He left when I was a kid and came back after a few years. My Mom and I, we both lost a lot in that span of time. I'd probably never forgive him for that, but well, I guess, love teaches you to accept. I personally think he is sorry. He tries to be a father and I try to be his daughter.. And maybe he regrets? I don't know.
The man who makes promises he cannot keep,
The man who stumbles while I sleep,
His eyes narrow and they pierce,
And I fight and try to be fierce.
The man who knows how to smile,
The one who likes to sit and talk for a while,
Cooks me breakfast and tells some jokes,
Runs to the store to buy me cokes.
The man who has two faces,
One that smiles and one that spaces,
Addiction is his true lover,
Go ahead, dad, have another.
Time to celebrate the man who gave me life,
Only to make me crave the knife,
I wish for a different dad,
Maybe then I wouldn't be so sad.
A Letter to My Father (15, unedited)
This is a letter from me, formally requesting you to ease up and stop controlling every aspect of my life. You may argue that you do not control every aspect of my life, but there is 15 years of data that would refute that argument. Ever since I was a child, you have planned out my life: where i go to school, what sports i played, ect. As I’ve grown up, the logical parental response would have been to loosen the reigns and allow me to start making some decisions for myself. This, however, has not been the case with you. The more I’ve grown, the more you’ve tried to shape my life. You told me what sports to play, who to be friends with, and how I should do in school. It got to the point where kids would exclude me from things because of how restrictive you were. I had to grow up in an environment where the only goal in sight was going to a prestigious college. Never once did I have a day of rest. I was signed up for summer camp after summer camp, and pushed into sports that you thought were beneficial to me. Not only that, but my grades had to be perfect as well. B’s were unacceptable, as were any grade under 100. You even asked me to get extra help in French when I had an A minus in the class. All the while concentrating on these aspects of my life, you showed little to no interest in my social or mental well being. You didn’t and don’t care if I have any friends, and part of the reason that I only have 3 or 4 is you. I grew up shy with poor social skills and you made little effort to help me. Part of the reason my mental health has gotten worse over the years is because I had to deal with real social anxiety all my life, while you simply wrote it off as “being shy.” As I began to transition from middle school to high school, the pressures mounted. No child should have to be sent away from home if they don’t want to, and that’s exactly what you did. Your obsession with summer programs is part of the reason I’m writing this. It wasn’t only that though. No kid should be subjected to the amount of standardized tests that I was. I’ve taken them so many times, that they’ve lost all meaning. At this point in high school, I have no energy to do anything of my own volition, all I do is what I’ve been told to do my whole life. I get good grades, I participate in varsity sports, I join clubs, do community service, and it’s still not enough for you. School is honestly one of the worst parts of my life, and now you want to carve out major parts of my summer to have me go to more school. You’re taking every last part of my life away from me. When I talked to the college guidance counselor, her exact words were, “oh you poor dear.” Even she could see how damaging you were. Everyone can see it but you. My friends’ parents talk to them about me and even mom thinks what you are doing is too much (although it’s unlikely that she’d tell you). I truly don’t think you realise what kind of irreparable damage you are doing to me, but I am here to tell you. If you could for once let go of your pride and listen, then maybe you’d see the error of your ways. I know you think that what you make me do is slightly difficult for me and that at the end of it all, I’ll be accepted to the school of my dreams and be forever grateful to you. That’s not it at all. Every day that you make no effort to change or listen to me, you cause a bigger rift to form between us. I may forgive, but I never forget, and every day I resent you a little bit more and more. So it’s up to you, keep going the way you are, and make my life a true living hell, or maybe listen to what I have to say and think of me as an actual person rather than some project that you can work to your liking.
Father, to endure an offensive truth
About three years ago an academic textbook (for 16-18 year olds) redacted a sociological fact: that young boys of a particular demographic were more likely to grow up without a father, almost 30% of them.
We can only speculate why the ire a man experiences from leaving his family was a price worth paying.
That textbook manufacturer was hit by a quick wave of angry publicity. It threatened to hurt their profits. They apologised and removed that reference from their academic text book (for 16-18 year olds). Profits remained stable.
The only thing that hurts more than a profit projection is being a kid who grows up without a father.
Do we have to be at least eighteen to endure that offensive truth?
I haven't told you my secret yet and I don't think I ever will. I feel uncomfortable everytime I look at you because I know your thoughts on the community and I know you won't accept me for me. You're my father. You're supposed to accept me but because of your beliefs, you don't. You care more about what the Bible supposedly said than what God really said. He said love and accept everyone as they are. You failed. And as a parent, you're supposed to accept your child. You failed. If you're not going to accept your own child for who they are then why did you have children? It's horrible to think that your beliefs outweigh the love for your children. I know you will never accept me but it doesn't mater because I accept me and I have people in my life that love me for me.
Letter to My Dad (for whom I’ve lost of respect)
Do you know that I love you? Of course, I tell you often, but has it just become a series of words said to go along with “good-bye,” to end a conversation or a potentially upsetting email? Is it just a reminder to soften the blow of not liking you very much anymore?
Sure, we disagree on many things, but still, you’re my father and I love you. I’ve always felt that I understood you, but lately, I’m not so sure. I never imagined that we would diverge on issues of compassion and ethics. That our very impressions of reality would differ so greatly, it would appear we abide in separate worlds.
You’re not a monster—just a fallible human, like the rest of us. Still, I have to wonder why the apple fell so far from the tree. Then I remember, the apple didn’t fall that far. The tree moved. And it continues to move, further and further away.
I miss you, Dad. I miss the days when I could ask you for an explanation or for your opinion and I would learn new things. We didn’t always agree, but I always felt like you listened to my views and presented the opposing point of view in a logical and persuasive way. Sometimes, we’d debate an issue, and at a later point, I’d hear you arguing my point against someone else.
I vividly recall a debate we had when I was in high school. I argued, for all of the usual reasons, that marijuana should be legal, while you argued it should not. We finished at an impasse, which I counted as a win because you hadn’t convinced me to change my mind. About a week later, I overheard you talking to my cousin at our Thanksgiving get together, but this time you posited that marijuana should be legal, while he argued it should not. Indignant, I interrupted to accuse you of using my arguments. You winked and laughed...and continued to use my claims to support your new point of view. When I told Mom, she also laughed, explaining that you just liked arguing. What I heard was, you liked challenging expectations and exploring different points of view.
Now, I’m afraid I may have been wrong. You don’t relish the opportunity to hear opposing points of view. You look for circumstances to shoehorn your talking points into conversations, to attempt to show others you know more by repeating the phrases you’ve allowed to be programmed into your head by your daily viewing habits.
We don’t have productive debates anymore. Now, I can hear the evidence of the unoriginality of your thoughts, your repetition of talking points on Fox “news” that you try to pass off as your own. I believe you used to think for yourself, but now I wonder if I was just too young to recognize that you were repeating the opinions of others. I no longer recognize any of the critical thinking skills I thought you were passing on to me.
I know that people are complicated creatures with multiple facets to their personalities, and often their actions contradict their beliefs. I know you to be a generous, affectionate, fun-loving man who easily makes friends and feels comfortable around all different kinds of people. I also know you blindly support the policies of a racist president and GOP completely lacking in compassion and morals. I want to believe that you haven’t always been this way, that at one time, you would have noticed the hypocrisy in what they say and what they do. I want to blame it on brainwashing and aging, and those factors may be to blame, but sometimes I wonder. Do I, too, have the potential to turn out like you?
I think this is what scares me more than anything.
With love, from your daughter.