It’s the day after Father’s Day, 2020 and nothing monumental has happened.
I sent out text messages to the appropriate people in my life to share pleasantries. My brother had my niece 2 years ago, that’s one. My mom is engaged to a man who entered my life only a few short years ago who has children of his own, that’s two. I reconnected with my dad in May after a year and a half, no contact, that’s three.
After leaving home at 18 I found my strongest connections to people I meet are those who share their absence of parental figures or who have baggage in that area (It’s sometimes called a trauma bond, depending on how that connection plays out). Maybe it’s not the strongest connection with every person I meet, but it’s that absence, that pain that recognizes one another from the get-go.
An immediate spark. What’s that funny saying? Real Recognize Real? — “You too??” I say, as I interrogate when their specified grief happened and how they’ve survived the hole in their heart.
It’s something special you carry when your daddy chooses not to be involved in your life. To those who have lost their dads, whose dads were not capable of being present, who were dealing with their own demons when they were caring for their little seeds, I see you. That is also a special type of pain to carry.
I’m here to share the pain of not being chosen, of being the product of a dad who had other priorities (not drugs, not alcohol) that came before fatherhood (those priorities were mainly rediscovering his sexual identity).
I will give him this though; he was present for my early years (the crucial years, I think). My parents divorced when I was 10, my brother 13. “I’m gay,” he said. I remember vividly the night he came out to my brother and me. He sat us down in his barely furnished apartment with one of those tacky light up palm trees in the living room. He said “mom is going one way with T.C., I’m going in another direction with H.M.” He met someone. They’ll move in together. Every other weekend PLUS Wednesday nights until we’re both 18. $400 alimony per kid every month (my mom used that to renovate our kitchen).
Et voila, he was a 40 something year old man and he reinvented himself. (some would call it a midlife crisis, I attribute it to his catholic school upbringing in Pennsylvania). Really, I wonder what the statistic is for people born in the 1960s who came out as LGBTQ+ later in life. It wasn’t an acceptable time frame, so what could they do? They married straight women, had babies with them, and then dropped a bomb on the family name.
Now, this is not to say that I’m not accepting of my dads’ life choices. I am pro gay, pro black, pro sex, etc. etc. I myself identify as bisexual. I guess you could say I’m not a fan of how he owned up to and handled his life choices. He still denies his sexuality to people to this day. I empathize greatly with his situation. He grew up in a different decade filled with mainstream forces that were out of his control. It was dangerous to identify as anything else but straight, I see that now.
No, I don’t frown upon him. But I do hold him accountable for abandoning his role as my father. He acted entitled to my body and my choices, and as I grew older and participated in the unlearning process, as most adults do, I distanced myself from all family members who felt entitled to my time and attention and who did not first respect my opinions and space held. He wanted to be my gay best friend and ALSO throw down the hammer but you can’t be both.
It was the time of my college graduation that I relinquished all contact with my dad. It happened without a fight, without any backlash (from him, at least). In the year and a half that we were void of contact, I moved in with a boy after graduation whom I played out those trauma bonds with. I grieved my loss. I went to therapy. Life went on. Nothing monumental happened.
When I reconnected with him last month, it was uneventful. I walked through his front door, he went for a hug and I stepped back. He and I were out on his back porch with Chick-Fil-A sandwiches and sweet teas under the warm Virginia sun. Two adults having a sit-down talk, catching up. Nothing was acknowledged; nothing from the past brought up. I left him with a “Don’t be a stranger,” and I allowed him to hug his estranged daughter.
This isn’t meant to be a sad story, but an informed one. Maybe just a matter-of-fact story. Fathers day and Mothers day can be triggering and complex yet grateful and loving and especially grounding. What does it mean to be a father? A radio host said something like, “Happy Fathers day to all the people who are present and attentive to their kids” and that’s what struck a cord with me yesterday morning, that really empowered me to reach out to all the fathers close to me who are present in their kids’ lives. I figure, at this point, in it’s own f*cked up way, it’s a matter of effort. Is it reciprocal? Is it minimal? Will it be what people think of as normal or healthy or acceptable? Will it ever be what I want it to be? (probably not) but only time will tell.
In the meantime, I will reparent myself. I will be the father figure I don’t have. I will forgive those who aren’t capable.
(names are abbreviated or changed for privacy reasons)