I NEEDED MY FATHER
The first memory I have of my father is the day he picked me up from my home in Queens, NY, and whisked me off to Buffalo to visit with his family. All of them were strangers to me then. And now, 37 years later, many of them are still strangers. That visit with him was magical. Before that night, I was not even aware that I came from two people. I had no knowledge that I even HAD a father. But that night, I saw my first Atari 5200, and watched my very first fireworks display with the kind of awe that only a 3 year old can have – wide eyed and stricken with pure amazement.
I had no idea how fleeting those moments would be, or the impact their absence would have on my life. This might sound hard to believe, but the next chronological memory I had of my father was when I was 11 years old. He flew me out to California to visit him. It was a two week visit, filled with wonder, fishing, basketball, love, advice, and amusement. My first trip to six flags, as someone who could actually ride something. My first trip to Disney. My first view of the pacific ocean, in all of its green majesty and power. The visit was over entirely too soon. By that time, I had been conditioned to be totally dependent on my mother. So as much as I NEEDED my father, I MISSED my mom too much to object when it was time to come home.
Two years later, I took another trip out to California. By this time I was 13. Like the first trip, it was filled with all the wonder of missing moments between a father and a son. By then, my father was probing about my interest in girls, and they typical things fathers share with their teenage sons (I suppose). When I would later probe my mother about the infrequency of such incidents, she would offer that she was afraid of his abusive nature – a side of him I never saw. At the end of that trip, my mother and father would fight. He wanted more time with me, and she was consumed by the possibility of him taking me away from her, so it ended on a very sour and abrupt note. It would be 14 years before I would see my father again.
Tragically, it would be the death of HIS father – a grandfather I have no memory of and never knew – that would draw us into the same sphere again. That was the first time I became aware of the gravity of the hole his absence in my life created. I don’t think anyone has ever been more proud to show off their son, than my father was when I visited his hometown in N.Y. We would drink the night away, singing, laughing, and reminiscing about the relationship we never had, but always wanted. But alas it would be fleeting. Sometime around age 35, my father packed up all of his belongings, and moved away from everything he ever knew, to settle in an area about 75 miles from me. Aware of his own mortality, he wanted to be closer to his son. By then I had married, had children, and begun to build a full life. A life that I had learned to live without him. Making room in an already full existence proved to be difficult.
And so here I am, having speng 483 months on the planet, and having spent less than 2 of them with my father. Why was that story significant? Today I spent the afternoon with my father. The affection in the room was so thick you could touch it. The visit was filled with laughter and love, and it was over too soon for everyone in the room. When I was younger, my mom explained away my fathers absence by saying she was protecting me from him. But as I look back at all of our interactions and even our interactions now, I recognize that my father and I have been robbed of the loving interactions that every father and son should have, if we are to grow men into productive men. My father wasn’t there when I made my first basket. He wasn’t there when I won my first spelling bee. He wasn’t there when I won my first football championship. He wasn’t there when I won my first basketball championship. Take a look at the image in the headline: I never experienced that with my father. He missed my first crush. My first kiss. My first girlfriend. My first love. I didn’t learn how to use a lawnmower until I bought my own house at 28. He wasn’t there when I graduated high school. He wasn’t there when I graduated college. He wasn’t at my wedding. He wasn’t there when my children – his grandchildren – were born. And with each of these missed milestones, the hole in my person grew bigger and bigger.
As I said, today, I spent the day with my father. First time in 3 years. It was loving. It was affectionate. It was the kind of love that a father and son should have for one another (I believe). And it caused me to unpack how we ended up in a place where both of us were so starved for it. There are so many things about manhood that I was not taught by a man. How to date. The importance of keeping my word. How to love a woman properly. Sexual education from a man’s perspective. The importance of my DNA, and protecting my seed at all costs. The fact that I am not required to LOVE someone THROUGH their dysfunctional trauma. ßYes men do that too. Although I’ve never been a fuckboy, I didn’t learn how to avoid becoming one from my father. If there is a hallmark of what it means to be a man, my father was not there to teach it to me.
For years I blamed him – and only him – for this. For his absence. For the holes in my life. For the embarrassment that came the first time my wife had to show me how to work a lawnmower. For skipping my prom, because he wasn’t there to show me how to court women. For all the times I nearly destroyed myself loving the wrong woman. For conceiving children with a woman I was not married to, and eventually would not marry. For not knowing my value in relationships, in my professional life, and in personal friendships. For not being – fully – a man. I blamed him for it all.
And then today happened. Today I realized, that he is not – at all – the monster he has been portrayed as to me. Even when he wasn’t there, and even when it pained him to do so, he loved me. My aunt would later tell me that he used to cry himself to sleep at night, because of my absence. Today I saw my father the human being. And in him, I saw myself. I have a fervent, almost fanatical need to be there for my children. And that was born out of his absence. I have a deep seated hatred of men who don’t take care of their children. And that was born out of his absence. I have an equally deep seated aversion for women who keep the fathers of their children away from the children. And that was born out his absence. So in a weird way, some of the man I have become is a direct result of him, even if not in the way he intended.
However, today caused me to re-evaluate my upbringing with my MOTHER TOO. Today, for the first time, I realize that my mother kept me away from a man who GENUINELY LOVED ME. Today, for the first time, I realize that my mother kept me away from a man who should have been there for all the milestones I mentioned above. YES I BLAME HIM for not fighting for me. But for the first time in my life, I BLAME HER, for EVER putting him in a position to make him HAVE to fight for me in the first place. As the Husband in Residence™, I have often absolutely RAILED against women who exhibit certain behaviors. And unfortunately, this encounter with my father caused me to unpack that too. That moment when you realize that your mom is the very woman you’ve been railing against all this time.
Today I was forced to take stock of my life, and upbringing from BOTH sides. And my unpacking revealed some surprising layers to my childhood that I never considered before today. I’ve taken women to task for dating thugs and drug dealers. My mother married one. I’ve taken women to task for dating abusive men. My mother dated MULTIPLE abusive men, and married one of those too. I’ve taken women to task for WILLINGLY being the side piece. Guess whose mom was a side piece (I never put it together until today)? I’ve taken women to task for being too involved with ALL the wrong kinds of men for ALL the wrong reasons. You guessed it. That’s my mom. She was ALL these things ON TOP of being that which I have railed against the most: A woman who keeps a Son away from his father.
So here I sit at 40 years old. Simultaneously devastated and liberated. Realizing that it is very likely that unless my father lives to 100, I will likely spend most of my life without him, and desperate to regain every lost moment. My relationship with my dad is forever changed. But so is my relationship with my mom. I have no idea what that means for the future, except for my need to say this: Ladies, if you want your children to be whole, DO NOT KEEP THEM from their fathers orremain friends with women who do. Men, your children NEED you. And if you aren’t there, your absence will DOG them into AT LEAST the middle years of their adult life. BE THERE.
Written by, The Husband in Residence
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