Jordan Becker didn’t get what he needed from a father. But he’s going to make a great dad.
I don’t have a father.
I used to pretend I did. Everyone said it’s what a growing boy like me needed most, so I made one out of the man that was married to my mother. It made sense, and nobody seemed to object. I watched him be what he said was a man, always in charge of the conversation, never backing down from an argument, mastering the art of charm. Everybody loved him. And that meant he was good.
Whenever my parents went out to dinner, or invited people over, or hosted dance parties at our ballroom in town, it always played out the same. He told such good stories, even if they were exaggerated; he cracked jokes and made sure people listened and laughed. “Are you the dance teacher’s son?” people would ask. Yes, I would answer, proud to see them so fond of the man I was looking up to. My mom and I never talked much in public because it was practically a spectator sport watching him work his way into the hearts of everyone around. Even at home, when it was just the few of us eating dinner, he controlled the mood. He asked the questions, he finished eating before us, and he always had something to say. Only after he cleared his place and went upstairs to fall asleep did my mom get the chance to speak.
And we had the greatest conversations. Once the noise of the day died down and it was just the two of us left at the dinner table, we let go. We talked, and we laughed, and over the years I discovered that it’s not always the loudest people with the most power. “Do not speak,” my mom would quote, “unless what you have to say is more powerful than the silence.” I lived by this, listening and thinking and observing. But never speaking. Friends said I was a great listener, but everyone took me for shy and assumed I didn’t have an opinion. I would watch different people and try to understand what was going on in their heads, and found that most of the time I was right. I became comfortable staying silent, until my attention finally turned to the man I introduced to everyone as my dad.
As my mom used to tell me, people show you who they are right away. Façades deteriorate quickly. I just didn’t realize I was trying to paint the one I lived under.
Recognizing that I didn’t have a father was anything but a fast process, or an easy one. From the very first “Bring Your Dad to School Day,” I longed for an example of what I might become. Trudging through the awkwardnesses of adolescence, blindly grasping for what this “manliness” was that everyone was talking about, it seemed I was on my own.
Once I came out as gay at the green age of 19 I yearned all the more for someone who knew what it was like to be a young man and have so many questions. Yet every time I would approach the man at the head of my family, it didn’t feel right. He gave me answers, but they didn’t seem real. All of a sudden I felt like another guest at a party, waiting to be charmed by his way with words and that coy smirk he knew worked so well.
But I was different, wasn’t I?
I was supposed to be his son, and he my dad. I even adopted his last name to show how close I felt we were, something I felt so proud to tell anyone who’d ask. Still, I couldn’t help but observe, and listen, and watch. That’s when the past began to unravel.
He’s good at what he does, and I fell for it. Words may be cheap, but they are effective, and for years I dismissed every time he yelled at my mom, or told a crude joke at our expense, or flirted with all of my female friends, because he would make up for it by being sweet and caring and apologetic. But as I watched him more and more, I began to see right through him. And I began to accept that he was never my father in the first place.
Because a father shouldn’t hit his kids. Because a father shouldn’t lock himself in his office until coming out for dinner. Because a father shouldn’t hide the money he makes. Because a father shouldn’t tell his wife to shut up. Because a father shouldn’t flirt with the babysitter. And he did it all.
In the end, contrary to my original need for an example of what a father is, he became something just as effective: the perfect example of what a father is not.
This isn’t to say I don’t need a father, nor is it to say I don’t want one. On the contrary. I have simply stopped pretending that this man is anything close. Knowing what I do now, this seems simple to admit, but as a 9-year-old trying to make sense of two last names, or a 14-year-old questioning his sexuality, or a 20-year-old fearing for the safety of his mother, this realization was not easy to come by. Because there still existed that hope that he was the father I always wanted. Even after he kept up relationships with people who believed I was going to hell, even after he dropped contact because he thinks me too young and brainwashed to understand what’s going on, and even after he refused to support me because “I’m not his actual son,” I still tried to believe that he was what I wanted him to be.
But he isn’t. As I look back at everything I’ve accomplished without him, I see he never was. And as I look forward to the bright future ahead of me, I see he never will be. And I’m okay with that.
Everything I’ve done, everything I am, and everything I stand for now is because of my mom, and because of me.
I don’t have a father. But I do have a role model.
And his name is Jordan Becker.
I decided to post this on Father’s Day because of everyone out there who reads this and recognizes himself or herself in the same position. This is not a negative day for me, nor a sad one, nor a hopeless one. In fact, I find myself looking at today as the perfect day to step forward into my new life, one in which I accept that I don’t have a father and understand that that’s okay. I’ve released myself from the shackles of pretense, freed myself from following a false role model, and allowed myself a wider view of what it means to be a man. While I may not have a father, I am by no means “father”-less. Because of the men who I see being good fathers to their kids, because of my mother stepping into the role to combat neglect and disinterest, and because of my own role as “father” to my two younger brothers as they travel through childhood, puberty, and the many same problems and issues that I faced as they find their way into manhood.
And I can’t wait to some day be a father myself, because I know I can give that unconditional love I learned to give the little boy inside me.
So, as Jordan Becker, consider this my manifesto. I want to share my story so I can open the conversation to those of you who see yourself in it. Because men are not fathers simply because they happen to walk in the door for dinner at the end of the night. And we as children of these men need to release ourselves from our suffering and understand that we do not bear the burden of their selfish inability to be a good dad.
I am new. I am changed.
And I am strong.
I don’t have a father. But some day I’m going to be a great one.