One mother sees the influences of her abusive father in her face, and the love of her husband in her daughter
Imagine looking like the one person you hate most in the world. Now, I’m not talking about that person at your job that you know steals your food although your name is on it or the woman at your dentist’s office that wears the scrubs with the bunnies that always pronounces your name wrong.I’m talking about looking in the mirror everyday and being reminded that you haven’t let go, that you haven’t gotten over it and there’s nothing you can really do about it. I was like this for a very long time.
My father gave me three things in this world: his temper, his looks including his big mouth (figuratively and literally), and one life lesson I carry till this very day: “If a guy raises his hand at you, you kick him in the balls.” He told me that when I was six years old. The same year, he and my ma divorced because she found out about his year-long affair with my babysitter who was pregnant by her boyfriend, who was my father’s best friend, whom she left to go marry my father. Did you catch that? I’m thinking of adding a chart.
Now, it is what it is, right? Doesn’t make it okay, but I’ve had to deal with feelings of abandonment and neglect, and not feeling good enough for anyone, especially men. I can’t stand it when someone turns the car wheel with one open hand because my father drove that way and I get nervous when men start yelling at each other because all he did was yell. My father never paid a dime of child support, he raised someone else’s kid, and he was abusive emotionally and sexually during the weekend visits that ended when I was twelve. All of that really messed with my mind and self-esteem. Suicide was always there but I felt like a coward when I couldn’t do it. It’s like I knew that what my father had done to me was not my fault, but I didn’t know how not to feel that emptiness inside.
Always looking for validation outside of myself, I grew up crying any time I saw a father and his kid at the park, or on the train, or at the zoo. Seeing a father laughing and playing with his children fractured all of me. No matter what, I could and would never have that.
I didn’t grow up like some girls that picture their weddings and being moms. I pictured myself alone with some cats and some dogs eating Twinkies and watching television. And even so, I met my husband when he was sixteen and I was eighteen, a week before I graduated high school.
He had not only a loving mom, but a loving dad, and they were married. His father died of cancer just ten months before we started dating. But I didn’t need to meet his father to know that he was part of him. He was loving, generous and affectionate. He didn’t run when I had moments of depression. He was there holding me, letting me cry, and he said he wished he could help. He already was. We laughed about everything and nothing and stayed up late to catch our favorite music videos while we ate pizza. We held hands, we made out during the movies, and when we argued, after cooling off, we always made up. He didn’t run away and neither did I. On top of all that, he wanted to get married and have kids—with me.
Thirteen years later, after we saved to go on trips to Mexico, San Francisco, and Hawaii, after we each saw the other graduate from college, got married, after we bought our condo—moving in with only a small black and white TV and four kitchen chairs—which was fine because we finally had a home together, we had our daughter. I cried not only because I was in labor for twenty-two hours, but mainly because he was there. My daughter had a father and I knew regardless of what happened to our marriage that he would always be there for her because that’s the kind of man he is.
I try to explain this to him.
“You know how important you are to her, right? Being in her life. She’s going to base the kind of men she dates all on her relationship with you.”
“Oh, no pressure.”
“No no. Look, I’m happy she’s not going to have all the emotional bullshit I did. I know even if something was to happen to us, you would always be there for her. You are the kind of father she needs. You love her and play with her and discipline her. She’s going to know how a man needs to respect her and her seeing us together will show her how couples interact. She’ll have issues, like we all do, but hopefully not serious ones. Having a father is a big deal.”
“I know how important it is. I’m grateful I had a great dad, but I also missed out on a lot. I was only fifteen and that’s when I needed him the most. I know how it is to not have your father around.”
“I don’t understand life sometimes. You had a great father and he’s not around anymore. My father is an asshole and he’s still doing whatever he’s doing.”
So, we both have missing parts. We both are trying our best to be the best parents we can be with our daughter. It’s a matter sometimes of merely hoping what we are doing is right and on the other hand accepting that maybe we won’t know until she is much older.
My husband has seen me at my worst. Crying in my twenties when we got engaged because I didn’t know who would walk me down the aisle, or going through episodes of depression where I felt like I was nothing more than a dust particle in this universe. So to some degree he gets how important he is to my daughter, but I don’t think ever fully.
One of my favorite moments is watching them cook together. Their specialty is blueberry pancakes and she’ll be mixing the ingredients making a mess and he’ll be pouring the batter onto the hot griddle. They both concentrate the same, focused eyes on what they are doing while biting their bottom lip. Then we eat as a family and they both are happy and proud when I eat every last bite. The sweetest morsel for me is having us together.
He’s giving her something I can’t give her. I am her mother, and I love her, just as mine did with me, but still it’s never fully the same without both parents present. That doesn’t mean married. That means both parents loving and supporting and disciplining and being there for their children whether it’s in the same household or underneath two separate roofs.
Our daughter is three now. She’s a total daddy’s girl. She carries around the Marvel encyclopedia and can name most of the characters because daddy loves comic books; she follows him around the house until he sits down and then snuggles with him; she sometimes cries when we drop him off at the train saying, “I’ll miss you, Daddy.”
It makes me happy that she has that. That she hopefully won’t grow up struggling with emotional bullshit because it’s draining and gets exhausting to try to not drown in that.
When I see them together it not only makes me happy, but it also makes me question how my father, how any father, can choose not to be present for their kids. How is that possible that a human being is born with your genes, your blood, and you disregard or neglect or abuse or abandon them? I can’t comprehend it. How hard is it to make sure your kid has milk in the fridge, and food in their tummies, and someone to read them a story at night, and tell them that they can’t get that toy and that other toy, and help blow out the candles, and tell them that they are loved no matter what? That’s love, see? Love. How hard is that?
The wonderful father he is to our daughter, I never had nor will ever have. I won’t know how any of that feels. And as much as I have come along—no longer crying over it, or wishing for it—I can admit that it still hurts to know that.
My mother never talks about my father. Her approach to everything is to ignore something and it doesn’t exist which may work for her, but not for me. I don’t bring up anything that has to do with my father because she just shuts down after saying, “I know I’m a bad mom.” In a way, I have two parents that never spoke to me. And she never says I look like him even though everyone knows it. “Look at your pretty eyes,” she’ll say and only because they are from her side of the family.
After a decade of no contact, my father contacted me via email when he found out that I was pregnant. “Now, that you’re going to be a parent you’ll understand what I did.” No apologizes. No remorse and if anything I understood less now being a parent how anyone could abuse their kid, leave their kid, and still think they had the right to say anything so ridiculous.
I didn’t want an apology from him, and he wasn’t giving one. I wanted to be left alone. I replied, “Don’t ever contact me again. You are dead to me.”
Nothing for four years up until a few weeks ago. The day after my 35th birthday, while watching The Walking Dead for the first time, I get a call in the middle of all these zombies killing people, and who do you think is calling? I guess the dead do come back.
“I wanted to say Happy Birthday. I know it was yesterday, but I’m so sick and in Guatemala with your grandma. She’s sick too, but not as sick as me.”
So, here is my father calling me to say Happy Birthday for the first time in twenty-two years, trying to engage me in conversation. I said, “Glad grandma is feeling fine.” That was the extent of our conversation. I told him he could only reach out to me if it concerned my grandmother.
I don’t know if he was really sick or pretending. I don’t care. I’m indifferent with him now. He could live or die and it’s all the same to me. I have moved on. I’m thirty five now and he doesn’t get any more of my time or my energy. He can live with what he has done, but I’m not living with it anymore. I do get down sometimes, but not nearly as often or as deep, and I remind myself at those moments, that I’m no longer a child. I have control now. I have the power to be happy and I’m choosing that instead.
I chose to marry a great man and that counts for something, I think. My daughter is loved by us both and that is something that gives me a great sense of joy and relief.
Now I say so what that I look like a man who couldn’t care less about me. These eyes are mine, this mouth is mine, this massive mane that gets enormous when it’s humid out or it rains so pigeons make it their nest in it is mine. My crooked mouth, the scar under my nose, the beauty marks that look like chocolate chips on my face. Flaws and all. When I look in the mirror now, I see me.
My daughter has her father’s eyes and his nose and even his mouth. Now, at almost four, she looks in the mirror, smiles and says, “I look like daddy.”
Now, that is beautiful.
—photo by Cea/Flickr