A small boy sits on the side of a long empty road, gazing into the distance, waiting for a bus destined to never arrive. He is a man now.
I have kept a secret my whole life I am about to share with you. I didn’t know it until recently, and as it became clear to me a deep sense of loss and grief continues to flow through me.
I still love my father.
I don’t know him, since he abandoned me before I was born. I’d only met him briefly when I was sixteen and I was so overwhelmed as we went to the pub to try and visit. Now I have no memory of that meeting, save a fear unlike any I have experienced before or since, and a shadow. Dressed in black it walks towards me in the crowded station and in a sea of faces, I know him. I KNOW him.
But I don’t know him because he didn’t teach me how to shave, which resulted in bloody-faced efforts for far too long. I don’t know him because when my voice cracked and warbled, it reinforced the belief something was wrong with me, and I have been unsatisfied with my voice since. I’m a master hypnotherapist. And I hate my voice.
Perhaps it is because I have no frame of reference. Like steering a ship to a shore you have only heard about, but do not know. Adrift, seeking, making endless comparisons to a shoreline never visited.
Futile, in other words, but there it is, the not-so-quiet desperation of the abandoned unworthy child.
I don’t know him because I spent my entire childhood resenting any family showing signs of stability, and hating with an unholy passion any father who decided to be present, competent and involved. I don’t know him because his putative replacement was a drunken pathological liar prone to emotional abuse, reinforcing the notion I was always not good enough.
I don’t know him because now I am a father myself. Every beautiful moment I have with my son, whom I treasure, reminds me that I am making up this fatherhood game on a day-by-day basis. I used to joke that Cliff Huxtable, the memorable TV Dad played by the now-disgraced Bill Cosby taught me everything I would need know about being a man.
I’d said it so many times I almost believed it, despite that deep emotion inside me claiming otherwise—the most unmanly sin of feeling like a fraud. A fraud in my own home. Marriage failure perpetuated it, and becoming partially disabled put the icing on the cake.
I don’t know him because I am in my forties, and friends are already beginning the jokes about mid-life crisis. I laugh along, as we men do, but it hurts. Mid-life crisis? My whole life has been a crisis, and now I am supposed to do what exactly? Age gracefully?
I don’t know him because I went through a toxic marriage with no father to steer me right. Perhaps our union would have failed anyway, perhaps not, but when she was screaming at me that I wasn’t a real man, where obvious rebuttals and the sound of my father’s reassuring advice should have existed, I find merely an aching void.
I tell you this, not because I am a victim or desirous of your pity. Neither am I ashamed of my completely disastrous or inadequate responses—if you try and configure a Ferrari with buggy specifications, you shouldn’t expect F1 speed and performance.
I tell you this because fatherhood is being devalued.
It is being devalued by men like my father who are happy to chase tail, but pitifully not up to managing the child and attendant responsibilities. It is being devalued by men like my stepfather, who faced with an innocent child, young arms outstretched, pervert love in sadistic and twisted ways.
Further, it is being devalued by angry ex-partners chasing child support and emotional presence, furious they have to do it alone. I understand—I was raised by such a woman.
How we fought! Such bloody wars! She, disgusted with men, and I, the wronged child leaping aboard the good ship Men Are Evil for the love of her, little realizing the demons I created as I leapt. For over thirty years, we fought until I had a perfect baby of my own.
Then, my Damascus moment! I had been punishing my mother for the absence of my father, which confirmed my own perception of worthlessness. It took a while, and thousands of hours of therapy and training as a therapist to realize this manifestation was a complex psychodrama operating way past any conscious awareness. Tiny, tiny, consolation.
The absence of a father is a wound that does not resolve. I am well versed in myriad healing techniques, and still I yearn for memories that never existed. It is an energetic imbalance in the home, even when allowing for substitute father figures of either gender; still the question abandoned boys will ask one day is who am I?
As a man, I should know, because my father should have told me. Better yet, he should have shown me—THIS is manhood. This is NOT manhood. My mother to this day apologizes, and cannot hear me when I advise my wound is not hers to carry, that whatever his motivations, it was not a referendum on her. In hindsight, she performed heroically and ironically, became far more a man than he.
At what cost, however?
Forty two years have passed. Every day I check the post and a small part of me hopes for a letter. Saying he is sorry, that he wants to meet my awesome son, his grandson. Every time I talk to my mother I hope he has he reached out. For all I know he is long dead.
It breaks my heart, reduces me to tears. Very manly, I say with bitter self-recrimination.
I know he will never come. My son will only know his weeping crippled father.
Fatherhood matters. It is ours. It is beautiful and challenging, frustrating and magnificent. Sacred. As a father I know this. As an abandoned son I know this, too.
A small child in excruciating pain sits on the side of a long empty road, gazing tearfully into the endless distance, waiting for a bus destined never to arrive. He is a man now.
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