I get my height from my father. My teenage dreams of being famous, my participation in drama club throughout my high school and college years, my ears – all things I’ve been told I’ve gotten from the male contributor of me.
I hope that’s where the list ends.
My parents met in Chicago in the mid-Seventies. She was a Catholic schoolgirl from the South Side. He, an aspiring boxer from the West Side. They fell in love, as teenagers do, and I came along a few years later.
I saw my father periodically after he and my mother broke up when I was a toddler. Every once in a while, he would show up to take me to movies or to Lake Michigan for a picnic. He’d buy me the occasional gift estranged parents give their kids out of guilt, obligation, or a sordid mix of both. The most memorable of these tokens was Madonna’s Bedtime Stories for my birthday. After taking me out for pizza, he dropped me back off at my house. I sat in the passenger seat as he passed the CD to me, which was inside a yellow Coconuts baggie. “I had no idea you liked this type of music,” he’d said with a hint of pure shock.
After giving him a meaningless peck on the cheek and bolting out of his car, I went in the house and eagerly dug through the bag. I found a sealed greeting card included with the compact disc. Upon first glance, my brow crinkled: he had misspelled my name on the envelope. Not only did my own father not know that I was a years-long Madonna fan, but he didn’t know how to spell my first fucking name. My sixteen-year-old brain couldn’t figure out which was worse.
Once I’d turned eighteen and was off to college, it was as if he had disappeared from my life. He’d fulfilled his child support obligation, after all. I can only guess that he hid out where other part-time (quarter-time?) bio-dads hide when they are afraid to invest more money in the education of their adult child.
Soon after, my post-collegiate life had become fuller with making friends, meeting my future husband, and starting my career. The busier I got, the more I got used to not having my father in my life. As I got older, I began to feel weird about rarely thinking of him: Is that normal? Am I in denial? Shouldn’t I be having a breakdown of some kind?
In some ways, I think I grew numb to it after the Madonna CD debacle. I couldn’t even classify him as a memory because I didn’t have much to remember about him. I’d known more about the fathers of my high school boyfriends than I had him. I didn’t know anything about my father and, what’s more, it didn’t bother me.
Then, I had children.
Building a stereotypical nuclear family when you were raised without a father is akin to trying to learn two languages simultaneously. When our first child was born, I was becoming a mother and learning how to allow my husband the space to parent. I grew up watching my mother raise my younger brother and I by herself, so becoming a parenting partner with my husband required me to rewire myself. I learned to let him be a father and it has benefited our family tenfold. My greatest joys include watching my husband play tea party with our preschool daughter or helping our fourth grader build videos for his YouTube channel. I didn’t have that connection and I’m realizing what I missed out on. I also recognize that it was no fault of my own and that freed me.
My father phoned to reconnect with me a year ago. We talked for an hour but I found the conversation pedantic, listless. I felt as if he were a stranger who was attempting to insert himself into my life – and that’s exactly who he was. He still calls occasionally, leaving me voicemail messages that I rarely listen to. He’s never met my children and he’s only once met my husband, whom I’ve known for almost half of my life. I wish I could find something inside of me that wants to bond with him. I feel odd that I don’t. Things may change, I cannot speak to the future.
Today, I take pride in the family I’ve built with a man who has shown me what fatherhood looks like in its purest form. My children will never know what it’s like to get a greeting card from him with their names misspelled. He’ll never be shocked to know our children’s longtime likes and dislikes in pop culture. I never have to question whether my husband will be around for their future birthdays, graduations, and weddings.
It’s a refreshing thing for me to see, this unconditional love from man to child. A twinge of regret washes over me from time to time for not having it in my life, but I had so much more than my father could or would supply. His absence in my past led to this chaotic yet amazing life I lead now. How can I be upset or angry about that gift? God bless Madonna.
This post was originally published on 30 on Tap and is republished here with the author’s permission.
Photo credit: Flickr/maddonnafan_dusseldorf