It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I realized how fucked up it was for my biological father to be absent from my life. Up to that point I was doing the thing that kids do eerily well: adjusting to the environment I was given. Other kids had fathers around and I saw it on the vast amount of television I consumed growing up, but it never struck me as odd or out of the ordinary that I didn’t have the same. It was how I lived, and everything seemed to be just fine as it was. It wasn’t like I didn’t have father figures around — my grandfather probably saved me more than I can give him credit for — and my mother kept us in church 3-5 times per week, I was never short of sincere and impactful male influences.
Things changed when I was around eleven and my mom married my step-father — who I still call “Mr. John” to this day. I think I subconsciously became aware of what I was missing by not having someone like that in the home for all those years, and we both struggled to figure out how to cope with one another. One day my mom packed our bags and said we were leaving — I knew they were having arguments of some sort, but didn’t know what about. I was never the kind of kid to to think adults were fighting because of me, but hindsight reveals my attitudes and distance may have had something to do with it.
But whatever issue they were having that led to bags being packed was somehow resolved and we never did move out. Soon after though, Mr. John came down to my room and bluntly (courageously) asked “Are you angry that your dad is not around.”
No one had ever asked me that before. I had never thought about it — or at least never allowed myself to think about it. I can’t remember how the conversation proceeded, all I know is we somehow ended up on the floor, me crying in his arms, saying “I don’t understand why he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
Speaking with him a couple decades later, it was revealed that he was fighting his own demons at the time. He had already experienced the pain of raising a child who struggled to find peace and didn’t want to go through that again. We were both distant from one another, looking for reasons the other didn’t measure up or would most likely disappoint in some way. I think he realized this about himself and decided to confront his fear by coming to talk to me. And I think by getting me to acknowledge my own hurt, wounds were healed on the floor that night.
My step-father has given me irreplaceable love for nearly 30 years now. When I give him the customary call later today (before he immediately hands the phone back to my mom because you know how we men do) I will be sure to address him appropriately for the first time in all these years.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.