Writing About the Color Red

Writing about fatherhood and fathers is like trying to describe a color I’ve never seen. The hard truth is, I have no idea what it feels like to have an affectionate, loving father.

My biological father took off when I was three months old, screwed up on drugs after a tour in Vietnam. My mother remarried when I was two years old, and my step-father started the process of adopting me- the biological signed over the papers- but somehow they just never got around to filing the final papers. All this happened when I was very young, and I didn’t know I wasn’t my step-father’s natural child. Two sons were added to the family, and I felt like an afterthought. I don’t say that to be cruel, but at no point in my life can I recall my dad ever showing any affection, hugging me, or even offering praise. He wasn’t mean- he would correct me if I was misbehaving- but that was the extent.

I think I was about eleven years old when I found the adoption papers, and I can still remember the ice water flooding my veins as I sat on the floor. I shoved them back in the cabinet and went to my room. Why didn’t they tell me? I said nothing until I was at my grandma’s house that weekend, and I asked her. I can recall her face as she told me it was going to be okay, reaching for the phone to call my mom. I hid under her dining room table, playing with the lemon yellow fringe on the linen tablecloth as I listened to the conversation with my mother.

Heading into my teens, I looked at my step-dad with new eyes. To my mind, this explained why he didn’t care for me. This also began a decade-long dance of tension trying to get him to love me, and trying to establish contact with the biological. Neither exercise ended well.

When I got married, I was determined to break the cycle and provide my future children with a good father, one who would love them and be all the things I had lacked. That exercise didn’t turn out so well either. After ten years of marriage and three children, my (now ex-) husband, abdicated all of his responsibilities to us and left us to see what he could find in the bottom of a bottle of pills. Now the sole parent to three children- two sons and a daughter, I am clueless how to even begin to address the chasm left where a father should be. I have no blueprint, no frame of reference, and feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Enter the Church. As painful as the discourse on the perfect families can be for someone on the outside, there is not shortage of good, decent men who are reaching out to support and love my children. Our Home Teacher, as I have written about, is an honest godsend to us. He takes my kids fishing, he comes by several times a week to check on us, he makes sure I have gas for my mower and string for the trimmer, he planted a garden with the kids, and he’s just a really nice man. Is this what it feels like to have a dad?

We have good scout leaders, teachers, and friends. We are wonderfully cared for, and I am so grateful that my children, while missing their own father for certain, do have a multitude of examples of men being caring, kind and thoughtful.

So this Father’s Day, I would like to tip my cap (if I wore one) to all the men out there who are doing it right. The men who show up everyday and who make sure their children know they are loved. The men who take the time to check in on families who are missing their own dads- whether that be the children, or even the mother who never knew hers. Thank you for helping to heal wounds you did not cause. Thank you for showing my sons and my daughter what good men do, and for showing their mother that you are more than unicorns and fairy dust. Happy Father’s Day.

8 thoughts on “Writing About the Color Red

  1. Thank you for such a great post. So many of my own thoughts are echoed in your words. My situation is not quite as tragic because their father is still a small part of their lives. My children do have their own father- but he has changed so drastically that I really mourn the person I knew for 17 years- instead of this person I have a good working parental relationship with- but who I don’t recognize most of the time. It is so sad to see what it looks like when the “light” or Spirit really leaves your presence. Ug. My children will be with him tomorrow as they should- and I really debate about going to church in the morning. I think watching Primary children sing to their fathers may just do me in. My own daughter brought that up on Mother’s Day- that she didn’t want to sing on Father’s Day when her father is not there, and has changed in many ways from what she has known as “her dad ” for the past 10 years of her young life. I too am so grateful for Home Teachers, for my brother-in-laws that have tried to fill their own brother’s place and share my worry for my children and how they will hold on as things continue to come to light with their father and the choices he’s making now, and how they will affect us. I love your writing and your posts- it really lifts me up as another single mom trying to hold things together and look at what lies ahead instead of all I and we have lost. I believe in the Principle of Compensation- that in time, all we have lost will be healed or made up in some way, I don’ t know how, but I have faith that it will. Thanks…

  2. Miss Tracy, you are such a blessing for all those who have to follow in crumby shoes that resemble your own. Keep on keeping on, and remember you do and have always had one Father who loves loves loves you.

  3. Oh my goodness. I thought I was the only one who felt that way (about your own father.) My parents married when I was 4. I was so excited to get a daddy. Yeeah. It didn’t go well. My dad was blatantly “favorite-ist” – still is, really. My mom was pissed when, at age 19, I decided to track down my biological dad, because he was such an ass to her when she was young and found out she was pregnant. Well, he’s totally changed his life and become an amazing man. He’s been amazing through the whole discovering-each-other process and last year I broke down and cried and yelled at him about how mad I was about him leaving my mom, and how it sucks because he’s so amazing and an awesome father now, and how I am jealous of his kids because they get to have a great daddy and I grew up knowing my dad hated me. Ugh. He is coming to visit in a few weeks and I am excited and nervous because we’re going to go out for a few hours, just us. I’m 24 years old and you’d think I’d be over “daddy-daughter dates” but clearly I am not.

    Anyway. I’m totally screwed up for life from my own dad experiences. It sucks. And I am so sorry for what you have been going through. But you will be able to teach your sons how to be great fathers. You can teach them from your experiences, from the scriptures, and even from stories of other great fathers (like famous historical dudes, maybe?) I don’t know, but I just wanted to comment and say that I feel you on the bio-dad thing.

  4. I think I need to call my dad and tell him how grateful I am for him now. And telling my husband again couldn’t hurt either. I’m so happy your kids have good men in their lives to look to and I hope my husband can be that to someone in your position someday. I think my own dad already has been for some of my friends growing up and it’s amazing the see the influence of a smart, kind, loving man in the life of a child. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  5. I celebrate my mom on mother’s day and father’s day. She did both jobs, and my father was…. to put it midly an awful father. You are right now, as I was not so many years ago, both parents. I’m so glad that your ward has men who are stepping up. It’s so important for the kids… and for their mom. :)

    I swore I would “do right’ by my son, but his dad and I split up before he was even 2. Enter my husband who is the “dad he didn’t have to be.” I never thought I would remarry… but eventually I did, and as much as my son loves his father, his stepfather has hung the moon. I thank my Heavenly Father for that every night.

  6. Thank you so much for this. I am 17 and have lived without my dad pretty much my whole life, and this really hit home for me. My friends tell me about the times they have late-night discussions with their dads or they ask their fathers for priesthood blessings whenever, and…I’ve never had that. When they do talk about their dads, it’s like they’re talking about a sense I don’t have – I just don’t get it. I am so envious and I wish that my dad had been able to get it right. That being said, there are incredible men in my ward and uncles and even a grandfather that have helped so much. It’s days like this when I am so grateful I’ve been able to have them around.

  7. Yes, your home teacher shows you what it feels like to have a dad.

    You may not have a blueprint, but you have the love and support of a wonderful group of people to help you through it and teach your kids. Help them learn to break the cycle. There is no guarantee, as you so harshly found out in trying to break the cycle yourself, but hopefully each generation becomes better than the one before it…

  8. “Each generation becomes better than the one before it” applies to just about every life situation, not just being a good parent. It is true for those of us learning to control our tempers, or to rise above poverty or addiction or abuse or a myriad of other circumstances.

    We all have something with which we struggle, and our best hope is that our children will continue to improve on what we have tried to improve upon… The desire to try to be and do better is one of the best legacies we can give those who follow us, in my opinion.

    This is one of the things I love best about you, Tracy – that you continue to try so hard to improve your life and the lives of your children, regardless of the crap or blessings that life throws your way.

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