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.