The Kids Are All Right – He Was Like a Father to Me

I didn’t really know my biological father growing up. He and my mother had their short marriage annulled when I was a still an infant. He visited me – and occasionally took me on outings – until I was about four years old. I have a memory, which I suspect is born of years of thinking about it rather than a true picture of what happened, of my mom telling him that he wasn’t allowed to visit me any more. He disappeared from my life until somewhere around my 8th birthday, when he arrived bearing a black and white TV for me as a gift. I don’t remember spending time with him, but I do remember the jealousy of my new step sisters. Once again, he disappeared. I was still in touch with my grandmother, his mother, and I accidentally bumped into him at about 12 years of age when returning to her house from an outing. I was alone and barely recognized him. I remember awkwardly offering him some of the BBQ ribs my grandmother made and how he softly chuckled and told me he was a vegetarian. Other than these brief encounters, there were no phone calls, no birthday or Christmas cards.

Right about the time I turned 12, a number of other things happened as well. He invited me to his wedding and I desperately wanted to go. In truth, I had harbored resentment toward my mother all that time for “making him go away.” My mom never once said a bad thing about him. When I asked her about attending the wedding, she replied, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” And all of a sudden, my perception shifted. I remembered the times he had let me down. I remembered years of missing him. And I remembered the embarrassment I felt at not having known that my own father was a vegetarian. I admitted to myself that if he had really wanted to see me, it would have taken more than a “go away” from my mom to keep it from happening. And I knew that he hadn’t bothered with child support payments for a very long time. I was done. I declined the invitation and started proceedings to have my stepfather adopt me, largely so I would feel more a part of my new family.

Despite my continued relationship with my grandmother, half sisters, and even my uncle on my father’s side, I did not see him again until the age of 29.  I’m not prepared to go into detail right now on the profound effect his absence had in my life, but I will say that I experienced it as the deepest form of rejection. It colored my view of myself and my ability to maintain healthy relationships. It has impacted my friendships, bonds with other families members and willingness to trust. It took me a long time to recognize how deeply hurt I was and to start to move beyond it. I remember a  man I met in Louisiana who, for some reason, was able to get past all of the walls I had up on the outside and engage me in conversation about my father. I don’t remember his name and I knew him for just a few days while there doing disaster relief, but his words touched me. He told me to read The Count of Monte Cristo (which I haven’t yet read, but do understand the reference) and to learn to forgive my father for my own sense of well-being. I wish I could send a thank you note to that man today because this total stranger was able to reach me in a way no one else had even tried to do.

In December of 2000 my half-sister (on my father’s side) gave birth to a baby girl. We have an on-again, off-again relationship, but at this point, I was trying to be there for her. So, on a day she knew I’d be visiting, she called me up, “I just wanted to tell you that he’s going to be here, too. Are you OK with that?” I’m sure my mind went blank for a moment when I heard this. He had made it clear to her that he wanted to see me and that this seemed like the perfect excuse. I had done a lot of thinking and a lot of healing by this point (on an aside, this just isn’t something you heal from entirely – you carry it with you like a red and shiny scar that twinges when you move the wrong way), so I agreed.

He was shorter than I remembered and, naturally, quite a bit older. He greeted me softly. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I could never have imagined what he would have said to me. “I’ve missed you,” he told me. “I just felt so rejected when you sent those adoption papers.”

I stared at him for a minute, shocked. I calmly explained, as you might to a child, that I hadn’t seen him at that point for the better part of eight years. And then I gently reminded him that I was the child and that it wasn’t my responsibility to maintain our relationship. But no matter what I said, I could see that in his mind he was the one who was wronged. I think that meeting gave me a certain amount of peace. Obviously he had, in some mysterious way, cared about me. And obviously, he never quite learned how to take responsibility for his own actions. By then, fortunately, I was quite certain that I hadn’t done a damn thing wrong at the age of four to warrant one parent simply walking away. I’m sure my own memories are warped and twisted by my young age and the passing of time. But it was somehow bizarre to me that in all my time of feeling hurt and unloved, he had an entirely different perception of what had occurred.

My biological father died that summer in July of 2001. He was young – still in his 50’s – and I remember the call from my grandmother saying, “Your father died.” Then my uncle called for what may be the first time ever to tell me that, as the oldest daughter, it was my job to go through his things and put his affairs in order. I think I may have laughed at the absurdity of me going through the things of a man I simply didn’t know or feel any attachment to. My father was a mythical creature who had left one day to never return. But the most challenging moment came during his memorial service which I somehow guilted myself into attending. I was late, largely due to procrastination, and walked in to see two boys speaking to the crowd. As people turned to glance at me, most no-doubt wondering who I was, one of the boys said clearly and with pride, “I’ll miss him. He was like a father to me.”

I was inspired to write about this after reading The Kids Are All Right, my most recent book from the From Left to Write Book Group. Honestly, I was compelled to write about this. The story, written by four siblings, chronicles their true life journey of losing both parents and being split up as children. To me it’s the story of how flawed adults are, how flawed we become, and how history looks quite a bit different depending on who is telling the tale. It’s also the story of how most of us turn out pretty OK in the end, anyway.

He wasn’t like a father to me. But this kid is all right.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Kids Are All Right as part of the From Left to Write Book Group. This is not a book review, but a post on how this story impacted me. The opinions in this post are my own.

11 Responses to The Kids Are All Right – He Was Like a Father to Me

  1. It’s amazing how your father could be like a dad to someone but not be able to fight to be a dad to you. Adults have to remember not to take the easy way out when it comes to children. Especially their own children. Thank you for sharing this! #left2write

  2. This could not have been easy to write, but I hope it was therapeutic to get out there. Sometimes I feel kids take the grown-up mentality easier than some adults can. The profoundness of knowing where responsibility can and should lie clearly shows you have come through an amazing journey – and done just fine!

  3. Dear Christy,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It is so beautifully written! The part that jumped out to me was when you wrote, “I have a memory, which I suspect is born of years of thinking about it rather than a true picture of what happened.”

    I really relate to that. As you know, my father was missing from my life too, only he wasn’t around to make the choice. When he died, I was only 4 – so my memories of him are hazy. I remember a lot more about my mother, since I was 8 when she died. Still, I was young, and have been on earth without them for a lot longer than we shared the place.

    Before I wrote this book with my siblings, I had a big old jumble of memories about my parents. I “remembered” that my mother banged her head against the wall when she made pie crusts, and that my father told me stories about a one legged pheasant who roamed our property while we slept. Once I actually sat down to write, I realized that I couldn’t see my mother banging her head against the wall; I couldn’t even imagine her doing it. And I couldn’t recall the sound of my father’s voice, let alone remember him telling me that story. Those “memories” weren’t mine; they were my siblings. I had heard them so many times, they were part of our family lore. And they are a part of who my parents are to me now, but it was so gratifying to access the memories of them that were actually my own.

    I got so angry at your dad when he told you that he felt rejected. Sheesh! You are a mature, strong woman for being able to respond to him with such patience. Thanks again for sharing your story.

    And thanks for reading The Kids are All Right!

    xDiana Welch

  4. Christy, your father’s loss was our gain. You are part of our family now as if you were born into it, and that is how your are thought of and loved by us all…all of us make up our “family” and add our little something….it wouldn’t be the same family without you. We are blessed.

  5. Being your mom, this blog post was a difficult read for me. As parents, most of us make decisions every day about our children, weighing them carefully and hoping that they are the correct ones. To find in hindsight how much this decision of mine impacted my child negatively is difficult for me to hear. In my mind, then and now, neither choice I had was a good one and I chose what I thought was in your best interest at the time.

    I’m sorry this was so difficult for you. That being said, I am proud of how you worked through this, how you handled him, and how you are as a person now.

    Not having more of a relationship with you was your father’s responsibility and, even more importantly, his loss.

  6. Raising three daughters who all had to deal with the “other parent” whether that parent was around or not, multiple families, and being part of a blended family, I have spent a lot of time and mental energy over the years wondering how we fared as the “Five in a Datsun” parents, knowing all too well that we couldn’t heal all the wounds no matter how hard we tried. When I watch each of you now having your turn as mothers, I think that, despite everything, we did OK. I use that as my measuring stick.

  7. Well my friend, we have a whole lot in common. I too struggled with something very similar. While I feel that there is a tremendous hole in my past, I use that experience to make a better future for my own children by knowing what not to do. Life is a funny thing. We cross paths with people for specific reasons and I’m really glad that our paths crossed because I think I can learn a lot from you. Great post and thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow. That was very well written. I’ll bet a lot of thought and emotion went into that. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

    It especially touched me because my daughter from my first marriage is five, and her biological dad has never played a strong role in her life. I wonder how their relationship will continue to play out as she grows older. I have never said a bad word about him to her, and I make sure that she sees him whenever possible (which is not easy, since we now live across the country). I just thank God every day that my daughter has had my current husband (her stepdad) in her life since she was 20 months old. He is her “Daddy,” and he is a wonderful one. I hope that having him in her life will make up for all that she may one day realize that she was missing from her biological father. It sounds like you did just fine, and I pray that she will too.

  9. […] This is a post about a woman whose father left very early in her life. She saw him here and there for a few years. I think the last time she saw him was at 8 years old, and then again at 29. Obviously, this affected her life. She came to the conclusion, as a kid, she didn’t need him. Her family proceeded with an adoption by her step-father. I don’t know her or anything, but the story did touch me. Here is the post. […]

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