On June 1st, if my father was still alive, he would have celebrated his 77th birthday.
Since his birthday coincided with the month when Father’s Day is set aside to pay tribute to our fathers, I spent several days trying to recall the very best memory or experience I ever had with my father. Days? Yes.
I couldn’t recall any particular day that stood out from all the rest. The numerous, bad memories surfaced quite readily. I fought and dug deeper, trying to find a good memory, but nothing ever came.
This isn’t a post to slam my father. It isn’t. This simply is my honest review of his time in my life. A saying that I’ve heard often is “Anyone can be a father. But it takes someone special to be a Dad.” I guess this is true.
He never connected with any of us while we were growing up. In fact, he abandoned his first wife and three children to marry my mother who was pregnant with me. When I was twelve, he left my sister and I’s mother for an underage teenage girl that was the same age as my older sister and only a year older than myself. She was 14. He was in his late thirties.
While he was married to my mother, he constantly belittled us. He was verbally and physically abusive, destroying any hope of self-esteem and if we showed any glimmer of talent, he’d find a way to discourage and bash it. He was a true narcissist and the world revolved around him.
Before he divorced our mother, he never came to any of my basketball games on Saturdays. He never wanted me to play any sports, and in order to try out for football, he ensured a test that he believed was impossible for me to achieve at the time. I had to do twenty-five consecutive pushups when he knew I could barely do one. To his surprise and dismay, I eventually succeeded and got to try out for the team. Before anyone thinks this to be a good thing, a test of perseverance to prove I wanted the goal (as I’ve tried to believe it was), you need to understand that he took the first opportunity he could find to strip this away from me. The incident came by my total humiliation with him throwing my shoulder pads at my coach during a scrimmage game on a Saturday in front of all the players, spectators, and parents. The only game he ever attended on a Saturday, too.
So when they divorced, a part of me was relieved. I didn’t have to face the verbal abuse or the beatings with a belt whenever I didn’t do whatever chores he wanted done by a specific time. But enough damage to my self-esteem had already been done by that point. I never blamed myself for the divorce (which is a normal phase for most children) because I knew the real reasons why they had divorced, which is a different story for a different time. But I questioned, for a time, as to why he’d left and didn’t keep in contact with us, his kids. Letters, phone calls, or an occasional visit was a rarity and often laced with more lies. He didn’t even attend my high school graduation, so he was never there for the important events in my life. Eventually, I stopped caring.
I spent most of my life trying to figure him out. I did a lot of soul searching, and I realized that I didn’t want to be this way with my children. In fact, I wanted a loving wife and a loving home from an early age, which was an environment I didn’t grow up in. I wanted to be a father that my two children would remember later in life as a man who loved them and made their childhoods fun.
As to whether I’ve succeeded or not, that’s for them to decide. But I was there when they grew up. I read to them, played games, and went to any school function they were involved in. We went on adventures at various parks, zoos, and they grew up with a bit of scientific fascination from nature hikes we took.
If they needed advice, I was there for them, and if they chose to ignore my advice, I was there afterwards to help them through. I wasn’t a perfect father by any means. I made mistakes. But, you know what? I never became the mirror image of my father, a man filled with excuses and never owned up to his faults or never apologized for his mistakes.
I chose my pathway, separate from his, and later in life my father laid out his excuse on Facebook as “I wasn’t a good father because I had a bad father.” See? No apology. The blame fell elsewhere. My take is that I had horrible parents but I chose not to be like them. I want my children to know my love for them and have fond memories of their early years. I hope they do.
The choices we make are our own.
One Reply to “Fatherless Day”
Leonard, you are a perfect example of how life should be. If one is abused as a child, why in the name of all that is Holy would one treat their own child the same way?? So glad you have succeeded in being a good “daddy”! Bet your kids will have fantastic memories.