One Thousand Words on Being a Fatherless Child

I’ve been considering writing about my father for a while now, but I’ve hesitated. Because it’s extremely personal and I don’t do well sharing the personal.

And I don’t think many people would understand how I feel. Or believe that I truly feel as I do.

My father was an alcoholic.

I don’t know that I’ve ever written those words before. But it’s not as dramatic as it sounds for a couple of reasons.

First, he wasn’t a mean drunk. At least not that I ever saw. He was a talkative, collegial drunk. People liked him. But a drunk is a drunk.

Second, I didn’t have much of a relationship with my father. My parents divorced when I was two. I don’t remember them as a couple or ever living with my father.

I did visit with him every other Sunday, until I was old enough to say that I didn’t want to go anymore, but one day every other week, does not a father make. Blood or no blood.

That’s the part that I don’t think people will understand. Bonds are not created by blood or sperm or any other bodily fluid. You have to have a relationship. You have to care about the other person. You have to be there for them. Love them. That’s family.

My father cared more about a bottle than having me as a daughter. That’s not family.

Have you ever noticed in books and movies whenever there’s a ne’er do well father that he always makes good in the end? He’ll sober up, stand up for his kid, make amends and they’ll all live happily ever after?

I don’t believe in that. People don’t change that much.

When my father died a few years ago, my mother was afraid that I’d be upset. She knew me well enough to know that I wouldn’t be mourning my father, but the lack of relationship I had with my father. And that there was no chance for a happy ending now that he was gone.

But I didn’t mourn that lost opportunity at all. Ok, maybe a little bit, but not as much as my mother had feared.

I had realized long ago that he may have been my father, but he was never my dad.

Now when I think of him, I just feel sorry for him.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I pity him for not getting the chance to get to know me and have me as a daughter. I’m a pretty awesome daughter.

But I also think back to some of the memories of I have of him and feel sorry for him for… I don’t know how to describe it… for being so pitiful? For not having the strength to change his life? For never having accomplished anything?

I do have some happy memories of him from when I was young… too young to realize that the reason he was going out to his truck every half hour was because he had a bottle of vodka hidden behind the seat.

I remember being at his house when the power went out and he cooked breakfast on the barbeque grill. That must have been one of the rare times I spent the night.

And I remember him buying me one of those hairdresser dolls, the kind that’s just a head with long hair that you can wash and style. I was washing the doll’s hair in the kitchen sink and he was talking in a high voice, pretending to be the doll.

But most of the memories are sad.

He took me to see movies that were way too young for me and fell asleep every time.

One day he decided that I was too old for my Winnie the Pooh bear and threw it out of the window of his truck while he was driving. He stopped and let me run back for it, and I remember being so proud about how fast I ran to get it. It never occurred to me to be appalled that he threw my teddy bear out onto the road.

Once, when I was older, I met him for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. He had some sort of attack and couldn’t breathe because he had a rice allergy. I remember thinking, “why the hell did you eat rice if you’re allergic?” before realizing that he was nervous. Nervous of me.

And I remember him attending my college graduation, the first time I had seen him in years. After the ceremony I was hugging family and saying good bye to friends, and he gave me an envelope and told me to be careful with it because there was money inside.

Those memories remind me that he was as awkward and uncomfortable around me as I was around him.

I’m guessing that someone reading this might think that I’m not as ok about my father as I say I am. That I’m just covering up my hurt. And that my lack of male role model is the reason I’m not married or in a relationship.

I suppose that last one could be true. I’ve never been in therapy and maybe a therapist would tell me I have daddy issues.

But I don’t think so.

Sure, being raised by a strong, single mother has influenced by life. And yes, my life would probably been different if there had been a dad in my life. Different, not better.

My father was who he was. And once I realized that we had nothing in common and would most likely never have any sort of traditional relationship, I moved on.

Maybe that sounds cold, but I can’t believe that it’s healthier to spend my life hoping for a father like the ones in the movies.

What people who have a good dad in their lives don’t realize is that you can survive and even thrive without a father. And sometimes, depending on the father, you’re actually better off without one.


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