Sunday, June 15, 2008
I don't Know What to Call This
Father's Day. I grew up without Father's Day meaning very much to me. I mean after all...you do have to have a father in your life to celebrate it. I didn't.
Well, I did up until I was 3 years old. I had turned 3 in June and that following September my uncle (mother's brother) came up to Massachusetts in the middle of the night (when my father wasn't home) to bring my mother and me back to NJ with him. From there we went to live with my grandparents at the Jersey shore.
I remember waking up one morning that fall hugging this big plaid dog my father had given me. I can still see how the morning sun was filtering through the bedroom curtains. And I asked my mother where Daddy was. I don't remember what she said but I do remember feeling very sad.
I don't remember ever asking about him again...until I was eleven. I only saw him two more times after that. I saw him once when I was 6 and once when I was seven. (Actually, I always thought the last time I saw him I was six but my mother says I was seven.) He abandoned me and never bothered to send support.
Kids are resilient and I suppressed all feelings about him deep down and was clueless that he ever mattered to me at all. You might as well have asked me about the weather and I would've responded to questions about my father with the same level of emotion. There was nothing. I felt nothing. And the only reason I regretted not having a father was when we went through tough financial times and I wished some man would come to the rescue and marry my mother. Then I wouldn't have to worry about not having things like food or heat. So...it wasn't even that I wanted a father for love...but rather just to serve as someone in the provider role.
I wasn't heartless. I just didn't know what good fathers do. You don't miss what you never had.
I used to hug my uncles and my cousin Doug so hard, that one day my uncle Jim said to me (a little 6 year old girl) "Patty...your hugging me so hard...your hurting my neck!" Well as an adult, I know that is most revealing regarding not having my father in my life.
I am fortunate in that I did have some male role models. I lived with my grandparents and so had my grandfather until he died when I was 9. I actually don't remember too much about him and I don't know why. My lifelong friend Caribbean blue used to come down for the summers and I was with her almost every day in the summer. Her father was wonderful and so good to me too. He was a terrific role model. And then my uncle Hector took me in to live with my aunt and him when I was 14 and he was very much a father figure for me. I lived with them for almost 6 years. I felt safe and loved when living with them. He was so strict but I have ALWAYS respected him tremendously and we got along so well. His children were grown when I moved in and it should've been a time in their lives when they were foot loose and fancy free, but instead they sacrificed and took in this wayward teenager. I learned so much from them and will be forever grateful. They are a good part of why I like to rescue and help. I know how good they helped me to feel.
But as wonderful as these men were...they were not my father. To me...only my father could ever be my father. I was always very aware of the real boundaries. Not because of anything they had done..but because I had drawn them long ago and that empty room in my heart was reserved for my real father only. No other man could ever occupy that room. I didn't know he even mattered to me until I was 24. And I didn't know I would even care if he died until his sister called me with the news that he had passed away. I didn't know these things. Life is complicated sometimes. If it only involved me...I would have looked him up when I was 26, but I didn't for my mother's sake.
I don't want to bog down with this and perhaps I will talk about him in the future here or elsewhere. I will say my mother was his SEVENTH wife. And I have a half sister and two half brothers...all from different marriages. The only one I know for sure of is Von an airline pilot from Chicago. And he is the only one that maintained contact with my father that I know of. I had his number once...but didn't pursue it. I have since found out through one of my cousins from Martha's Vineyard said his brother was friends with Von. He gave me my other cousin's number in January 06 but I let it drop like a hot potato. But time is marching on...and I may not always have the opportunity to meet the other side of my family (for better or worse my mother cut off all contact from them) but then again...is it better to let sleeping dogs lie? So...I don't know if you want to hear this story or if it is just better for me to journal it in my other blog. But I have digressed...so back to Father's day.
I never knew what it was like to feel the unconditional love and protectiveness of a father. Or even the pride of a father beaming at his beautiful daughter. No hugs, butterfly kisses or bedtime stories. I never heard the words "I love you" from anyone while I was growing up. (My family didn't do that.) I never got to be Daddy's little girl...his pride and joy.
I know some people probably wish their father wasn't around because he's abusive or drunk. They live in situations where there would be more peace if their father didn't exist.
And then some people end up fatherless because their father died. As sad as that is...I do think having a father die verses abandon you is better. Only because he didn't leave you by choice. You weren't rejected. You were valued, but in the end it was fate and nothing you could have done to prevent it.
Fathers...YOU are so very important in your children's lives! Sons and daughters NEED their father's to be active in their lives. You are like the anchor in the storm. You provide the safety net and are key in a strong foundation from which your children can build upon and move forward as productive, loving adults with the tools they need for good parenting skills.
You should be the kind of role model for how you want your sons to treat their wives and children. And you should be the kind of role model for the kind of man you want your daughter to marry. Also hug them and tell them you love them no matter what and let them know that your love is unconditional. Build a strong foundation of unconditional love when they are young so that when they are older...even if they know you will disagree with them...they will know they can still come to you for advice, guidance and love and that you love them for who they are as individuals. You can never go wrong with that.
When our sons were young and I noticed they did something nurturing, etc....I would often praise them for the good thing they did and I would tell them that they would be a good father someday. I did this to reinforce their good behavior and to plant seeds for being a good father. Our older son is a terrific father now and I know younger son will be too. We are very proud of them both.
It may seem that I have idealized the role of parenting, specifically fathers today, but I also know that we humans are not infallible and sometimes our best still isn't good enough, but in the end...all we can do is our best. There isn't any blueprint on perfect parenting that comes with the birth of our children. We all make mistakes. I know I have. But hopefully, we take the good parenting that has been passed on to us from whatever source and incorporate some great insights of our own along the way.
Speaking for myself...I have at times gone opposite what I learned because I know how detrimental some of that was. So...if you grew up in a family say...where your father beat your mother...then you can make the conscious decision to never do that. Life's lessons come in all forms....it's what you choose to do with those lessons that makes the difference.
Then finally, they say a husband loving his wife is the best example he can give to his children and the benefits from that stable and loving relationship will flow down to them as well. The same applies for the wife loving her husband too. It provides a secure foundation as well as role modeling a good marriage.
That is the perfect world anyway.
Happy Father's day to all the dads out there who love their children!
P.S. It's never too late. If you are a dad that has screwed up time and time again... you canstill make a difference. Don't ever give up on your kids. Sometimes it is the child/person who acts up the most that needs the most love. And sometimes people just need to know they are worth the effort, that someone is willing to stay the course for them because they are valued and loved after all.