My birth father left me before I was born, I think. My birth certificate says under name of father: “withheld.” Withheld, the same way so much information about my own life has been withheld. The same way I withheld, suppressed my reactions to the information when it all came out, and the same way I withheld this information when people told me to enjoy father’s day.
My earliest memories of my dad, the man I consider to have raised me, are hazy with cigarette smoke. On a day that smelled like rain, he was taken away and thus faded out of my life for five years, a time he spent idealizing the daughter I was and not recognizing the fact that I was growing up into someone he later wouldn’t understand. He only saw a portrait of me as the spunky 5th grader he thought he remembered.
When he returned, he tried to win back my affection with material things and outings, all silver and sugar. He didn’t realize by this time even I knew that love transcended what money could buy. I thought my dad left me because he was pushed out of my life, when really he tip-toed away because he wasn’t willing to try to make it work the way he was meant to. Bewildered by the heightened expectations of him, he faded out of my life for the last time.
In a way, I have recently tried to pour upon myself this inadequate affection through material things. Money has given me a very satisfying sense of independence. Part sheer amazement at the newfound power of my own money in my fingers and part flimsy attempts at filling in gaps in myself I didn’t know I had, I made my way through a clumsy shopaholic phase. Admittedly, I managed a pretty decent haul with each checkout.
I’ve felt badly afterward not necessarily because of shopper’s guilt, but because of the fact that I’ve been loving myself inappropriately, the way that my dad tried to love me.
You can’t crown yourself a princess. I couldn’t accept the one that my dad tried to give me because I knew it was plastic.
For a long time I have glossed over the role of my absent father in my life.
I do know that one of my crippling insecurities is that I can’t handle the idea that I’ve let someone down, in any way. It makes me nervous and edgy, which in turn makes me clumsy and withdrawn. I don’t know exactly who I’m trying to please, but in my gut I get the sense that it has something to do with a daughter’s instinct. I guess I have been pining for a good amount of my life for someone to be proud of me when I find it so hard to appreciate myself, or to accept others’ appreciation.
Look at me, Dad, I’m 18 going on 19.
Look, Dad, I can take care of myself.
Sometimes I worry about the decisions I make/am making, and what freaks me out most is that no one really is worrying about or has sway over any of my decisions at this point. It is so bizarre to not have some authority looking over my shoulder, and taking care of all the details of living in this world. I’m still trying to figure out if this is what freedom is.
Look, Dad, I can make adult phone calls.
Look, Dad, my first paycheck.
Look, Dad, I brush my teeth every evening and everything.
I got emotional over pumping tires the other day when there really was no need to. My eyes started welling up because I felt this was the sort of thing that my father should be teaching me how to do, and I couldn’t shake the fact that I would never be anyone’s little girl.
Look, Dad, I know you’re not really my dad.
Look, Dad, people who have no obligations to me whatsoever stayed.
My dad taught me to push for originality of thought, and for perseverance through blocks of all sorts. He taught me to push myself to be the absolute best I could be. He taught me these things, but he wasn’t willing to stay or step down from his fluffy, gilded world into the reality of the person I’ve become.
Look, Dad, I’m making it through school with decent grades. Look, I sort of have a plan.
Look, Dad, I’m still writing. I’m not writing stories anymore, at least nothing like the ones I used to.
Everything these days is so thrilling. Every choice I make seems to be magnified to extraordinary degrees. Everything counts, even wasting time. The burden and the pure gift that is my life and everything in it rests in my trembling hands.
Over dramatic for sure, but so is this existence.
Look, Dad, you told me to learn how to get to the point and that is what I’m still trying to do.
Last week my manager asked me if there was a reason I had difficulty keeping a smile on during the day. She asked, “What’s missing from your life?” I looked away and immediately thought of my brother, who had sought a heavenly father to be the anchor in his life. I think I’m still looking for mine, and always have.
My father should have taught me the meaning of stability, that I wouldn’t be able to find it in the pursuit of shallow achievements or in people who I only thought I needed to make me feel whole. He should have taught me that I couldn’t base my self-worth on the hearsay of others. He should have taught me that it was okay to be alone sometimes, and he should have taught me when to let people in.
Look, Dad, I cried over a boy. You weren’t there to tell me he wasn’t good enough for me, but it’s okay because after spending too much time believing the opposite I managed to figure it out.
Look, Dad, I think I can pinpoint where my happiness comes from.
He should have taught me how to put on a more convincing brave face so I don’t give myself away so easily. He should have taught me how to better judge character. He should have taught me how to protect myself from the people who don’t deserve my trust, and how to protect myself from myself.
He should have taught me how to find peace of mind in making things and fixing things a lot earlier than I learned on my own.
Look, Dad, I’m not afraid of failure anymore.
Look, Dad, I’m still looking out for my brother, who I wish you could have loved more than you loved me. He needed you more. He needs you now.
Look, Dad, I’m learning to be strong without you around.
Look, Dad, you’re not the sun in my life any longer. I find light elsewhere.