Fatherhood

Cecelia turning six means a milestone looms large in my near future. My father moved out of our house when I was that age. I can’t remember exactly when it happened without asking my mother, but I seem to recall it happening during the late spring. This would have made me about six years and two or three months old — about the same age Cecelia is right now.

I’ll wait until she turns seven to declare it, but soon Cecelia will know life with a father longer than I had. To me, that’s a big deal.

My father died about two and a half years ago, and I’ve attempted more than once to write about how that impacted me. I’d start, but then stop because the words that came out only sounded too self-piteous, and I do not seek any sympathy for how I feel. I’ve only wanted to describe my life without a father, and how I’ve made it my primary purpose in life to give someone in this family the experience of growing up with one.

I hardly knew my father. He didn’t make it easy to know him. He spoke little, and when he did, he had little to say. I wouldn’t describe him as cruel or abusive. My mother rarely spoke ill of him, and if she expressed any opinion of the man, she’d talk about his inability to save money and his infuriating propensity to make decisions without her. He died leaving behind some tremendous debts for his wife to settle.

But to me, I came to regard my father as a distant character. As a small child, I didn’t know better. He was my dad, and to a little boy, dad can do no wrong — even when he walks out of your life, and yes, even when he tells you he doesn’t want anymore weekend visits despite living less than 30 miles away.

I didn’t see my father between the ages of eight and fourteen — only the most tumultuous periods of a young person’s life. Coming out on the other end of that, I came to see my father as just some guy. He displayed no particular interest in my life at that time. He only wanted to see his new granddaughter. My sisters and I, in a sense, just went along for the ride, although by the time I turned 23, I bailed on this exercise in futility before my sisters did.

If I had to guess, I’d say that my father suffered from depression. Having some experience with that myself, I saw the symptoms. I have to think my father, given his string of business failures, his series of jobs with many different companies, and his apparent inability to finish projects he started shows me he had a difficulties accepting his lot in life. I get that. I’ve walked in those shoes.

But would I ever use that as an excuse to leave behind the children I brought into this world? I feel a shiver run down my spine when I think of a life without her. I don’t even want to consider that as a possibility. I damn near turned into a blubbering fool while watching the scene in “Tangled” where the King realized he’d have to celebrate his missing daughter’s 18th birthday.

No, I’ll never know what demon possessed my father, compelling him to leave us behind. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t wonder how different I might have turned out had he chosen to stick around, and show even a modicum of interest in me. My mother did the best she could, but no woman can truly replace a good father figure.

Like it or not, Cecelia, I’m here for the long haul. I promise, however, to do everything in my power to keep you safe, warm, and happy. It’s the least any father can do.

  • MrMarkie

    Well, my dad died this past December. He lived a half-continent away and we weren’t close for much of my adult life. That was a mutual decision; while we periodically reconnected, there would be stretches of about five years where we didn’t speak at all. Sometimes something sparked it (often insignificant in the scheme of things) and other times the contact just lapsed. Ultimately we didn’t really enjoy each other – a feeling that was cemented before I entered adolescence. It wasn’t just me he didn’t embrace; I bet that your dad, too, turned away folks. Depression or other impediment, men like that tend to arrive at the end of life more or less alone. It’s an outcome foreordained in a way: the consistent choice to alienate rather than embrace.
    For my dad, it was a general negative orientation that manifest itself in many aspects of his life, but where personal relationships were concerned it was a defensive posture and an embrace of hurt and victimization that precluded taking joy from others around him. He literally guarded himself against it.
    I find that now that he’s gone, my loss stems not from absence after death but absence before. There was not much of the ‘Courtship of Eddie’s Father’ texture to our relationship, and I’m at a loss to point to much traditional father-son stuff from which I could take comfort. In lieu is just missed opportunity.
    In my mid-20s I reached out with an olive branch and it was slapped down. After that, I made a conscious decision not to engage, fully mindful that I myself was closing the opportunities. But I realized that there were none to be had. It was beyond his capability, and only disappointment lay ahead (probably for both of us).
    And to be honest, I didn’t like him – an opinion formed as I had the luxury of knowing him for those years of childhood and early adulthood.