June 20, 2015

Remembering the Fathers who Chose to Leave.

missing person sign

When I was a kid, I was always happy that Father’s Day fell when school was out for summer vacation.

While other kids talked about life with dad, I listened and took mental notes. For me it was quite fascinating because I had absolutely no idea was it was like to have my father at home, much less in my life.

My parents split right before I turned four. I had some vague, none-to-happy memories of my parents living together but they weren’t whole ones. Rather, they were fragments and the older I got, the more fragmented they became.

While many of my mother’s friends would whisper in hush tones how sad it was that I wasn’t in contact with my father, I never felt that way.

The truth is, I had two parents. My formidable grandmother stepped into the role of parent and frankly, she was better at parenting than either one my parents.

Therefore, it wasn’t much later when I was an adult and my father re-entered my life, that the loss really struck me and I was able to comprehend what I had missed by not having my father playing an active role in my life.

In my case, or at least according to my mother, my father chose to step out of my life after they split. She claimed that she never attempted to keep him away and despite our many differences, this was one area where I sincerely believed she was telling the truth.

Years later, right before he passed this past February, he confirmed it.

A missing father is not the same as a dead father. It also isn’t true that he is really “missing.” Rather, it’s a bit like someone taking a pair of scissors to a photo, cutting someone out.

While the image is no longer there, the outline is.

The missing bit is often far more obvious than if the photo hadn’t been altered in the first place. Thus the hole becomes tempting to try to fill: What is he like? Does he like me? Would he have stayed in my life had I been a good/interesting/or just more likable in general.

For the mothers of these kids, the temptation to fill the hole is also there and arguably, that hole is even deeper than the child’s.

When I became active on social media about six years ago right after the birth of my daughter, I was struck by how many of my former childhood friends had children whose respective fathers also chose to check out.

Even though my father had been educated and made his decision when he was well into his 30’s, I always considered men like him to be the rare exception.

The stereotype I held was that of a young man in his late teens or early 20’s, struggling financially and who perhaps even wanted to be part of their children’s lives but felt that they couldn’t.

However, I’ve learned that wasn’t the situation. In one case, there was a woman whose baby daddy (Her words. She insisted on calling him that saying it was a fitting description) was well into his 40’s, divorced with one child he doted on, and who left when she was five months into her pregnancy. His parting words were, “It’s not my problem.”

Her story was not unusual either.

For the women navigating these situations, there is almost always some self-blaming going on. Where did I go wrong? How bad was I that he decided to abandon his child? 

It doesn’t matter how many people say it’s not your fault. The expression, Men don’t leave!  is ingrained in our culture.

Even if it is acceptable to leave a relationship even when there are children involved, the unwritten rule is you don’t leave your children.

Despite the looks of sympathy one gets from those who know the story, there is still that lingering worry that behind closed doors, they are secretly wondering if you did something to cause this abandonment.

As the child of one of these situations, there is some truth to the saying, Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

In my case, there was even an attempt to find some humor in the situation. One year, I said I was going to buy my father a pair of running shoes for Father’s Day since he clearly had liked to run from his responsibilities.

While not everyone would see the humor in that, it still makes me smile.

As this Father’s Day approaches, many have asked how I will feel since this is “my first Father’s Day without my father”.

I tell them the truth: this really isn’t the first one without him. Rather it’s the first one where he is both physically and emotionally gone.

In some ways, it is easier than when it was just the latter.

Everyone, even those who haven’t lost a parent yet, can relate to what it is like to have a dead parent. It’s much harder to explain what is it like to have a living one who is missing, yet really isn’t missing, since (at least in my case) you know where he lives.

Father’s Day is a day when all fathers are supposed to remembered, and that includes the ones who leave.

While this may not be the sort of father the greeting card companies have in mind, they nonetheless do exist—and for people like myself, they are the only father we know.

Therefore, they do deserved to be remembered whether in a bad, good, or indifferent way.


Happy Father’s Day.



Relephant Read:

What (Not) to Do on Father’s Day.


Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Renee Jahnke

Image: Texas.gov


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