On Fatherlessness

Personal Essay

*Originally written March 10, 2014


When I was little, I was the hugest daddy’s girl. I loved bringing him around my friends. My daddy was cultured, engaging and generally the most charming man in the room.

Con men usually are.

I remember the mix of feelings I had when I opened the door to my new project apartment in fourth grade and saw my dad standing there, suitcase in hand, arms wide open, after being little more than a figment of my imagination for years. I wanted to ring up the friends I made at the homeless shelter we stayed at for a while after losing our old apartment and say “see, I told you my daddy was an international businessman and now he’s back.” I wanted to ask him why he didn’t come and help when we lived in a motel in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx and my mom had to wake up every day at 5 AM so that we could take a bus and three trains to get me to my Talented and Gifted program. I wanted to know where he was for the darkest year of my life in a women’s transitional living facility – a year my mom to this day will never speak about.

Instead I hugged him. And my mom let him in.

Seven years later, I’m walking up to that same project building. A friend from school is with me. We get off the elevator to the seventh floor and I see my dad standing outside my apartment, waiting for someone to let him in after my mom changed the locks again.

All I could feel was resentment – creeping up from my toes and engulfing my chest, drowning me in wave after wave of disgust.

Not too long after that, I called the police on him and get my mother an order of protection. Officer Batista tells him that if he wants to schedule supervised visits with his kids he can petition the court. Unkempt, unshaven, and wild-eyed , he looked at me and said “that ungrateful girl is no daughter of mine.”

I’d like to say that the moment of my father disavowing himself of me was devastating, but that’d be a lie. I couldn’t feel the pain of rejection anymore. My hand had been on the stove for so long that my fingertips had burned. I may have even laughed. The notion of man who hadn’t gotten me so much as a birthday card during years of on and off co-habitation believing that dismissing his daughters existence would be significantly different than the status quo was amazingly absurd.

But absurd was the mode my father thrived in. He was an international businessman with no business. A venture capitalist with nary a speck of capital to be found. Every day he read his copy of the Financial Times(in a subscription under someone else’s name of course), and speculated on stocks he did not/could not/would not own.

When he chose to let me go, I was more than ready to accept that blessing. I was prepared to start the next chapter of my life – a life beyond explaining to my friends who the man was banging at the door for hours at a time. Beyond explaining to my needs-based college prep program that the man sitting at the $10,000 a head table proudly proclaiming to the Director about my interview during a fundraising event was indeed my father, but no I don’t know why he was there. Beyond having the internal battle with myself as to whether or not I should leave the “father” section of my bio blank when applying to be considered as a national merit semifinalist.

I didn’t know until college that black women without fathers were considered broken. As if we had some fatal flaw that caused our dad not to want us. That we were destined for lives of ill repute at the very least romantically because our moms didn’t pick a better partner.

For a while I hid my family history for that reason. “I’ll let a dude get to know the other parts,” I thought. “Then when he’s already caught up I’ll drop the bomb that I’m broken.”

But you can only commit to sucking your stomach in and holding your breath for so long. Eventually, you have to exhale. So I did – and somehow, despite my alleged failings, I managed to find a career I could thrive in, and a man that loved and respected me.

I’ve had minimal interaction with my father since then. The summer after my freshman year in college I got an email from my mother with a news clipping. It was lines off of the daily police blotter:

<Name redacted>…was trespassing on the second floor of the W Hotel…cops approached..found stolen items in his possession, including credit and debit cards, a wallet and a cellphone…

Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I saw him on the street. Would I acknowledge his presence? Would I curse him out? Would my heart skip a beat?

Instead I only pray for him. Pray that he finds the peace that he so desperately seeks, the validation he clearly believes he deserves. I hope he learns to be as comfortable with his life/person/circumstances as I have. And then I continue to count my blessings.

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