As children (and even as adults), we long for the connection with our fathers. In my life, and countless clients through the years, the wounds we experience are deep. I was raised in a single parent home. For whatever reason, when I talk about this, the focus has generally been on the parent who was present…my mother…rather than parent who was absent and the impact that had on me as a child and growing up. My father wound was his absence and what that silence said to me as a boy.
I was an unwanted pregnancy. According to my mother, she and my father dated for a couple of months in 1968 when they got pregnant unexpectedly. He allegedly asked her to move in with him and she told him she never wanted to see him again to which he complied.
I always knew there was something different about me. Here is another nuanced layer of who I am. There were only two other kids I knew that were fatherless. One was fatherless for a brief period until his mother remarried (I was young so “brief” is a relative term) and he spent time with his father typically during summers and other holidays. The other remained fatherless that I’m aware of (we lost touch after junior high school).
I don’t believe I even knew I was fatherless, or what that meant, until I was about 9 or 10. Prior to that, the absence of a father was simply factual. Its just the way it was. I remember in elementary school one year making my mother a Father’s Day Card and present because, I reasoned as a child, “she is both my mother and father.” She did not take it well. She became very angry and called a few choice names and demanded I “never do that again.” Looking back, I imagine that experience triggered my mother’s sense of shame and that she reacted accordingly. I remember however feeling confused, hurt and rejected but complied with the demand of “never doing it again.” So, while other kids made Father’s Day Cards and gifts, I worked on other things like homework or reading.
My first real understanding of being fatherless came when I was about 9 or 10. I had a friend who talked non-stop about his father. “My dad is…” “My dad did this for me today…” “My dad is the greatest ever because…” Looking back, I can appreciate that he was proud of his father and their relationship. At the time however, it triggered shame, fear and abandonment in me although I was not aware of those feelings until many years later. After some encouragement from a mutual friend, I invited this boy over to my house for the sole purpose of punching him for being so inconsiderate, which I did. His glasses flew off his face and he ran home, shocked I imagine more than hurt or scared. I’m not a physical guy and never have been, so this action was out of character for me. But I was angry, and I took it out on my unsuspecting friend.
My mother of course, received a phone call from his parents and I was forced to apologize though the feeling of being different, of being inferior, remained. Other boys had something I didn’t and that isolated me even further.
My mother decided in her wisdom that I should get a “big brother” from the local Big Brothers of Canada office. After a short time, I was matched with a big brother. We hung out for a few months. He lived in town but also had a farm out of town that I would visit frequently. I had multiple sleepovers at the farm and my big brother would take me to school for Monday morning. It was great. I enjoyed being in the country, being around animals and spending time with my big brother and his son.
We were matched in the spring of whatever year it was. At the beginning of August and my big brother advised my mother that he and his family were going on vacation and that he would call when he returned.
He never called back.
My mother and the Big Brothers of Canada director left several messages, but he didn’t return any. I was not easily deterred however. I was steadfast in my belief that he would call. He just needed more time despite my mother and the director’s pleadings that he would not call back.
One October night, I was sitting on the couch in my living room staring out the window while my mother and the director again tried to convince me to get a new big brother. What could I do? I was steadfast in my belief that my big brother would call. He just had too. But he hadn’t.
I eventually caved, and was matched with another local big brother. Bad enough to be abandoned by my own father, but now a second man. That was lesson that I internalized. I didn’t belong. I was unvalued, unimportant and worst of all, disposable. Don’t get me wrong. My new big brother tried, and I believe he was well intentioned. We went to conventions and he taught me how to do woodworking and I enjoyed spending time with him. But I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. I wasn’t going to start caring about him or enjoying the time too much because I already believed I was disposable. “It was just a matter of time” I reasoned.
The impact of fatherlessness is profound and deep. It’s debatable whether I would have been better off with my father around. I’m sure I would simply have a different set of issues to wrestle through. But this is my authentic self. This is the reality of how I grew up and the events of my life that I had no control over. These lessons resonate throughout my life, the impact of which I still carry. Challenging and changing this core belief has been a long and difficult journey. It has led to significant natural consequences in my life including self reflection, losing work and terminating relationships. It has also fostered a curiosity about rediscovering this lost child within and giving that child the nurturing he so desperately craves. This is not a story of loss and pain. It’s a story of resilience, strength and self discovery. Don’t get me wrong. I still struggle with belonging, but as Brené Brown says, “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.”