I’ve been thinking about growing up without a father a lot lately because in my extended family divorces are breaking out like acne on a 14-year-old.
It’s not pretty.
I was 2 when my father left, and I really don’t know him well. He lived on the other side of the country from me, and I only saw him two weeks a year, if I was lucky. The years that he was doing research for his university job I often didn’t see him at all.
While that sounds bad, in retrospect I think I was lucky. I had one home: my mother’s. I never had to worry that the two of them would bicker because they never saw each other or talked to each other. Dad just wasn’t a part of our lives except for that brief once a year visit.
So I knew who I was, as much as I could without a father. I had God. I had my church. I had my aunt and uncle. And I had my mother, whom I respect even more because she raised me on her own.
Perhaps because of my situation I don’t really feel affinity with people just because they share blood with me.
After all, the person to whom I owe half my DNA just wasn’t around. But my uncle, with whom I share no DNA, was. And I felt a great deal of affinity with him.
Likewise, I feel a great deal of concern and care and love for my nieces and nephews, though they’re on my husband’s side and aren’t blood relations to me at all. But they’re family.
Some of my friends have met their fathers only as adults, and go on to have close relationships with them. More power to them, but it seems strange to me. I guess I’ve just never really thought of him as a big part of my life, but even more importantly, I don’t feel like a lot is missing. Sure it would have been nice to have a father who is as good as my husband is to our kids, but my dad would never have been that father, even if they had stayed together. So I’m just so blessed to have what I do now.
Having said all that, I’m interested in how two public figures have dealt with their father absence.
Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court judge, wrote an amazing book called My Grandfather’s Son. It’s so inspiring, though I know that word is overused. His grandfather was not lovey-dovey. He was extremely harsh. He told Clarence and his brother that they had to work, and he made them work. He taught them to study, to do well, to respect their elders, and to make something of themselves. He taught them never to make excuses.
Thomas, of course, is African American. And he doesn’t devote his book to the father he didn’t know; he calls himself, instead, his “grandfather’s son”, even though that grandfather hadn’t loved him the way that we would want to express love. But he gave Thomas the right footing, and Thomas succeeded. And in retrospect, he is so proud and loves his grandfather so much.
He let go of his need for a dad, and acknowledged the fathe figure his grandfather became in his life.
Now, I’m not trying to be political here, but I have to admit to being really confused by Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. He writes this whole tome about trying to figure out who he is, and locates his identity primarily in a father who didn’t give him the time of day and left him. Meanwhile, his mother and grandparents were always there for him. His grandmother raised him. But he gives them the short shrift; to him, what matters, is this absent father. But he seems to idolize him despite the fact that the man abandoned him.
I have never idolized my father.
Half the time he just doesn’t occur to me. He isn’t a big part of my life. And what is there to idolize about a man who deserts you, as his father did and my father did? My father was faithful with support, for which I am extremely grateful. And my father did love me. He just didn’t have a relationship with me.
To pine for a father figure is one thing, but to idolize a man who never was much of a father is just strange.
I have another friend who does that. Her mother raised her alone, and did a great job. Her father was a bum. He walked in and out of their lives, wreaking havoc wherever he went. But my friend can’t see that clear picture of him. She still thinks life would have been great if only her father had been there.
At some point we need to give up these “dreams of our fathers” and move on if we’re going to have healthy lives.
As it says in Philippians, “forgetting what lies behind, I press hold of that for which Christ has set me free.” We forget what lies behind. We don’t let it define us anymore. We let Christ do that.
I’m not saying that it’s easy, but it’s a sign of maturity, especially spiritual maturity.Our earthly fathers will fail us, and many have. We need to accept that. But part of accepting that is also being grateful for those God blessed us with in place of our fathers. For me, it was my mother and my uncle. For Clarence Thomas, it was his grandparents. We see that.
Obama and my other friend can’t seem to see how much they owe their mothers and their grandparents. God did not leave us alone. Instead of dreaming for what we didn’t have, and what our fathers never could have been; instead of living in this fantasy; why not live for tomorrow, and change the way our own families will be? Why not celebrate the good that we do have in our family of origin, and then multiply that good in our own children and grandchildren?
Stop dreaming of your father. Dream of your God and your children. It’s much healthier.
Let me know: Is Father’s Day hard for you? How do you cope with it?