My dad wasn't around much in my childhood, but he is here for me now. That's worth celebrating, too
Father’s Day was a holiday my brother and I never quite celebrated. It merely served as a reminder of our parents’ separation.
I have lots of memories from the time my dad was in my life, but I’m alone in many of them; my brother was so young. I remember loving my dad and being loved by him. I also remember not understanding why we were suddenly apart, and why we were not allowed to be around him anymore.
My parents’ relationship was extremely toxic during my childhood, so my mother decided for her safety and ours that she had to keep my father out of the picture. Looking back, I disagree with many aspects of how my mom implemented our separation. She failed to honestly divulge why we no longer saw our father, despite us being old enough to understand. Children know what they want, and they need to be given the space to discuss their feelings. This experience taught me that the more you repress children’s true desires by using “adults know best” logic, the more isolated and resentful those children can grow to become.
Even as a young person, I knew my parents’ problems with each other did not need to trickle into my relationship with my dad—but they inevitably did.
Months turned to years. I seldom saw my father, though I remember his efforts to see my brother and me. I remember all of the imperfect interactions, the hidden presents, my family’s lies about his absence, and the ways my dad made me feel loved despite the distance—which didn’t please my mother.
As I got older, my understanding and beliefs about my dad were influenced by my mother’s unfair rendering of him based on their relationship—not based on who he was as a parent to me and my brother. When I instead relied on my own thoughts about my dad, it was different.
What I knew about my father, although limited, was that he tried. That may not have been good enough for my mom, but it was good enough for me.
I did not hold either parent in higher regard—neither is perfect or better than the other. I just loved them for trying in whatever way they could. I appreciated my mom for working so hard as a single mother with limited funds, for how she could make gold out of glitter. I loved my dad for showing emotions when he parented, for doing as much as he could to make my brother and me feel special during whatever time frame he was given to see us. Those brief moments, those few and far-between days we spent together, remain imprinted in my mind. The happiness I felt then spans all this time, giving me another sense of reality that no one can take away.
During April of last year, I received terrible news that my grandmother was deteriorating due to a liver disease sustained from drinking, and she was spending her last months at my father’s home with his wife and children. I was apprehensive to visit at first. I hadn’t seen or spoken to my dad in years—he had a new life, and above all, I just couldn’t imagine how he would fit into my new life. I was an adult, a new mother, and in a serious relationship. I had no idea how he’d react to so many big changes. Would he respect me as the person I’d grown to become?
But my dad shocked me. As soon as we reunited, we fell into step with each other so naturally. I was amazed by the big space he immediately had in his heart for my son, his grandson. Both he and my stepmom had many helpful tips for raising little ones, but they never questioned my parenting or condescended to me. Our relationship has blossomed since then. My dad asks me about my hopes and aspirations, shares my beliefs about how society can improve, and mostly just wants to make up for lost time.
To this day, I can’t express to my mom the joys that my dad brings me. I am not criticizing my mother, but I want to remind myself and others in similar co-parenting situations that your children understand family strife more than you can imagine. No matter who we decide to have children with, I don’t think any parent has the right to isolate their child from the other parent without so much as a discussion. Safety is one thing; personal anger over a relationship is another.
Even during the limited interactions of my childhood, my dad always showed me that my desires mattered. As reunited adults, he still gives me the space to express myself and to feel special because he asks me how I want to spend time together. And I am so happy when I see my half siblings with my dad. Their family is strong despite their struggles, and despite my dad’s past, because he’s proven so many people wrong about his character. He is a loving and caring father. He is someone I am proud to call mine. No one can take that from us.