When I was kid, my father came in and out of my life. One day, he stopped coming back at all. Each time he resurfaced, I’d think, maybe he’ll be different now. Maybe he’ll stay. I was destined to be disappointed.
It hurt me when he left us for good, but I also knew that he was destructive to our family. Yes, he was my dad, but he could also be scary and cruel. Eventually, I learned to be okay, and growing up without the influence of his toxic masculinity changed the way I saw the world.
Society makes you feel like you need a father, like there are secrets to living that only he can tell you. It tells us that that fathers are the providers for the family, that they keep us safe. That single moms can’t do the work.
The reality is that my mom was always there for me, and my father wasn’t. My mom was both our nurturer and our provider.
She put herself through nursing school so she could make a better life for my family. My mom worked grueling hours and stayed up all night studying. She made sure we got to school on time, to soccer practice and theater rehearsals and friend’s houses. My mom could lift and build and fix things. There was nothing he had done for us that she couldn’t provide.
I know there are good fathers in the world, but when mine left, it was like a dark cloud was lifted from my life. We were unrestricted by any values enforced by a heteronormative, “traditional,” nuclear family life. My emotional expression flourished because my dad wasn’t there to stifle it. I learned from a young age to value my independence and the freedom I had to speak my mind.
Growing up with a single mother also impacted the way I interacted with men. Though my family was relatively free from any imposed gender roles, I still craved validation from other male figures who came into my life — teachers, my friends’ fathers, other relatives. Parental abandonment is traumatic, and I’m sure that, in my relationships with these men, I searched for the acceptance and attention that I didn’t receive from my father. My expectations of them were high, and they inevitably disappointed me in some way. Each time I felt let down by a man, I relived the abandonment; the trust issues I’d already developed were reinforced.
However, growing up without a father has also allowed me to examine these relationships more critically in the first place.
Everyone has issues with their family, and in some way, those conflicts shape every relationship a person forms. Toxic masculinity discourages men from listening to their emotions. Because my home was largely spared from that ideology’s influence, I can better understand how the actions of men, and my relationships with them, shape me. I can see repetitive patterns in my behavior, and that helps me have healthier connections with men that I respect.
I’m working through my trust issues, and I can now set the boundaries I need to be emotionally healthy. I feel lucky, because it takes most people a long time to arrive at that place.
My father was not able to handle the responsibility of having children. If he had stuck around, he would have done far more damage to me than he did by leaving.
My mom always treated us with respect and raised us like individuals, rather than as subjects of her will. My personal values would not be what they are today without her avid encouragement.
My mother taught us that gender has no bearing on what you’re capable of. Our society would be a more just place if we could all look beyond traditional structures. I don’t believe there is any right way for a family to exist, and while my childhood was sometimes lonely and difficult, it made me who I am today. I wouldn’t change that for the world.