Kid: Mom how was your dad as a dad?
Kid: Yeh how was your dad?
Me: What do you mean?
Kid: Well was he a good dad like ours?
Me: Well my dad... (What should I say. My dad abandoned us the summer of my 10th birthday). Well, my dad didn't live with us.
Kid: Neither does our dad.
Me: Yeh I know but it was different.
Kid: How so?
The voices faded into the background because I was driving my van and was at a loss for words. My father has a great relationship with his grandkids, a decent one with a few of his kids and I'm not sure how he feels about himself. So the whole convo threw me and I was at a loss... When do I tell them?
The first half of my childhood I grew up with a fun-loving, warm and dynamic father. Sure he would return from TDY exhausted so he'd sleep for several days on the daybed in the family den... But we all made it to church as the picture perfect family that we were. Soon the days between TDY trips became longer and longer until one day he never came back. My mother moved us across state where I spent the second half of my childhood. My father never visited us. We saw him randomly when we visited his parents but it was as though he had dissipated into a faint memory of a past life I once knew. "Father" was not reality for my younger siblings but he remained a ghostly memorial of a life I thought I loved.
As I grew up I adjusted to having no father figure. Father's Day became a second Mother's Day. We joked about the non existent child support and though we didn't show it all the time, we were grateful for all the sacrifices my mother made. We were grateful someone stayed.
Achievements seemed to mean more as far as the outside world was concerned. "Look at her. She's overcome so much". But for me it was business as usual. I never felt held back by my circumstances. My mother did a great job multitasking the parenting- being two people for us always. And by default, my father & I were estranged and never spoke. College was the only time when I really had to actually prove his lack of existence in my life. I remember filling out a green form and taking it to the financial aid office every year. My enrollment halted to prove it was my mother's solo commitment and contribution that was getting me through. It never occurred to me that this was not normal.
I can't remember when my father returned into my life fully. Each time I saw him prior, it was like visiting a guest or long lost childhood friend. A feeling that this was the last time I'd ever see him again. Until one day he stayed. He showed up again and again and again until I began to see his presence as routine or expectation. It was like Rip Van Winkle was my story. He played with my kids, we talked about things and I wondered if I should ever ask him where he went. Wondered if I should quiz him on who I was- would he remember? Did it matter? Should I ask him if he plans to leave again?
So when my daughter asked me to talk about my father as a parent... I told her we will talk about it later because I was caught off guard. She was caught off guard by my answer. Normally we blab together about everything- there are no secrets. And this is no secret at all. Maybe I'm not ready yet. Maybe I'm not sure he's here to stay. Maybe I'm waiting for him to drift out of their lives and form faint memories in their youth as he did my own. So I keep wondering when I should tell them.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.