These sound like comforting words. These sound like words that make you secure. These sound like words that should make you feel comfortable being yourself. They sound like a beacon of hope. But let me tell you about these words. They come with fine print. They come with a word of caution. There are unspoken words that tag along to the end of that statement. “I’m here for you…until I’m not.” …until it isn’t fun, …until it isn’t convenient, …until it gets too hard, …until I see how bad it actually is.
I’ve seen first hand someone speak these words to me, to give me reassurance that they will understand what I am going through, and they will be a rock when I can’t stand anymore, that I don’t have to work so hard to make myself seem happy when I’m not to please other people, and then as soon as I let my guard down I’m left in the dust.
I have this to say to those people: don’t say what you don’t mean. Don’t say what you think needs to be said to someone you see struggling because one day they will take you up on those words. They will lean on you emotionally and it’s going to be messy. It will be sad. And it will probably be something you’ve never seen before. When the dust clears from those walls breaking down you damn well better still be standing there like a light in the endless night ready to catch them when they fall. It may seem like a lot to ask of someone, but it is a lot to promise. If you can’t be that light, then don’t offer those words.
I was three years old when my parents split up. I still remember the day my dad left. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but I remember following him around the house as he packed things up and handing him random odds and ends. I remember him saying goodbye to my older brother and myself at the end of the driveway. He kissed my forehead and one of his tears spilled onto my cheek and then he was driving down the road in his Dodge Shadow. After that I can recollect seeing him at random intervals, and it was often in different places because he moved around a lot. I was discussing this with my mom the other day, when I have these flashes of memory, they rarely include my father, but I can clearly see the place the memory happened. My dad was not super present in my life. He often didn’t pick us up when it was his turn for visitation, and when he did, there wasn’t a whole lot of interaction. He worked third shift and we spent most of the visit playing quietly while he slept. None of this really registered with me until I was older. In fact, it didn’t hit me that I had an absentee father until my 16th birthday. My mom had remarried at this point and we lived in North Carolina with my step-father. My dad was suppose to drive up from Florida to pick us up to spend the Christmas holidays with him. He didn’t show up and he didn’t call until New Year’s Eve, my birthday. I remember sitting on the living room floor talking to him and wondering in my head why he didn’t even mention his reason for not picking us up. When we got off the phone I broke down and I was sobbing into my mother’s arms asking why my dad didn’t want me. This was a defining moment for me, it was the moment that I stopped making excuses in my head for why he wasn’t there, and it’s when I stopped seeing him as my dad.
I had another father figure in my life. My mom remarried when I was eight. He was a very different kind of man than my father. He had a hard work ethic and he did his best to make up for my own father’s shortcomings. He taught me how to cook and introduced me to new food. He used to take us on these amazing cross country trips every summer. I got to see and experience most of our country and Canada because of him. We went camping and had barbeques and we looked like a nice perfect family. He had a lot of physiological problems and it ultimately led to his company forcing him into retirement. This did not sit well for his mental health. He became agitated and sullen having to sit at home and the man we used to know faded away. I had begun rebelling and getting into drinking and recreational drugs use at around 17 years old. Two days before my 18th birthday he kicked me out. I stayed with a friend for a while and then ending up moving to Florida with my dad. I got a phone call from my mom a few months later telling me that my step-father took his life. By this time my mom and he had moved to Texas for the drier climate. I flew out there to be with her and we began repairing our relationship.
I made a lot of questionable decisions in my life and a lot of them had to do with these two men in my life. Most of the bad decisions I made involved getting into equally turbulent relationships with men who were horrible to me and ignored me. I was borderline obsessive with trying to make these doomed unions work because I didn’t want more men to leave me. I was convinced there was something wrong with me that made the men in my life leave and I was determined to fix it. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I sought out other broken men because they (have you guessed it by now?) reminded me of my father. I became stronger and I developed a voice for myself. I’m still not “fixed” by any means, but I am working on it.
I still have some contact with my father. I see him about once a year, but he is still very much the same person he was all those years ago. I wanted my children to have the opportunity to know the man who aided in my conception, but I do my very best to make sure that they will never know the hurt and the pain, and that they will never have to seek his approval. They have a wonderful father to look up to and I am so grateful for that. They have a strong mom, like I did, to shelter them from the worst of it and I have faith that they will turn into reasonably well balanced individuals who use their formative years for personal growth rather than attention seeking.