It’s been about 15 years since my father has actually been in my life. You wouldn’t know that though if you were friends with him on Facebook because he wants those who do to think he’s in my life. The last time I saw him in person was five years ago when I was 14, which was by chance.
I was at The Fresh Grocer on 40th and Chestnut with my mother and siblings. We bumped into him at the exit as we were leaving and he was coming in. We made small talk — he asked about school and I asked him about his life and his other children.
I barely remember most of it but what I will never forget is, as we were saying goodbye, I told him I loved him. He responded with a hesitant, “I love you, too,” as if he wasn’t expecting to have to say it at all.
As a child, the thing I dreaded the most was Father’s Day and having to spend it with my mother, who was celebrated on both of the parent holidays. I’d still always wish him a happy Father’s Day on Facebook just to keep the facade going, mostly for my sake.
My big theory for him not being there was because of my mother. She’d always argue with him over the phone about child support and him just being a “deadbeat dad.” That theory stuck until I was old enough to realize it wasn’t a good excuse at all.
I can’t remember anything that happened to me before the age of four and I never understood why. My mother always tells me stories about how my dad was and the activities he used do with me. He’d bring me around his friends’ children and bought me my favorite cinnamon gum and soda pop.
Over the years, I have tried so hard to remember those things but I can never seem to remember them. Today — for once — I understand why. He wasn’t just absent for most of my life; he was also absent in my mind.
For a while, I tried to just be content with his love through the internet, but it wasn’t enough. For my eighth grade graduation, he posted a picture of me that my mother sent to him on his Facebook and captioned it, “I’m proud of you, my son.”
I had a seat reserved for my dad to sit in, but it remained empty throughout the entire ceremony. It was the exact same way for fifteen of my birthdays.
I tried to see him again last year. I planned it about five days prior, and it was all supposed to go just like this: We’d meet up on a Saturday at noon. He’d introduce me to his father, who had just been released from prison. We’d go see “Black Panther” together since it had just come out, and maybe we’d go eat.
He agreed to the plans.
The days leading up to it, I was excited. I was looking at the start of redeeming a relationship with my father, and I was so happy he even agreed in the first place. Then the day came.
Around 3 p.m. that Saturday, he texted me explaining that a family member of ours was in a car accident and that he couldn’t make it. As heartbroken as I was, I told him that I understood. However, I found out that same night from his Facebook that he actually went to go see the movie on his own, which made me feel stupid and naïve.
Sadly enough, I wasn’t the only child in Kensington that had or still has to deal with having an absent father. I see it all the time here — sons with fathers who are strung out on drugs, incarcerated, or just for other reasons are not around. For example, recently there was a child on a bus who was with his parents, and just beside him, his father was strung out, bent over, and under the influence of drugs.
All of that takes more of a toll on kids than those who don’t experience this can fathom. Lots of young men who lacked their own fathers grow up to either be the same way or grow up thinking it is okay to disrespect women because they had no male figure to teach them otherwise. The mental battle that a person can carry for many years is something that no one should have to go through.
There are too many men like my father in this world and many more people like me. Although I’ve never had these feelings, I know things, like brushing your daughter’s hair, teaching your son how to play basketball, and being there for their high school graduation, are some of the best feelings in the entire world to a father and a child. If you’re a dad now or soon will be, don’t miss out on those things and don’t let your kid miss out on a father.
Coming to terms with having an absent father is a long and painful path. This past January, my father sent me his traditional “Happy birthday, champ.” It was the first time he messaged me in a year after standing me up. But this time was different; I told him how I felt about everything, hoping he would feel that pain I have felt for almost fifteen years and change his ways.
I didn’t get that much from expressing myself, but what I did get was a chance to finally let him know my true feelings, which helped me a lot. There’s still pain, and for others going through this, there will still be pain for them, too.
However, no one is alone in this.
Just as much as this essay is for me, it’s for all of those who have an absent father. My voice is yelling for all of us. It may be cracked and hoarse, but it will never stop until we’re all heard.
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Editor: Siani Colón / Story Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: Kristine Aponte