My father left before I turned 1. I got his nose, last name and lousy vision.
He was gone before I acquired a vocabulary. I never got to string together the three letters to make the Dad word for him. Not once.
He didn’t get to see me grow up. I didn’t get to see him age.
My teen mother raised us on her own without financial or emotional support.
There are undeniable losses. Those are obvious.
But there are gains, benefits and unintended positive consequences of having a deadbeat dad.
My father was violent, alcoholic and unstable. His presence was short-lived, toxic and dangerous before he went to Vietnam.
If he stayed I would have missed out on having a decent father as well. His absence may have been an act of kindness.
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not recommending, romanticizing or claiming it’s better to be fatherless than to have a loving and responsible father. That’s nonsense. It’s not.
To not have a father is far from optimal.
There are real dangers and hazards to being unfathered but that doesn’t mean being unfathered is all bad.
This isn’t denial or spin.
However, though rarely discussed, there are some positive, useful and beneficial aspects to being unfathered. They are worthy of note as well. For me, they are:
• There’s nothing I think is a man’s job.
Not oil changes. Not mowing the lawn. Not buying groceries. Not lighting the pilot when the furnace goes out. Not home inspections or paying rent. I’ve witnessed women doing all of these things and done or had them done myself. Responsibilities aren’t gendered.
• I know fathers are optional. I’ve seen and lived in homes without men. Others have done so too. We do more than endure, survive or thrive or any other shrunk-wrapped words or terms. We’ve lived with it—our circumstances—like everyone else does. Food gets made. Gas is put in cars. Air is breathed. Bills get paid. It’s possible to have a full life and decent family without a father. Not easy, but possible. Men are necessary in the world but not needed in all homes.
• No man gives me or “my hand” away to anyone. No guy has to approve of my dates, be asked for “my hand” or walk me down the aisle. I’m never literally or symbolically handed over or off to someone. I decide and ritualize dating, mating or long-term whatevers. My name is my own as is my financial agency. This is a liberation beyond symbolism. This is a form of empowerment I wouldn’t trade. In matters of love, marriage and partnership the first, last and middle word is mine—as is my hand, body and heart.
• I don’t have to worry about pleasing or pissing off Daddy. I know many adults terrified of or upset by paternal judgments or pressures. Fathers love daughters. Daughters love fathers. That love doesn’t guarantee being seen, liked, cherished or approved of—things that feel bad when deprived. I am not burdened by this angst and the worry that my essential nature, career or love life choices are okay with a father and don’t have to feel, live and know that when I look in his eyes.
• I don’t owe anyone. No one pays off my loans, fixes what’s broken or spends valuable down time regularly attending to my needs. I shop for my own vehicles and get my plumbing fixed. I’m not indebted to be grateful, show respect or appreciation and return love and favors. I don’t feel daughterly obligations or responsibilities.
• I don’t spend any of my life force energy policing, worrying about or talking about how my father thinks or acts or lives. I don’t angst over how he’s treating siblings (his or mine) or if he’s a cheap bastard on my mother’s birthday. I don’t worry if he’s eating too much salt or not exercising enough despite a health condition or that his forgetfulness is sign of decline. If he’s rude to a waitresses if he’s had too many I don’t feel embarrassed or apologize for him. Ever.
• I appreciate and admire men who take fatherhood seriously. There are many with loving, present and hardworking dads who don’t seem to realize that they are lucky or that their fathers are exhausted and overextended. They seem to think competent fathers are a birthright and not a privilege.
I appreciate small acts of kindness more than they appreciate constant love and nurturing. I know being present, mindfully and physically, is not a choice everyone is capable of or willing to make.
• I know how to take care of myself and have done so.
My auto insurance bill or dentist bill.
My heart if it’s crushed.
My computer if it dies, my washing machine if it breaks and my car if it stalls.
In fact, there are times I feel as empowered as my peers with fathers. There are times I feel more empowered than my peers with fathers. There are times their “daddy issues” seem more difficult than mine.
These are some lessons learned from having a deadbeat dad. This is my unconventional gratitude letter for Father’s Day.
With sugar, hard squeezing and the steeping of time a brew has been made from my lemon of a father experiences. It’s not all sour. The flavor isn’t bitter. There are lessons I can serve, digest and savor.
Author: Cissy White
Editor: Caroline Beaton