I am my father’s oldest child. I am my mother’s only child. And last weekend I was feeling “some sort of way” that I couldn’t quite articulate about Father’s Day. A day to celebrate fatherhood is a difficult day for those of us with “Daddy issues.”
Although I grew up with lots of maternal and paternal family, I did not grow up in the same household as my father. In fact, he lived in another state with his wife and their children, my two brothers and sister. I usually communicated with him through my grandmother (his mother), who made sure I had school clothes and things of that nature. I saw him infrequently, mostly during the summers, when he visited Mississippi or I visited Illinois.
Years ago I was bitter and resentful towards my father for not taking care of me, but I have softened. A few years ago, in an uncharacteristically heartfelt and serious conversation, he apologized to me. Since then, I have felt more sympathy for and empathy with him because I realized that Daddy had “Daddy issues” too.
One clear example of this was my first-and-only meeting with my paternal grandfather. When I was about 14 or 15, my great-grandmother (my paternal grandfather’s mother) died. Strangely enough, though I had never met this grandfather, I knew my great grandmother. She visited the M-I Crooked Letter several times and gave me $2 bills whenever I saw her. I can only recall my grandfather’s name being mentioned a few times, and I don’t remember that being positive. But I knew who he was instantly because my youngest brother was his spitting image.
After the funeral, I saw my grandfather talking with a group of people including Daddy. When I approached them, my grandfather promptly introduced me to my own father. (He didn’t know me from Adam.) “This is my son,” he said, excitedly. “I know!” I replied. “That’s my father!”
As is my nature, I joked about that encounter. But really, how sad was that? In retrospect, I wonder how this made my father feel. That he and his children were strangers to his father could not have been a good feeling. My grandparents’ marriage had broken up in the 1950s when my father was quite young, and his two sisters were not much older. After the divorce, my grandfather remarried and had another family. (My grandmother remarried as well.) Did Daddy feel abandoned by his father? What kind of pain did that cause him? I thought about what kind of role model my grandfather was for Daddy. Not a very good one, that’s for sure.
Now I’m not giving Daddy a pass on all the disappointments of my childhood. But as 2Pac said, “I ain’t mad at ya.” As a historian, I try to understand people from the past so I can tell their stories in the present. The least I can do is try and apply that understanding to my own family. No, he never did send me that bike he promised me when I was ten. But as an adult, he has helped me–coming to pick me up from college for summer, giving me cash occasionally, and more recently helping me on four interstate moves in ten years. I know he loves and cares about me. . . in his way. I don’t know if he felt love from his father.
I’m not sure how Daddy will feel about this post. It’s doubtful that he’ll even see it. I love my father, but I haven’t talked to him in a while. Despite my conflicted feelings, I sincerely hope he had a happy Father’s Day.