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An Open Letter to the Father I Never Knew - So Close and Yet So Far Away

Your absence was more profound than your presence ever could have been

By Donna L. Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)Published 2 months ago 4 min read
An Open Letter to the Father I Never Knew - So Close and Yet So Far Away
Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

Dear Dad,

Dear . . . not sure what to write here . . . what to call you . . . absent father, maybe? But you have been . . . you are . . . so much less . . . and so much more.

I heard you died last May. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I Googled you. I didn’t have a lot of hope in finding anything (and maybe I didn’t even really want to) given your surname is so common. But there it was. Your obituary.

I felt . . . nothing. I wonder what that says about me. I wonder what that says about you.

I didn’t know your name until I was 27 years old. Did you know that? I asked several times, but by the time I was 8 years old I got the message to stop asking loud and clear. So I stopped. And I got on with my life. And that whole time you lived just one town over. It’s hard to realize that others know things about you that you never knew.

I finally found out about you when mom decided she wanted to go looking for my brother. My brother? I was an only child! But no, at 27 I found out that you and she had a baby boy 9 years before you had me. I didn’t see that one coming. It shook me to my core.

Tossed between the two males in her life – her father and you – those must have been wretched times for my mother. Under pressure, she gave her first child up for adoption. You were a married man, after all. And pregnancy is a very visible “problem.” Not to mention a child. But she held her ground when I came around. She wasn’t going to do that again. So she . . . we . . . got kicked out of her family home. Kicked to you. I wonder which decision she regrated more.

I learned that I lived with you for the first 18 months of my life. You, mom, your wife and your six other kids. I’m a psychologist now. Do you have any idea what Freud would have said about that arrangement? I do. It’s not pretty. It’s a wonder no one suffocated me in my crib. What did you feel when we left? Sorrow? Relief? Nothing?

Like many fatherless daughters, I spent a long time, consciously and unconsciously, trying to replace you . . . or what you should have been. Some of those choices were good. Others not so much. Fathers, or what they should be, are big shoes to fill.

Stalking wasn’t as easy back then as it is now, but did you follow my life? I was just one town over. Did you know the church did not want to baptize me? It took 18 months, but finally a progressive priest agreed. But not in front of the whole congregation. In a back room of the church – just me, mom and the priest. Did you know I was valedictorian? Did you come to my graduation? Did you ever just drive by the house? Do you remember my birthday? The color of my eyes? My middle name?

I heard you owned a pet shop. I would have loved that. I love animals. I heard you had a chow-chow. They’re one of my favorite breeds.

Did you save any pictures of me? Did you look at them often? There are a couple of pictures of you and your family in the photo album with my baby pictures. I can’t remember when I figured out who you must be. You’re handsome. You look a little James Dean-ish. I look like you around the nose and mouth. Your kids are there too. One boy — he looks to be about 12 — is holding me and smiling at me. Mom said he liked me.

I heard that after my mother found him, my brother knocked on your door one day and introduced himself. I heard you were surprised. That you always thought I would come around one day, but not him. I guess you don’t know me very well. Of course you don’t know me very well. I never would have done that. It’s not my style. What would I have said after, “Hi Dad”? What would you have said? There would be too much and too little to say at that point. The Oprah-esque reunions of long-lost relatives are distasteful to me.

I don’t regret not finding you. You were the adult all those years. Why didn’t you come find me?

P.S. I forgive you.

parentsimmediate familygrief

About the Creator

Donna L. Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)

Writer, psychologist and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, human and animal rights, and industrial/organizational psychology

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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