To The Man Who Stayed
A letter to my Father
My father abandoned my mother, my sister and I before I was even born. I never met him, or even seen his face. All I have of the other half of my DNA is a name and how other people tell me I look like him.
But I can’t say that I’ve never felt a Father’s love.
You were there. Even before I could hold onto memories and fleeting thoughts. I was six months old and you took on the role of Father even though you were barely out of your twenties. I spent years with you, some of the best years of my life.
Like when my sister was scared of the ladybugs in the house, so you grabbed her little princess teapot and began helping her collect them for a ‘tea party’, showing her that there was nothing to be afraid of.
Or when we went swimming and I didn’t want to let go of the edge because I was scared of how deep the pool was. You were patient with me and stayed close as I learned that, as long as you were nearby, I was going to be okay because you would never let anything hurt us.
You may not remember these times, but I do. And I hold them all so close to my heart.
So when I tell you that when I think about my father, I don’t think about that name on a child support document, you should believe me. When I say that I don’t picture that estranged man in my head or wonder how he’s doing or if he’s missing me, I’m telling the truth.
When I think of my father, I think of parks. The endless grass and fun jungle gyms of my childhood. I think of all those times when you went above and beyond to find us new areas to play at because you just wanted us to be happy.
And of course it was always good enough because no matter where we were -whether it be an intricate web of a metal playground or an open baseball field- I was with you and that was enough.
I think of rock hunting. Something you got me into because of the beautiful collection you hold and I wanted to share some of your interests after years of you indulging mine. I remember being excited to see the new stones in your collection every time I visited you, each one with it’s own unique story.
I think of fishing. The smell of seaweed and dirt as my sister catches her umpteenth tree and your teasing smile when I didn’t want to touch the squirming worms in order to bait my hook. I remember how you bought my first rod, a bright red thing that was my pride and joy for years until it broke.
I think of fire and heat and all the dangerous things we’d get up to during the day. I cherish the memory of the nights that we’d just sit around the fire pit with some s'mores and simply talk. You told us hilarious stories that let me learn more about you as a person. The easy conversation dimming along with the flames as chatter transitioned into a silence that brought with it peace and calamity.
I think of all the things our mom would never let us do, but you did. The R-rated movies, endless junk food and stash of energy drinks. I remember going out and just enjoying myself, reveling in the freedom you gave me when I was with you.
I was allowed to be me.
And I often think about all the times you stayed up until the wee hours of the morning just to get a few more hours with us because we never had enough time together. Not nearly enough.
So when ‘Father’ comes up in conversation, I’m proud to have to explain to people the complex -yet simple- relationship we share. I will let them know that -despite my mother’s attempts- you and I had bonded in a way that she could never understand.
A bond that went beyond blood or obligation.
But I know that despite what I might say, sometimes you don't feel like the best father and that you look down on yourself because you couldn't always be there for us in the past. But that's not what I see when I look at you.
I see a tired man who works relentlessly in a life that he's not fond of, getting out of bed everyday regardless of the numerous troubles he has to face.
I see a determined man, one who continues trudging through in order to provide for those he loves. And he loves a lot, with all of him.
I see a bright person. Someone whose smile effortlessly lights up a room, laughter contagious and inviting you to join. A person who is able to joke with you without judgment. Someone who is my best friend, guardian and a reliable pillar of strength.
I see my father. A man that chose to stay when many didn’t.
You taught me so much. You taught me that there was something beyond the influence of my mother. You helped me see that it was okay to have wants and desires. You helped me understand the feeling of being safe and loved every time we were together.
You showed me that it is okay to be afraid, that it’s okay if I sometimes can’t get out of bed or want to give up. Because you give me something to fight for…and you have always been worth all the effort I could give.
I love you so much that words can't describe how grateful I am to have you in my life.