I don’t have a father, and it’s completely fine. It really, really is.
It’s taken me 40 years to say it because it just doesn’t sound right . . . but it is the honest truth and embracing it, finally, has been liberating.
No, he hasn’t passed away. No, I am not adopted. No, he did not abandon us—he was there all the time, unfortunately. Nevertheless, he was never a “father” to me in any positive form, and from the time I left for college, I effectively fled him and never turned back. Without going into too much upsetting detail, I will simply say he was cruel, abusive, and narcissistic, and that love to him was defined as necessarily having full control over our lives—present and future.
I have since severed all ties with him, and when I look back on my childhood, it is clear to me that I never truly had a relationship with the man because there was never a father-daughter bond. It was primarily abuser-victim—even during the fleeting “good times” when his temper was at bay.
We walked on eggshells constantly, so careful not to trip over the invisible wires that would set off his mood swings even though we knew our efforts would always inevitably prove futile because sooner or later, the most trivial detail (most of the time beyond our control) would detonate one of the many landmines in his crazed, messed-up brain.
My mom worried that I would never have a healthy, normal relationship with a man as a result.
She raised us racked with guilt that she never took us and ran, but she had her constraints, which I’ve come to terms with.
Friends, the close ones to whom I have confided snippets of my story—only snippets because I sense the entire box set would be too much for anyone not raised in such an environment to bear—generally have no idea how to react when I, in rare moments of vulnerability and openness, reveal this. I don’t blame them. It seems so wrong, so pitiable, so horrifying, especially to those with close, healthy paternal relationships.
Admittedly, there are times I reflect and think to myself that perhaps if he were not abusive physically but only mentally and psychologically, perhaps I could have forgiven him and not completely cut off all ties. Or, if he were abusive and not completely controlling or controlling but not abusive, maybe, just maybe we would still be in touch with each other. All of those thoughts are always swiftly nipped in the bud when I realize these are moot points, that he was ALL of those horrific traits, that reconciliation would never be possible, that I absolutely made the right decision to remove myself and my family—my precious children and husband—from out of his reach.
As I write this, the tears are free-flowing, and I am overcome with emotion as I realize how lucky I was to escape and to have met my incredible life partner.
I am living the dream—very, very literally living the fantasies I used to replay over and over again in my mind as a little girl, daydreaming about the normal family I would someday have if there was a God. And playing out normal conversations between myself and my husband, who would embody all the qualities my father never demonstrated—kindness, gentleness, and good-heartedness. I disappeared into sitcoms, novels, and friends’ homes, which instilled in me a sense of what was normal—a bittersweet contrast to the harshness, at times brutality, of my reality.
I marvel at the incongruence of my life now to my years as a young girl when I felt like I was living in a parallel universe to everyone else around me. My present existence doesn’t seem real sometimes, and I have to pinch myself.
I look at my amazing boys and wonder how they would look at me differently if they knew. For now, there is no need to tell them and needlessly add complication and mental distress to their lives. I’ve wrestled with this decision, but, right or wrong, it is what I’ve arrived at. One day I’ll let them read these words and then Pandora’s box will open and perhaps it will be cathartic for everyone. But presently, as teenagers, they have enough angst to keep them plenty busy.
Even though I haven’t seen him in 17 years, and as much as I loathe to admit this, my father is my albatross and always will be. He will forever be the demon within me that I fight and struggle to contain every day.
I cannot make the memories go away. But I can learn to live with them and learn to better myself from them.
I write this to let everyone out there know that it is okay to not have a dad, or either parent, if he has been nothing but toxic to your life and well-being. His toxicity inherently nullifies that biological connection because he is causing you harm. Biology has nothing on love, on real relationships formed with people who may not share your DNA but who bring you joy, replenish your soul, and add meaning to your world.
I often tell my husband that he saved me, not in the sense of Tarzan saving Jane or Popeye rescuing poor Olive. But he absolutely saved me—spiritually, mentally, emotionally—from disintegrating into the type of weak, self-loathing, insecure person I could have become as a result of my father’s influence. He propped me up and reminded me that many, if not most, men are good, benevolent, tender, and inspirational, who make for wonderful husbands.
And incredible fathers.