Dear Father


Today is Father’s Day.  So I called my mother.

My mother mostly raised me and my two younger sisters by herself.  Dad divorced us when I was eight years old.  He moved to a town half an hour away, and I rarely saw him, despite promised weekend visits.  The Friend of the Court assessed him $35 a week child support.  He didn’t pay it.

My mother had a few boyfriends, but up till I went to high school at the age of 15, none of them seemed interested in marrying her and instantly acquiring three daughters.  So she supported us on her own.  At one point she held two jobs and went to school.  I don’t know how.

My mother had risen through the ranks of the Michigan Employment Security Commission, from part-time switchboard operator to Executive Vice President, before she married my stepfather.  He wasn’t worthy of her, and he knew it, and he beat her.

But that’s another story, and besides, he’s dead.  Long ago.

We’re talking about today.  Father’s Day.  I called my mom.

My dad answered her phone.

My dad was visiting my mom.  Dad’s on his fourth wife now, a school teacher exactly my age who was out of the state today, taking care of a crisis in her family, so Dad was visiting his.  My mom saw my number on her cell and handed him the phone.  She has always done her best to facilitate relations between Dad and us girls.  Probably why she never sued him for child support.

“Hi, Dad,” I said.  “Hope you’re having a good day.  I love you.”  (Translation: “If you like.  I’ve been cornholed.” Yes, years have passed since Dad fell off the worthy-of-my-anger list.  Smile and nod, smile and nod.  Less effort that way.)

I’ve seen pictures of my dad as a teenager that I thought were of me.  I go by “Nisi,” but the name I was born with was “Denise.”  My dad’s name is Dennis.  My name was his, feminized, and before the divorce I was Daddy’s girl.  Afterwards, well….

I did write him a poem.  Like to hear it?  Here it go:

Dear Father

I’m supposed to hold a job?
 I’m supposed to tie my body
 to your iron clock,
dragged round by the axe-hands,
 cutting me off in pieces,
minute by minute?

 I’m supposed to report and record my impulsions
for your
 leisured appraisal?
I write one word a day.
Guns.  Color.  Voodoo.

Wrote that back in 1977. 

Thing is, I know I’m not the only woman in the world with an absent father.  My housemate, for one.  Holla if you another.

My father’s father left him when he was quite young, see.  I figure that’s part of how he became as hopeless at loving me as he is.  My father’s father, Vandeleur, moved to Ohio from Michigan and passed as white.  Broken, broken, our lineage is a broken thing, like a thin and brittle stick.

Can anger be sad?  Can anger be dry?  Can anger be charcoal?  Can it burn twice?

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5 Responses to Dear Father

  1. 1
    ishtar79 says:

    I’ve never commented before, but this struck a chord with me. Another case of Absent Father here, although mine lived in a whole other country. My mum also tried to maintain a good relationship between me and my dad, including not suing for child support (though a certain amount of stubborn pride also contributed to her decision).

    It’s mostly stopped bothering for the last couple of years, though I would describe my relationship with my father as indifferent at best. What it HAS done for me is leave me with an incredible amount of respect for my mother and all her efforts in providing the best life/home she could for me all by herself, and a strong female role model to look up to. Father’s day? Not for me. But I celebrate my wonderful mother pretty much every day of the year.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    Working with kids as much as I do it has been my observation that disengagement with a man’s own kids is not limited to cases of divorce. It’s something that a lot of fathers engage in even if they are married to their kid’s mother and live in the same home. What they end up doing is committing themselves to their job and their recreation. Raising children is “women’s work”. There are plenty of kids in million dollar homes who have little contact with their fathers.

  3. 3
    ao says:

    My father died in 2007. We’d not had the best relationship even before then; I have the feeling that he was as unsure of what to do with children as we were unsure of what to do with him. He and my mother were divorced when my brother and I were still young; our relationship with our stepmother was even more conflicted than our relationship with our father. We weren’t able to fix it before he passed away.

    I’d say that anger can be sad. In my case, at least, it was intertwined with love and disappointment and yearning and brilliant flecks of joy. It’s stopped burning for the most part, but on occasion I still turn it over and find red embers and futile gasps of smoke.

    But I do miss him, even when I know that were he still here, it’s unlikely things would go any better than they did.

  4. 4
    Katie says:

    This post resonated with me too. I wish that Father’s Day could be exactly what I wanted it to be – a recognition of my father exactly as he is, rather than some idealized version of him.

  5. 5
    Dee says:

    I’m another one with a strong mom and a problematic dad. We left him, though, not vice versa. And, I’m another Michigander with a super mom. Mine worked as an administrator at Wayne State, then put herself through law school while working full time and raising my little brother and me. I wonder if our moms know each other. It sounds like they could be friends.