The Truth About How I Found Empathy And Forgiveness For My Absent Father

Matthew Henry

The first time we met I was five when he appeared out of nowhere to take me to McDonald’s and buy me a gift afterwards at Walmart (two of the nicer places in county I grew up in, sadly).

After our meal, when he told me I could have anything I wanted in the store, my mother was the first to insist I ask for a TV. My brother then tried to convince me that I wanted a Super Nintendo (actually, really sound advice in retrospect). I thought both of those choices seemed materialistic, but secretly wanted one of those Barbie Jeeps you can sit in and drive.

Instead, I asked for a Barbie and a horse to go with her. Even though my mom tsk’ed at my missed opportunity, I kept both items for many years to come. Long after I had abandoned my Barbies I held on to the Barbie sized horse. I thought, somehow, those items meant he would come back to me.

Why else would someone offer to do something so nice? I thought. He must care about me. But the years rolled on and eventually I let go of the only thing that connected me to him. I grew weary of waiting and calloused over with bitterness. I let go of him conceptually, and that was all I had for nineteen more years.

In my twenties my curiosity got the better of me and I went through an old box in my mother’s closet while she was out. I found pictures of my dad, his approximate age, the correct spelling of his name, and enough information to Google his phone number. I was talking to him half an hour later.

The second time I saw my father in person was a few weeks later. He brought his new wife, my two younger sisters (surprise!) and his brother. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. To make matters more frustrating, he is devoutly Christian and vocal about it.

It was almost like trying to talk to someone on the other side of a wall. On my side I had so many questions about why I’d never seen him, and more anger and pain than I’d like to admit even now. On his, I can only imagine that he was trying his best in a way I couldn’t fully appreciate at the time.

Afterword I was left feeling exhausted and frustrated. I hadn’t learned anything about the man who contributed half of my DNA nor could I express the deep longing for the love and protection a father is supposed to represent. I could not explain the well of sadness to the one person I held so personally responsible.

Sometime in the last year or so we become Facebook friends and he let me in on a few glimpses of his life. He occasionally sends me pictures of complex electrical and mechanical devices that he fixes nearly intuitively. While he attended some college, his aptitude far exceeded his education. He produces for a small Christian television station and combines his love for Jesus Christ with his uncanny ability to fix anything that needs fixing.

Like me, he is too trusting with people. He’s had many jobs but never any great success. He has a hard time “knowing what other people just seem to know you’re supposed to do” in relationships. He’s been married a few times and has given me two half sisters and a half brother.

When his father passed away earlier this year, leaving him a small inheritance, he sent each of us a check. It was clearly a gesture, his own way of saying he cared and would do more for us whenever it was in his means.

At some point we all get a stage in our lives where we start to see our parents as mere mortals. Suddenly they become deeply flawed and complexly fucked up in a relatable way. This moment came for me when I began to recognize signs that my father is probably on the Autism spectrum.

After coming to heavily suspect myself I began utilizing some of tools that others with Aspergers use to cope with the occasionally (or constantly) overwhelming nature of life. Instead of berating myself for being immature when my nerve endings overload and my senses overwhelmed me, I began removing myself from stimuli until I had regained control. Instead of avoiding loud noises and bright lights, I started carrying noise canceling earplugs and sunglasses everywhere I’d go.

With these, and few other modifications, I am able to better cope with and process my reaction to the world around me. Even without a diagnosis, r/aspergirls has replaced the “crazy”, “dramatic”, or “oversensitive” label I had given myself with “non nuerotypical”. I found great relief knowing that other people could be kept awake by a scent or driven mad by a texture- not because I want others to suffer, but because accepting and recognizing issues is the only way to properly address them.

With the realization that my father also likely falls outside the NT, I began to empathize with him. While I don’t excuse his behavior, and I don’t think any parent should chose to remain absent from their child’s life, I do recognize that the challenges he was facing may have been insurmountable at the time. My mother did not want him to be involved in raising me and she is a fiercely determined woman when she sets her mind to something.

Regardless of diagnosis or personal history there is a man who is reaching out in earnest. I don’t know what it means or how I’m supposed to feel but I don’t believe anger or resentment will be helpful on this journey.

If I am to allow myself the room to fail than it only stands to reason that I must accept his failings. If I am to rejoice at my broken craggy exterior and delight in my crystalline heart, I must too accept the crags and the crystals that form my father. TC mark

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