I haven’t seen my father in more than a decade, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s still appropriate to even think of him as my father.
The last time I saw him was when I was 9 years old. It was early in the morning and before he had left for work, the man woke me to ask if there was anything I wanted him to bring home for me. With distinct clarity, I remember how I looked at him and told him all I wanted was some donuts. Of course, my father agreed to my request and that made me happy. I can barely recall his face, can barely imagine his visage and the sound of his voice when he asked what I wanted, yet I vividly remember the clothes he wore that morning — from the white polo shirt to the pair of black slacks that were the same color as his curly hair and the way he exited the door as I watched him walk out the house for the last time.
I had no idea what to think the instant my father left, or what to feel the moment I realized I was never going to see him again. I don’t think I was even allowed to think or react, when the front door swung open into the morning and everything ended and everything started. All that I was allowed to do was go along with it and expect that everything will be okay; and for the most part, everything did turn out alright. I managed to survive my teenage years without my father, without ever questioning his absence. But after reaching my 20s, I soon realized there is something about not having a father in your life that feels uneasy, almost disheartening in a sense.
Perhaps being fatherless in my 20s is more lonesome compared to my troubled teenage years because of the intimidating thought of becoming an actual adult with no proper father figure for guidance. Perhaps it is the thought of being alone when the inevitable, heartbreaking reality of my mother’s passing comes knocking one day, and I have no father — no brother or sister even — to mourn with or to help me get through each day like a real family does for each other in a time of need. Maybe it’s not even about being fatherless and about being alone, and just about family in general, and the thought of losing your family, missing your family, and creating a family. Or maybe it’s just about the fact that I’m the typical child of divorce you read about in psychology books, the only child with a lot of emotional issues to deal with in his adulthood because his two loving parents could not and would not get along. Whatever it is about, for me it often quite starts with my father.
I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders when I was still a kid, and he walked across our front lawn with me on his shoulders and I felt like the tallest person in the world. I remember the day my father took me to go bike shopping, and how he insisted that I didn’t need training wheels to help me ride the two-toned silver and black bike he had bought for me. I remember him being right about the unnecessary training wheels when I rode my bike around the neighborhood without them. I remember being angry at him when financial difficulties hit me and my mother when I was 15, and my mother had to work two jobs because he was too busy playing the invisible card to help. I remember being 20 and angry at him for not being there. I even remember those moments I made up inside my head where my father and I would drink beer together and talk about women, even though I’m more attracted to a vodka bottle than the opposite sex and a bottle of beer.
“So are you dating anyone?” I imagine him asking with a bottle of Peroni in his hand.
“Yup,” I’d answer in an awkward Chandler Bing fashion, “but it’s a guy, err a man actually, because I’m attracted to the same gender and I have daddy issues. Are you cool with that or should I give you something stronger to drink?”
“Well I guess it’s only fair you give my grandchildren two dads, am I right?” I often picture him smiling after saying those words and then maybe he’d drink his beer, while I silently wish I was drinking vodka instead and that the conversation between us was actually happening in a place outside my head.
As I replay the invented memories of my father and the very few real ones I have of him, I slowly begin to understand what Amy Tan meant when she said that all of us have our own miseries, and that to despair is to simply wish back for something already gone or to prolong what is unbearable to begin with.
I have been constantly thinking about her words as of late in relation to my father, and I can say with confidence that losing a parent before the mind reaches its final stages of development, before it can fully understand and analyze a complex situation, is indeed unbearable. I may not have guessed it from the age when I could still sit on my father’s shoulders, but looking back at the scene through the eyes of a struggling 20-something is extraordinarily different. It’s like reading a book with a few pages that have been ripped out from the middle; I can continue reading, but there will always be parts in the later chapters that will leave me scratching my head, trying to guess what I missed in the pages I couldn’t find.
By thinking about the idea of my father and the metaphorical pages he took with him, perhaps all I’m really doing is prolonging my sadness and all the sadnesses I didn’t know I had in me. After all, thinking about him and creating false memories of him will not bring him back or change the kind of father he was. The only thing I can do is be thankful for the memories he left behind — the good, the bad, and everything else he left in the middle.