My earliest memory of my father is of going to Glen Oak Zoo in Peoria, IL. I was 5 years old, and getting ready to start Kindergarten. He spent the day with me there, and even bought me a small elephant figurine as a souvenir.
Except, not really.
When I was in my early 20s, I told my mom that was the first memory I had of him. After a long pause, and a hesitation that told me something was wrong, she broke the news. It wasn’t my father. It was a family friend that took me and bought me that figurine. My mind had just filled him in as that memory.
Here I am at the age of 45, and I have 5 real memories of my dad.
One of them was over the phone. I was 20 years old, and even though I told him who it was, it took him a while to remember me.
The other two memories included one weekend visit, when I was 12, and a two-week stay when I was 13. Both included very little time spent together. I was with his wife and step-kids all but 1 hour of that 2 week stay.
The worst memory was standing before a judge at the age of 14, hearing that judge read a letter out loud from my father. We were in court because my father owed thousands in back support. The letter was my father’s objection to having to pay a measly $20 a week. He wrote that I was a spoiled brat. He wrote I only wanted designer things and that he didn’t want to send money for me to waste it on clothes. I cried so hard that day. The judge paused. He looked at me, asked me to stand. He addressed me seriously, telling me he could tell I wasn’t spoiled or in designer clothes. He said, and these words stuck to me, that even if I was spoiled, it was my father’s responsibility to pay support.
The last memory of my father is ongoing. It started in my mid-30s when he reached out to me to connect. I had my first baby girl by this point. I had a solid view of how I wanted to parent. It wasn’t how he parented. He sent me a message via MySpace…of all places. I had no interest in responding.
I ended up writing back, though, because I thought I could put it to bed. I politely, laced with some anger, told him that I wasn’t interested. I told him that I had moved on decades ago, and that I didn’t want him in my life.
He emailed many times. Then, his messages dwindled down to Happy Birthday emails each year. Last year, he sent it on the wrong day, but he was close.
No one I have talked to understands my decision to never have him in my life. No one, well, except my husband. Not even people whose fathers abandoned them. They feel I need closure. They feel that in order to move on, I need to forgive him. They have missed the fact I did forgive him. Many years ago, I made the decision he wasn’t capable of being a good father to me. I forgave him for me.
I am not alone. I know my life is not unique. When I wrote about the abuses in my childhood in my “The Choice is Clear” blog, I got many responses, some from people I didn’t know, telling me they had similar stories. I was stopped in a parking lot, twice, and met with stories of others’ childhood traumas. It actually doesn’t make me feel better; it makes me sad that so many have to live through abuses as children, and even as adults.
When it comes to fatherless childhoods, there are approximately 17.4 million children who lived in fatherless homes in 2014. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015) That is 23.6% of U.S. children. Seventeen point four million in one year! More than 40% of those homes are living in poverty.
I could go into all the effects studies show about fatherless homes, but they are easy to guess. I don’t want to talk about that, because I believe that if there are enough adults who affect those children in a positive way, we can begin to see real change in those stats. I was one of the lucky ones who had more than enough people who stepped into my life and cared enough to guide me only as a father would.
I talked about making the correct choices in my blog outlining my childhood abuses. I believe many adults made the correct choice to show me love and attention. Their choices led me to a much better destination than those stats predicted I would be.
- My grandpa was a sharp-tongued, old-fashioned man. He was set in his ways and you didn’t cross any lines with him. Unless you were me. He adored me, and I adored him. I knew he loved me, and I felt like he stepped up to be my father. He was the most imperfect father figure, but I never doubted his love. He also believed in me. That is a very important factor for others who look to mentor a child. Show love and a belief the child can be something great.
- My uncles were also very strong male figures. The older was more serious in his role, while the younger treated me more like a younger sister and teased me so much, I ended up with a thick skin and decent sense of humor.
- Many, many teachers showed me structure and that men were kind. Mr. Fuson was a huge help in me gaining trust towards men. He and others were kind and took an interest in my successes.
- Mr. Heath was my best friend’s dad. I would love to write everything in my heart about this man, but besides me crying over the memories, you wouldn’t have time to read what all he did for me. He was such a caring husband and father, and he took me in as part of the family. I wasn’t special, he took us all in. He was incredible and my first real glimpse at what a father should be…at what a man could be!
- Les Vann was my second boss in TV. I would love to tell you all the funny anecdotes of our working relationship, but again, none of us have the time. Outside of work, he and his wife were so kind to me. They took interest in not only my career, but who I was going to be as a person. They showed me what a fantastic marriage could look like. He ended up giving me away at my wedding.
See? I had more than enough father figures to fill the role. I just had to find one more. If I was ever going to be a mom, and believe me I was very hesitant to bring children into a world like mine, IF I was going to be a mom, I needed to find a really awesome dad. So, at the age of 29, when I thought it impossible… I met Jason Morrise.
I thank God everyday, and no I am not exaggerating… everyday… that he is my husband, and the father of my girls. He is kind, gentle, smart, funny, but most important of all: He is present.
He reads to them every night. Right now, they are finishing up the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He tries to make it home for dinner every night. He has 6 pets in his home, and he is terribly allergic to 2 of them. That is definitely 6 more than he wants and approximately 50 less than what the girls want. He tells the girls he loves them. He tells them when they look pretty and congratulates them when they succeed at school. He instills the belief they can be anything they want to be.
I did not marry my dad. I stopped a cycle. I made a choice. I hope that others out there, who feel unloved, can find someone, or be lucky enough to have a list like mine, and feel love. My real wish for other women, young and old, is to know they have a choice. I want them all to hear stories from all of us that survived, even thrived, without a father. I want them all to know they have value, huge value.
It’s not easy. My journey has been extremely difficult. However….
It is possible.