Be Relieved That You Grew Up Fatherless

 March 2013 made 40+ years of marriage for my parents. They, however, have not lived in the same country or seen each other in over 25 years.

She wants him dead. He wants her money. They should have divorced, but never did.  Each is waiting on the other to pay for the paperwork.

I, like many black girls turned black women, grew up without a father or with sporadic and inconsistent contact with one. I remember being ten and bawling a bloody murder on Father’s Day—screaming and sobbing at my mother’s feet—demanding an explanation from her (a woman with questions of her own) as to why my father was not there, as to why I was not good enough, and as to why he never called me.

 

But what could she have done?  Really? What could she have really done?

She rubbed my back until crying became too painful to continue to do. She rubbed my back with wide, sweeping motions while I quietly sucked on my saliva.

*****

A couple of months back, Oprah spoke with the pop-star Rihanna about the correlation between a girl’s self-esteem and a father’s love on Oprah’s Next Chapter. The conventional thinking around this idea is that fathers are the first men in women’s lives to teach them how to be loved by the opposite sex. So the narrative goes follows as follows:  When a girl grows up with a father, she will know how to be loved by the opposite sex and as a result, will have healthy, satisfying relationships with men. This girl is probably confident and highly functional in the way of interpersonal romantic relationships.

The counter narrative, then, would suggest that when a girl grows up without a father, she will not know how to be loved by the opposite sex and as a result will have difficulty forging relationships with men. This girl probably lacks the skills and depositions to function in healthy, adult romantic relationships.

These narratives are highly problematic because they are based on the following assumptions:

We romanticize the inherent ability of the absentee father to serve as an ideal role model for interpersonal relationships. Who is to say that had the absentee father stayed, he would have necessarily been a positive influence?  This assumption is far from the true, evidenced by the numerous anecdotes , statistics, and case studies that prove that the presence of a particular type of father directly endangers the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of girls. We need to be extremely careful when we begin to equate a “father presence” with a “father that possesses the necessary skill-set to impart non-threatening, non-misogynistic, and pro-healthy dispositions and ways of thinking” as being the key factor to developing their daughters self-worth.

There is only one window of opportunity in which these healthy relationships can take place. For the coffee shop intellectual, it seems like it is childhood or bust. That is, once girls are unable to secure positive relationships with their fathers as children, they are without recourse both as children and adults. This is rubbish! Positive father-like figures are within the branches of family trees, (grandfathers, uncles, older brothers) or community organizations (mentor programs), or in social networks (coaches, college professors.)

Once we are “broken”, we can never be “fixed.” This assumption expands on the previous one.  Many women that have grown up without fathers may view their childhoods as challenging because they had no dad. Is this to say that these same women have no agency? Is this to say that from childhood to adulthood, they operate on auto-pilot and passively?

Women, do in fact, have the ability to identify areas of growth and work systematically with professionals, confidants, or alone toward bridging the gap between where they are and where they want be in terms of their interpersonal, emotional health.

Black women that commit to action and self-improvement can actually use their absent fathers as “what not to look for” examples and end up with great guys because they consciously chose not to repeat their mothers’ mistakes.

***

I saw my father on my most recent visit to Antigua. He had beautiful skin. He was polite; he even gave me a ride to my appointment.  I could barely get out of the car before he peeled off the curb.  I stood there under the spotlight of Antigua’s sun watching his back window grow smaller and smaller. And in that moment, I knew then, more than before, that he was absolutely indifferent about seeing me again. It was his ease and his patience with me. They betrayed him.

It would be the perfect ending to this article to say that I was not momentarily pinched with hurt, but I would be lying. I would also be lying if I said I regressed into the proverbially fetal position and that his lack of interest in me—shattered me—leaving me feeling completely inadequate.

That hole that I was supposed to feel. That shame that I was supposed to shoulder. They were not that big. I had a body of memories.  Memories of Kefim, my rasta friend that I have known since I was fifteen, Dr. Williamson, my mentor from my summer at the University of  Tennessee, Knoxville, my beloved Professor Saaka from Oberlin College, Craig from up the block, and of course, my brothers, uncle, and my husband.

I had cultivated them in the absence of my father and they continue to sustain me without his presence.

Some may say, “ I hear you, Kara, but none of them are your father. And it’s not the same.”

And I would have to agree.

It’s better.

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120 Comments

  1. I love this post! I think it’s so important to not let any father relationships completely dictate your relationships with other men. It’s so easy to assume that’s the trap we fall into, but you have proved otherwise and seem to have great, respected men in your life!

  2. Thank you very much. I think we hear that “I did not have a daddy and now I’m a hot mess” conversation too much and begin to believe that we are not in a position to make change. I am very happy that you enjoyed the post.

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