Editor’s Note: The author of this post requested, and was granted, anonymity for this article to protect the identity of his family members.
When I was a child and having one of my many disagreements with my mother, a retort from her would often be, “Wait until you’re a parent. Then you’ll understand.” Since becoming a dad myself several years ago, I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot.
Like many contemporary dads, I am a different kind of parent than my father. Broadly speaking, you could say I’m more present than he was in my childhood. The conventional wisdom is that social and cultural norms were different “back then.” We should cut, say a distant father, some slack because of this. Not me.
I grew up in what seemed to be boringly normal family unit. Stay-at-home mom, working dad, older siblings and a dog — all in a suburban 4-bedroom house.
As with most seemingly perfect scenarios, it wasn’t.
My father appeared to be a nice, gentle man. He never disciplined me, rarely even raised his voice. But then, I didn’t see much of him. He would leave the house for work before I woke. He would be back for dinner. He often worked weekends.
He never did the school drop-off or pickup routine. Never read me a bedtime story. Never came to a “parent’s evening” to meet my teachers or classmates’ mothers and fathers. He rarely spent time alone with me.
Now, as a father myself, I find this almost unthinkable.
A specific example of how little time my father and I spent together is this: I can count on one hand the movies my dad took me to see. On two fingers to be precise (ICYI: Bronco Billy and Airplane). I’ve been taking my daughter to see movies since she was 3 years old. I’ve lost count of how many hours we have shared together, side by side in a darkened theater.
To me, it boils down to this — I LOVE spending time with her, and sharing in those things she’s enthused about (like movies). My dad’s lack of this in my own childhood seemed at best lazy at the time. But it wasn’t simply that.
Distant father started as prison dad
When I was a teenager, I discovered my father had been in prison (no one told me — I found some letters in the attic). He was incarcerated from when I was a baby until I was 4. He didn’t see me at all that entire time. In contrast, I spent this equivalent period with my daughter as a stay-at-home dad. When I think of the amazing time I spent with our daughter, the heartlessness of his subsequent decision to not spend time with me is amplified.
It gets worse.
Despite the prison time — for embezzlement — he somehow had a successful career as an office manager. He would often work late and on weekends. Ah, that explains why he spent so little time with me. He was too busy funding our house and home.
Nope. He was too busy having an affair.
An affair that began within a few years of him coming out of prison. An affair that lasted until I stumbled upon it when I was 19. He eventually co-owned the property she lived in. He was living a fantasy second life there, where he didn’t have a family to live with.
There’s a sucker punch. He took out his mortgage with her in my name.
This all came to light when I opened a piece of mail I thought was addressed to me (my father and I have the same first initial). The letter turned out to be about the property he owned with her. I still remember the sarcastic “thank you” he repeatedly directed at me while my mother screamed at him.
The full scale of his betrayal only came to light a few years ago, when he randomly blurted out a confession to my mother (they’re still together) while reacting to a melodramatic plot on a TV drama.
His sorry behavior is alien to me. Abhorrent. I’m supposed to dismiss this as “things were different back then”? No.
I haven’t confronted him about any of it — the lies, the betrayal, his lack of interest in my childhood. He has a heart condition, and I can’t trust myself to not explode at him. But I can barely stand to be around him, and I do my best to avoid speaking to him.
So I simply seethe with internal anger whenever I think of this whole sorry scenario. Fuck that guy. Never be that guy. Never be ANYTHING like that guy. You’re a good dad, I tell myself. That guy is an asshole.
Then I think about my daughter. My amazing daughter. Who I love and adore. And who will never – ever – have a father like that.