When my dad was 1 year old, his father Eddy abandoned his mother and three kids (he was the youngest). I’m not sure why he left. He clearly wasn’t happy. I asked my grandmother about it years later, and she said she was not an easy person to live with. That may be, but leaving your kids — I just can’t fathom it. I can understand the urge to leave, and I can imagine leaving, but I can’t imagine actually leaving.
Years later, Eddy made contact with my dad, trying to repair the relationship. My dad refused to see him. He felt that wound deeply.
I had a pretty good relationship with my dad overall. He was very focused on work, and as such was absent a lot. He would often take extended business trips of several weeks at a time. He was also a duplicate bridge Grand Life Master, and often would combine business trips with bridge trips. He’d leave for several weeks at a time, in some ways repeating what his father had done, but my dad always coming back. Until he didn’t.
My dad was killed in an auto accident in 1987. I was 22 at the time. It just seemed like he was away on an extended work/bridge trip. For a long time I had recurring dreams that my dad was still alive, just on a secret mission, but had now come back.
My dad was obsessed with making sure that I had everything he didn’t have He bought me a new bike every chance he could get, because he had never had a bike. We went out to eat a lot, because when he was young they could never afford it. When I was 16 he didn’t want me to work a summer job because he had worked at a number of jobs since he was 10, including selling balloons at parades and sweeping up hair at the barbershop.
In turn, when I became a late-in-life father, I wanted to make sure that my son had all the things that I didn’t have. Those weren’t material things. I wanted to make sure that my son has someone to read with him, and make jokes with him, play ball with him, and hold his hand when he’s scared to go into his first day of gym class. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t absent. I don’t want to helicopter, but I want to be involved.
The statistics on the fate of fatherless children are as frightening as they as depressing. Fatherless children in the United States are more likely to abuse drug and alcohol, commit suicide, drop out of school and more.
Now that my son is older, at age 6, I do have some fantasies about traveling for work — going on tour, trying to find a cruise gig. I used to go on the road a lot. I don’t think I could spend that much time away from my family. Maybe when my son is older, 10 or 12. But I don’t want to miss anything. And I want to be there for my son.
My father being fatherless continues to affect me — mostly in my resolve to be a better father.