Fathers matter

This is a story for you fathers out there, a sad story about a man whose name I’ll say is Stan. I  used to know him when I was a very young girl, but we lost touch at some point, and as the years passed, he gave up trying and I gave up hoping. Stan was one of those men who married, over and over…sometimes the same woman multiple times. He didn’t stay with one wife for too long—a couple years with this one, a couple with that one—leaving his progeny (three daughters and a son) several thousand miles apart.

That type of behavior might seem odd for many of us, but for Stan it was normal. It might seem uncaring too, if one were to view the situation from the perspective of the deserted child. But if one looks from the perspective of the deserting parent, things change, and we begin to understand that Stan never understood that his presence, his existence here on earth, mattered to those who loved him. We see that, somehow, Stan thought he wasn’t missed.

To Stan it might have come as a shock to learn that his comings and goings affected those he left behind. He seemed to think he lived his life in a void where others felt no pain, no disappointment and no sense of loss when he disappeared for months, or years, at a time. He apparently didn’t comprehend that his daughters, and probably his birth family, yearned for a visit from him, or even a call or a letter. He assumed those connections came with the obligation of financial support. And money? Well, that he didn’t have. Or maybe he just didn’t care to share what he had. And he was right, he did have a financial obligation to his children, but what he didn’t realize is that they loved him with or without cash in hand. So he turned his back. He walked away. And he rarely looked back.

When he did surface from time to time, it was always with assurances of love, and his daughters believed him, at least at first. They held out hope with each call, each letter, that it might be the rekindling of a relationship. And each time they were disappointed. Oh, he always had the right words ready, but he didn’t seem to understand that the words “I love you,” even when spoken in a vacuum, are powerful. They’re words that children hope to trust in, and long to return, in person.

I can only think that Stan must have believed himself so terribly unlovable that it was right to keep himself from the very people who cared about him the most, and in doing so, he deprived his children of a father. Despite the cartoonish depiction of some fathers in today’s media, I believe that strong, loving fathers are vital to the health of a family. Little boys need their fathers to teach them right from wrong, to show them how to be men, to make the tough choices that living a righteous and honorable life call for. Little girls need their fathers too, to teach them to respect and value themselves, to not let others, especially boys or men, take advantage, to look those boys/men in the eye and convey to them to tread carefully where those daughters are concerned. But I don’t believe Stan understood how important he was to his children. I don’t believe he ever grasped the value he could bring to their lives. Because he stayed away.

See, I told you it was a sad story, but what’s even sadder is that Stan projected that un-need for family contact to his daughters. Somehow he assumed that they, like him, were happy going it alone and staying out of touch with the others. He must have assumed that they not only accepted his absences, but that they had no need to know each other or his birth family—his parents, his six brothers and sisters, assorted aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces. So he kept them apart in what seems almost a deliberate effort to keep the various “fruits” of his various paternal “branches” from touching, each other or the larger family.

Fortunately, there’s a silver lining to Stan’s sad story, at least in part. As much as Stan tried to keep his children apart, tried to spread that “they don’t love me/they don’t need me” attitude that he must have carried, at least his daughters—separated by distance, years, environment and circumstances—inherited some of his cunning. They thought about each other over the years, stared at surnames in the phone book, longing for the guts to start calling and asking if they were in any way related. They put names in search fields of the various social media sites in hopes of getting a hit, and from time to time left cookie trails for the others to find.

Finally, a few weeks ago, one of the trails was discovered, and the two branches, who’ve been separated for more than 40 years, were able to connect, were able to speak via the wonders of modern telecommunications technology, were able to hear each other’s voices for the first time, to share memories of their mutual father and how his life has affected them.

I can’t help but find it ironic that the biggest clue that led them to find one another was Stan’s obituary. So today, at least one daughter is left wondering if he’s somewhere in the spirit world shaking his fist at the gods of technology for allowing this to happen. Or maybe his perspective has changed. Maybe he can now see how very wrong he was all those years to keep himself apart from them, and them from each other. Maybe now he can see that family mattered—he mattered—and maybe he can be happy for those he left behind.

I hope you’re at peace, Stan. I’ve never really known you, but maybe, just maybe, I can now begin to learn about you and your parents, your brothers and sisters, and your other children. Maybe I can begin to understand the thought processes that made you the person you were and that made you act as you did. I pray that now, finally, you can begin to feel the  love that somehow escaped you here on earth. I pray that now, maybe, I can begin to forgive.

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