Open wounds.

I think perhaps the shittiest thing about Father’s Day is having to pick out a card for untitledhusband’s dad. He left his family and the state when untitledhusband was 8, so he could shack up with his girlfriend. Since he paid his child support, his parental responsibilities were fulfilled.

untitledhusband has been cleaning up the mess ever since. After the divorce, he watched on as his already-thin mother lost 10, 20, 30 pounds seemingly overnight. She’d melt into her bed and quietly cry and pray, cry and pray. It wasn’t quiet enough, for he’d always hear, doing whatever he could to keep his younger brother from hearing. He’d listen on and wish that he could superglue her back together. She’d bake cookies, fold laundry and pour cherry Kool-Aid into the Flintstones jelly glasses for him and all his friends, as if this whole mess had never happened.

The meager paycheck of a single mother couldn’t support a mortgage, so they moved around from rental house to rental house. For a short time, they lived with Grandma and Grandpa. They’d settle in, and soon find themselves displaced when a whole family who could make a house payment moved in. Every box that was packed and unpacked was a crude reminder of everything his father took with him when he left.

He had a nervous breakdown after his dad split. Being man of the house before you’ve even hit puberty will do that to you. He’d lose his shit every time his mother left the house or deviated from her daily routine. His mother stopped at the grocery store for a few mintues after work one evening, and came home to find her oldest son hysterical, thinking she had been in a car accident. During his next visit, his father grabbed him by the shoulders, confronted him about the child psychologist bills and declared that he was perfectly fine. And so that was that.

Now, I watch on as untitlehusband takes his father’s phone calls on holidays and yes, Father’s Day. It’s always less like a conversation, and more like a job interview. The dialogue is punctuated with nervous laughter and obligatory ice breakers. “So how is the pond coming along?” “I hear you’ve had no rain down there.” As much as he says that he couldn’t care less about his father, I can see just how much he does.

No matter how old he gets, untitledhusband will always be this nervous, unsteady boy around strong older men like his father, whether it’s his boss or the waiter at Friday’s. When we go to untitledson’s soccer games, I can feel his apprehension when he realizes that he knows nothing about sports. I see how he avoids getting oil changes on his car. Talking to the mechanic reminds him just how little he knows about things that a father teaches a son. When he says that he is so over his dad, I nod and smile, knowing that being fatherless has damaged him in ways he can neither comprehend nor admit.

Deep down, I think untitlehusband feels that if only his father had loved him more, he might have stayed. And so he will forever and always be trying to prove himself to a man who didn’t deserve his love in the first place. Unfortunately, Hallmark just doesn’t have a Father’s Day card for that.

23 Responses to “Open wounds.”

  1. 1 Dee

    Oh dear, reading this just made me so sad….but also glad that he has you and you know the truth.

  2. 2 pelf

    My father left us when I was 9 years old - yes, to be with his then-girlfriend. Mum wanted a divorced, but he refused. Mum took my younger sister and I to another state, and we started anew. It’s been more than 15 years since we’ve not stayed together though we’re all on talking terms. He stays in a foreign country and comes back once in a while.

    I guess the only good thing about him is that he loves his daughters.

    And I guess I am who I am today because of him. Perhaps I should thank him, really really thank him, for turning me from a princess to someone independent and strong-willed.

  3. 3 Brandy

    Those phone converstaions sound familiar. My husband’s father wasn’t a deadbeat, but to his oldest son he was an asshole, plain and simple. It’s taken years for the two of them to have a workable, decent relationship and they stay in regular contact. I can only imagine the difficulty for two people who barely talk.

    I will dispute you this, though:

    …”around strong older men like his father”…

    No matter how much he knows about football, no matter how much he knows about cars or weightlifting, a man who abandons his family in any way is NOT strong. He’s pathetic and incredibly weak and he forced a child to become strong in ways that he’ll never be. I hope your husband realizes that.

    On a lighter note, I hope your husband enjoys his son on Father’s Day!

  4. 4 Anne Arky

    The biggest favor anyone could do would be to help untitled husband see that the inadequacies are not in him, but in his father, in every way, shape and form. I’ve seen too many children blame themselves for a parent’s inability or unwillingness to do the right thing by them, including my cousins, whose mother had five children, got divorced and married a man who hated kids, so she dumped the oldest three kids on relatives, took the two younger kids with her and the new husband and moved seven states away. All five of those kids wound up drastically screwed up by their mother’s actions, and the oldest ones begged their mother to take them with her, promising that they would be good and they loved her, and she just sashayed off and left them, leaving them to wonder what was wrong with them because Mommy didn’t love them enough to take them with her. All five ended up as substance abusers. My brother did pretty much the same thing to his daughter, but fortunately, her mother and I (among others) helped her to see that the shortcomings were his and not hers. How could it be her fault that her sperm donor (who gave not a cent to her support from the time she was two years old) was (is) an irresponsible, immature, egocentric jerk who thinks the world revolves around him and owes him? Now, she is 33 years old with a husband and a baby, and he wants to be a part of her life and tries to lay a guilt trip on her for not being a better daughter. I’m happy to report that she just throws it back at him in spades.
    If untitled husband desires to continue the strained relationship with his father, that, of course, would be his choice, but do whatever you have to do to make him see that he is not at fault. Buy him some sports books and automotive basics books and whatever other instructionals he feels he missed out on and show him that being a better father to untitled son than his father was to him will go a long way toward healing some of those wounds.

  5. 5 Tim

    I think I’d have a card for him. It would just say:

    Fuck You.

  6. 6 notaclue

    I have an overwhelming feeling of wanting to put my arms around him and help him feel better. Nothing ever makes it feel better tho. The damage and hurt remains inside of us always. The only thing we can do is make sure our own children are not raised as damaged beings. We need to give our kids all the love (but not all the stuff) in the world and let them know how much they are loved and wanted. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that makes me feel better–that and I look for kids with that hurt look in their eyes (I teach Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and try to talk to the different kids at the parks and schools when I am with my own children). You can see the ones who need a friend and you know you can make a difference in their lives by just listening and caring.
    We can never “earn” the love we so desperately needed and never received from our parents. Never gonna happen. My mom died in Dec. She never did know what an incredible person I turned out to be despite her.
    All my best to Untitled Husband. Please be well and know that you are more a man than your own father could ever be. Much love and understanding to you.

  7. 7 ibeejd

    Thank you for this post. It made me cry. Not only for your husband but because it mirrors my relationship with my Father. All those time that I thought I was the cause of him leaving. In a small childs mind thats a huge thought. His leaving didnt only hurt me as a child. Being a female I have spent most of my adult years picking men who I felt the need to prove I could be good….that I was worthy of being loved. Destruction all around me and all I wanted was for a man to love me and not leave me. If only I was good enough or treated them better.

    Now that I am 40 and have realized that it was my Father who had the issues…and all the men I picked were a reflection of him Im doing much better.

    Id pick the “fuck you” card in a heartbeat!!!!

  8. 8 St
    Had to share this link…in case any of you really wants that “fuck you” card! (I love these)

  9. 9 kim

    I feel the same way about my mom when mothers day is here. She never ‘left’ us but I was so emotionally (and physically) abused by her that I don’t feel it at all. It feels like such a farce to be getting her a card for ‘mother’s’ day!

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