A “Typical” Family

There is no such thing as a “typical” family, but as far as outward appearance goes, my family has always looked like the “typical” family. I live in a house, I have pets, I go to a good school, I have a mom, a dad and siblings. Even though everything may seem ordinary, the relationship between my father and I has always been far from the norm. He has always been in my life physically, but has not shown up for me, emotionally, in years. He does not spend time with me or my siblings outside of the household. I rarely see him since he gets up for work after I leave for school and comes home every night after I have already gone to bed, which means that I only see him on the weekends. For most of those weekends, we will exchange a sentence or two, or not talk to each other at all.

Ever since I was younger, my dad has never known the names of my teachers, never bought birthday presents, and to this day, has never come to my school to see a project that I have done or an accomplishment that I have made (other than elementary and middle school promotions). There are teachers and other students that know more about my life and what I have gone through than my dad. While most of the time he is absent emotionally, any other interactions with him typically turn out much worse than silence. From road rage to arguments over pointless topics, he usually only shows his emotions through anger.

I remember on my birthday one year, after going to breakfast with my mom and sister, we went home so that I could open my birthday presents. As we walked in the door, my mom mentioned something to my dad that turned my day completely upside down. While the topic brought up wasn’t a big deal, my dad reacted the way that he always does; through anger. He grabbed the television remote and threw it as hard as he could at the tv. I instantly felt this pit in my stomach as the remote broke into a ton of pieces and a crack spread like a spider’s web, across the corner of the tv screen.

While this wasn’t the first time that he had ever acted like this, it is certainly a time that I will never forget. Since then, I have always felt that pit in my stomach return at the sound of negativity in his voice. I stay silent in his presence, in my own home, in fear of how he may react to anything I say. But silence still isn’t good enough. In his eyes, someone is always doing something wrong. I clearly remember this one night that he came into my room. I thought that he was coming to see if I was still awake to say goodnight after not seeing me for the whole day. I had this warm feeling, because I thought that for once, he was going to ask me about my day like other fathers do. That warm feeling shattered the moment that his eyes turned dark and his face turned red. His voice grew loud and aggressive as he started to yell at me about something of his that was missing. He thought that someone must have misplaced it and that no one was going to sleep until it was found. I went downstairs to help him look for it and remembered that I had accidently bumped into it earlier in the day. I thought that I had picked it up, but a piece of it was missing. I explained to him what had happened and he coldly responded, “Well why didn’t you think to pick it up?” He talked down to me like I was stupid, like I was less than him. Even though it was an accident, I felt like I had disappointed him and it was my fault that he was angry.

Other than his anger, one of the hardest parts of the whole situation has been growing up without a good father-like figure. It hurts to see the relationship between other people and their fathers, as they listened to whatever music they wanted to in the car, could make jokes with their friends, and were completely open with their father because they didn’t have to worry about what would upset him. I wonder what it would have been like to have a dad that I don’t have to walk on eggshells around, who is there to take care of me, makes me feel safe and that I can go to, to ask for advice or even have a normal conversation with.

According to “The Father Code”, “It has been shown that the effects of emotionally unavailable fathers were almost identical to those where the father was physically absent” (The 9 Devastating Effects Of The Absent Father). This is not only an issue in my own household, but it also affects a lot of other families across the country. Other than the emotional burdens of lacking a physically or emotionally present father, there are many other ways that this issue can affect children who have dads similar to my own. “The Father Code” also states that individuals raised in a home with an “absent” father can have a greater chance of becoming depressed and/or anxious, abusing substances, dropping out of school, divorce or relationship issues in the future, and 5 times the average rate of suicide (The 9 Devastating Effects Of The Absent Father). There are many ways that I have been impacted by my father’s behavior. For example, I am a very quiet person around people that I am not comfortable with. I think that part of this may be due to the fact that I have never been able to confide in him and have always had to filter what I said around him in order to make sure that he wouldn’t get upset.

I think that the pressure that Society puts on men may be one of the reasons that so many families struggle with this issue. Scott Cunningham and Matt Dwyer from Montana State University wrote that, “Statements like ‘take it like a man,’ ‘boys don’t cry,’ and ‘No Fear’ communicate the idea that expressing emotion equals emotional weakness. This forces men to hide fear, anxiety, pain, sadness, and self-doubt behind a façade of confidence and competence” (Traditional Views of Masculinity Limit Men). Not saying that this is the case for everyone or even my own father, however the pressure that society puts on men to act tough and to conceal their emotions may contribute to the reason that they react in anger and have a hard time making emotional connections with their families.

This problem is an ongoing cycle that needs to be stopped in order to prevent the emotional and physical effects that it has on families lives. Deryl Goldenberg, a clinical psychologist, said, “I had promised myself that I wouldn’t repeat and recreate the hostile relationship I’d had with my own father, I felt almost compelled, unconsciously, to reenact my own childhood with my son.  Here it was happening to me, not as extreme, but still a strained relationship, and this broke my heart that I was still so psychologically immature. I ended up on quite a roller coaster of a ride as a father.  My son is now a grown man and we are currently sorting out our relationship.  Now I am the father open to dealing with the issues with my own son.  I am willing to acknowledge my shortcomings and listen to his childhood experiences, as painful as they are to hear. We are slowly making our way through our troubled history moving towards something of a relationship” (The Psychology Behind Strained Father Son Relationships). Goldenberg didn’t want to be anything like his father. Still, no matter how hard he tried, he ended up recreating his childhood for his own son. However, he made an effort to fix his relationship with his son, even if his timing was a little late.

Since this is an issue that affects my family and the lives of many families throughout the country, it is society’s job to change this mentality that it sets for men. This is a problem that will never be fixed if boys who grow up with dads like these, repeat these actions when they become a father themselves. If society started telling boys that it is acceptable to express their emotions and that they can be different than their father, more sons could have a greater chance at bringing an end to this cycle and more children could grow up with a father who supports them and is always there for them.

One Night

Something bad was in the air. Dad was on the phone with someone. He was angry. I overheard him saying “I will kill her tonight”. What followed was the worst night of my life and it ended with the police taking dad away.

Mom was sitting on a sofa. She looked so small and unapproachable. The silence was heavy. I was confused. 

After some time dad came to pick up his stuff. He was wearing a jeans shirt. That’s how I remember him. He tried to reach out to me, but I was too afraid. 

He left, but the terror stayed trapped in my body. I felt a little bit safer when we got a second door. It was made of steel and had a lock that was difficult to break. Every night before going to bed I checked if the door was closed. I then started to worry about the balcony. I once saw my dad climbing up the house and opening the balcony with one push. I didn’t know how to protect grandma and mom and kept a little deodorant next to my bed…

I was relieved that he was gone. I was proud of my mom for breaking the cycle. I knew it was right. But I missed dad too and I couldn’t share that with anyone. I felt that I am betraying my mom and grandma who fought so strongly to keep the monster away. 

Dad called me once and wanted to take me to an amusement park. My heart lighted up and was quickly crushed by mom’s rage when she heard that I answered the phone. She was afraid that he will kidnap me to get money. 

So from one day to the other there was no more dad, no more grandparents, no aunt, no cousin. No birthday cards. Nothing.

I was lucky to have many kids to play with. Good kids, friends till today. I loved school and was doing well. I bonded with nature and had two dogs I could talk to. The only thing that didn’t work was my health. It was the only way to have grandma care for me with love. I got sick a lot.

That one night haunts me. I know it changed me. It crushed my innocence. It crushed a feeling of safety in the world. It wired my nervous system to work in arousal most of the time. 

The trauma of the night is one thing, but I see that my brain is doing something else too: It’s holding on. There is so little I remember about dad. That night is burned into my brain. I am afraid that I will have nothing more left of him, if I let go of that memory. 

I was relieved that dad was gone. I am grateful to my mom for protecting me. 

Everything I have become is because of his absence and not his presence.

Daddy’s Girl

I unwillingly became fatherless at 27 years old. My Dad passed away peacefully, holding my hand from heart failure. I am thankfully and humbly the definition of a “Daddy’s girl.”

My Dad showed me how to love, and be loved from a very young age. He was nurturing, patient, expressive and always present in my life. He gave me confidence, endless laughter and so much comfort. We spoke every day, sometimes twice a day. He did anything and everything to encourage me and support me. We had a very unique relationship, one that I am forever fortunate to have known.

After losing my sweet Dad, I woke up each day with the intent to not “lose myself.” Easier said than done. A part of my heart is in heaven, and I was left here to figure out how to move forward. I’ve realized I do this every moment of every day, with tears some days and some days not. I started seeing a grief counselor soon after his death which helped me understand my rollercoaster emotions.

My strength is found in Christ, my husband, my friends and my family. I feel my Dad’s love living in me, it gives me great peace and motivation to love and live life to the fullest. God has never forsaken me, and he will not forsake you…

I Never Had a Dad

I Never Had a Dad

For as far back as I can remember, I never had a dad. I just came from one parent, I was a person who only had a mom. If someone had asked me about my parents when I was six years old, I would have had trouble answering the plural. It was just so strange to think of myself having two parents; no one ever talked about my father or asked about him, I’d never met him, and I didn’t have many dealings with other children and so didn’t notice that I was different from them in that respect. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand that I had a father, I had just never felt his presence in my life. He was as much of a phantom as the characters from bible stories were. I “knew” that they had happened, it was a standard truth. But they were too far removed from me to be considered a potent reality.

Since neither my mother nor my grandmother, the dual caregivers of my half-sister and I, never spoke about him, his existence didn’t make any impression on me as a small child. I only thought to question his absence when I noticed that the characters in movies I watched all had dads in some form or other and I didn’t. I was five years old and didn’t put much stock into what I asked, not particularly interested in who or where my father was. But as a child, I simply delighted in the attention I received from my mother when asking a question…any question. However, she never delivered a satisfactory answer. Our childhoods being as warped and blurred as they are in our memories, the only response of hers that I can really remember now was some grumbling about him not wanting to pay child support.The short mutterings she provided, when she could be bothered to acknowledge me at all, only inspired further inquiry with their vague nature. But something about her demeanor prevented me from pressing her about it.

Shortly after I began my quest for an answer that made sense to my child’s mind, the tests began. My ponderings became genuine at that point. I had grown legitimately curious about the person called “father.” I suppose that my infantile wonderings had inspired her to procure this man for me. I distinctly remember a short period in which my mother brought me to the county courthouse for several paternity tests. I was given a cheek swab and my thumb prints were taken to later be compared with those of the man present at that particular appointment. There were several candidates, but none of them seemed at all interested in me. I stared at them from my spot on the courthouse bench while we waited for the tester to call us. They stared back, but never smiled or spoke to me. I wondered how my mother had even gotten them to come, they showed absolutely no enthusiasm or curiosity. Did any of these men even want to be my father? I didn’t see much point in those exercises if I would walk away empty handed in any case. It never occurred to me to ask my mother why she didn’t remember who he was herself or why there were so many men that she thought it could be. In my later years, I threw around the question of prostitution, but she had been gone for some time by then and the answer would forever elude me. Now that I look back, I think it more probable that she wanted to prove maternity not to find a father for me, but rather so that she could start receiving child-support checks. I found it mildly amusing, how the motives of those around us when we were young became clearer and clearer as time went by. Innocence is a fleeting thing, a rare jewel of the human world.

If any of the tests came back positive, no one ever told me about it. I expect that one of them must have been a match and then became a matter of record because a few years later, my adoptive mother showed me a picture of a man that she said my foster care agency assumed was my father. She told me that his name was James Brown. I remember walking through the hallway at school after that, daydreaming about what it would be like if my mother were still alive and my father was married to her. Would Aisha Brown be a different girl than Aisha Johnson? Would she have a family that loved her, a family that smiled all the time and spent time together? Now that I read the name again, it doesn’t look natural. I sometimes wonder if “James Brown” could have been an invention of my adoptive mother, just a prop to give me closure and answers at that point. But I didn’t have any reason to be suspicious of it then, I had learned by that time not to speak to fosters about my biological family and hadn’t pressed her with any questions about him. Reactions to any mention of your biological family as a foster child often brought on such repercussions as anger, unspoken accusations of ungratefulness, pity, and lectures on the shortcomings of your family. It came to a point when I was even uncomfortable if someone else brought up my mother in front of my foster parents.

At around the time when puberty set in, shortly after the James Brown occurrence, I grew angry. My emotions swirled and I went from dreamy fantasies of the perfect family to raged indignation at the no-good who’d abandoned me. How could he just leave me and my mother all alone? He had a child, a responsibility. Who the hell was he to just walk away? For crying out loud, it wasn’t as if I didn’t need him. Where was he on my birthdays? On Christmas? Where was he when I scraped my knees and when I was in the hospital having surgery? Where was he when I was being bullied and when I started cutting myself? When I attempted suicide, where was he? Where was he when I got tossed down the trash chute of the foster care system, when my foster parents neglected me and when I was being abused? Where was he when my mother died? If he had been there for her, for us, she might still be alive. My sister and I wouldn’t have been taken away and she wouldn’t have been alone. Things could have been so different, we could have been a family… I remember one conversation that I had with a guidance counselor at grief camp. I’ve never been able to sleep in strange places and that night was no exception. So I got out of my bunk and walked across the building to get a drink from the fountain. One of the counselors was doing rounds and caught me. I didn’t want to get in trouble for being up past curfew, so I told her that I was thinking about my dad and that was what was keeping me up. As a child I was very manipulative, a quality that often worked in my favor. She detained me for nearly an hour talking about him, a period that I would rather have spent in my dorm than talking about my father’s uselessness. It aggravated me to hear the excuses she made for him. She said that he’d probably had a tough time himself and that he had problems of his own to work out. I called her on it and told her that I didn’t care what he had going on, he was supposed to be a father. Adults have responsibilities like that. I realize now that she was probably just trying to make me feel better about the situation in a way that I could make sense of and feel better about, but I didn’t hate him any less after that.

A couple of years later, when I was fourteen, I decided to ask my caseworker if it could be arranged for me to meet him. I wanted nothing more than to tell him off and ask him what right he had to treat me like I was garbage, but I lied about my reasoning. I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance if she knew that all I wanted to do was cuss at him. But no one would help me anyway. Everyone that I dealt with in connection with that request kept asking me why. I thought that they should have drawn a fairly obvious conclusion, that I was coming of age and wanted to know the man who was my father. I had an inkling of his feelings for me already and knew that he probably didn’t want to see me. When I’d been adopted, I was told that the department of child services had tracked him down and inquired as to whether he wanted full or partial custody. He said no. Knowing that he’d been told about me, knew that I was his daughter and didn’t care about me at all hurt. I felt unwanted, unloved, like a product that was put in the clearance aisle. Sometimes I wished that I’d never been born. What kind of life did I lead anyway? I was a foster kid, enough said. The only reason I had “parents” taking care of me was because the state paid them. I was being adopted because I came with a baby sister, we were a package deal. What was the worth of someone like me?

I felt like a nothing. My outlook was bleak. To help myself cope, whenever I faced emotions or situations that I couldn’t handle, I went inside my head. To avoid the realization that I was alone and unwanted, I pictured him changing his mind about me, realizing what a mistake he’d made when he let me go. He would track me down, knock on my front door, and beg to be a part of my life as a father should. I would calmly tell him that it was too late, that he’d failed me all my life and that I didn’t need him anymore. I would tell him to get off my porch, turn around, and close the door in his face. This tactic worked for a while, and eventually I moved on through the milestones of my teen years. I busied myself with schoolwork, clubs, and volunteering. His existence became as benign to me as it’d been when I was a young child. When he did enter my mind, I silently reminded myself that I was the girl with only one parent, the child of Eve, and I moved on to other things.

I thought that I was finished with his memory, his legacy of absence. But when daily life with my new parents became abusive, I began to fantasize about him again, this time in a positive light. I needed a hero who would stand up for me, and since that person didn’t exist in real life, I made it so that he existed in my head. While my abuser screamed at me, yelled at and insulted me and threw every shortcoming and disappointment of my young life in my face, the smell of cigarettes in my nostrils as his rancid breath clouded around me, I went into my head once more and began to picture my father as a war hero. He was a strong marine who’d been gone to fight in the Middle East and was returning to me after his tour of duty. He would pull me into his arms in front of my house and swing me around before he pulled me into a hug. He would be big and strong enough to beat my abuser to a bloody pulp and would crush his spirit like he was crushing mine. This vision offered me small comfort as I tried to convince myself that there was salvation somewhere. Two years after the abuse started, I suffered a psychological breakdown from the buildup of mental, verbal, and emotional abuse levelled at me for hours a night. My psyche couldn’t take it anymore and I crumpled. The police intervened and so did the department of child services. The abuse stopped, and after a brief period of heavy stress and enduring a barrage of accusing glances and remarks from my abuser’s family for having broken the silence, I was safer than I had been in a long time. With therapy and weekly check-ins with a caseworker, my mind began to heal. I no longer spent every waking moment worrying about whether or not he would be there when I got home, what would happen to me the next day and the next week and after that. I started taking one way to and from school again as I was no longer afraid that his friends would jump me on my way like he said he would have them do. I could focus on the lectures in class, not on his screaming and the words levelled at me during our last encounter. Eventually I stopped crying, stopped cutting myself, and realized that I had a life and that I could live it. It was what I made it. I moved on to bigger problems and bigger goals, picked up a few hobbies, and opted for activities that made me feel useful. I molded myself slowly into a young woman that I could be proud of. My father fell back into the shadows once again, where he’s resided my whole life.

I’m grown now and I know that I’ve been through a lot for someone my age. But looking at myself in the mirror, at the person I’ve become, I’m not afraid. I am not the same scared, angry little girl whose bitterness soaked into the very ground beneath her feet. I am a woman, a woman who can care for herself and make her own dreams come true. I have a man in my life who loves me, a sister who I adore, and an extended family who’s been more involved in my life now than ever before. I’ve realized that I can trust, and I’ve found a person to share my life with without fearing that he’ll do to me what my father did to my mother. I know that he loves me, and I love myself. I love who I am and I became who I am because of everything that’s happened to me through the years. I’ve decided that never again will I be someone’s victim. Never again will I hide in the corner while someone hurts me. I am strong, I am independent, I am loved, and I am me.