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.