“She has daddy issues” is how we tend to describe women who are either sexually loose or emotionally dysfunctional when it comes to intimacy and relationships. My issues are not of that sort. However, I’ve never married, so maybe there is a bit of dysfunction there. We’ll get back to that, but that’s not really the point of this piece.
According to a 2010 study, 72 percent of African-American children were born to unwed mothers. Now that’s not to say that 72 percent of these children do not have active and supportive fathers in their lives, but unfortunately, I suspect a good number of these unwed women do not have the full support of their children’s fathers – financial or otherwise. And believe it or not, it’s that “otherwise” that is most important.
While I now know my mother had certain financial struggles in raising me, I didn’t as a child. As far as I knew we were well off. My needs – and many of my material wants – were taken care of. I thought all of my emotional needs were taken care of as well. My attitude was my father wasn’t there and I didn’t need him. Looking back, that attitude was only a defense mechanism that allowed me to cope with the existence of being a fatherless child.
I’m not the typical fatherless child, though I don’t know what is a typical fatherless child. I bare the name of my father and I’ve learned to embrace my Jr. as a source of pride and motivation. Though I never asked my mom why she named me after my father, knowing my mother, it was her way of saying to him “you will not deny this child in any way.”
My existence as a fatherless child was also atypical in that I grew up very close to my father’s family. My paternal grandmother adored me. My father’s sister in many ways stepped in as a second mother and her husband served as more of a father to me than as an uncle. Yet, with all that support, none of them could be my father and none of them could fill the emotional void of feeling abandoned by my natural father.
For most of my life a bore a deep-rooted anger (I stop short of saying hatred, because in truth, I still had a sense of love) towards the man. That anger ate me up inside.
Then, as fate would have it, several years ago my father was diagnosed to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. My aunt and uncle encouraged me to visit him in his assisted living facility in Upstate New York. I’ve done so on two occasions. And while I’ve gotten rid of the anger, the pain still exists. Forty-three years later, the pain is still there.
The pain is not just my pain, but also the pain of knowing what my mother had to deal with in trying to raise a boy into a man. The pain remains from being 13 years old and losing my mother and not one phone call from my father to say “I’m coming to get you” or “hey son, how are you holding up?”
Now I’m trying to build a relationship with my father (in all my interactions with him, I cannot call him dad), but in a bit of irony (some would call it karma, but I choose not to think of it in that way) the roles are somewhat reversed. He’s the one who need care and he’s the one who needs support. And believe it or not, I’m glad that I can be there. I’m glad because I know our relationship – as fractured as it is – would have meant so much to my grandmother and I can tell it means a lot to my aunt. I’m glad we can have these short moments together because of the self-healing that’s taking place inside me. I’m glad because though I am a man of 43 years, in many ways I’m the boy sitting on the stoop waiting for my father to arrive home.
My experience is unique, but with 72 percent of African-American babies born to unwed mothers I am far from alone in this type existence.
How can our young black boys learn to be strong black men if there are so few strong black men providing the example? How can our adorable black girls grow to know what a healthy, positive relationship with a man should be if they never get to see one first hand?
I’m 43 years old and I’ve never been married and I don’t have any kids. See, even as a child I understood the void in my life and vowed to never have kids unless I could be 100 percent involved in my child’s life. Neither my future child, nor their mother deserves less than my full commitment. My legacy shall not be one of passing on “father issues.”