Father’s Day has come and gone again. As someone who did not grow up with a father or father figures, this day has not traditionally been on my radar at all. These days, though, it’s hard to forget Father’s Day, besides all the incessant commercials urging you to buy the fathers in your life any number of useless objects, there are all the obligatory posts and profile picture changes on social media that serve as poignant reminders. I often smile wryly when I see these public declarations regarding fatherhood. Some posts seem like wishes for what a father might have been. Others describe idyllic fathers who listened, laughed, and stayed around. I know the truth for most of these folks is somewhere in between because fathers, like mothers and everyone else, are wonderful, terrible, flawed, complicated, and messy.
It’s been over twenty-five years since I last saw my father. I was about five or six years old. My mom and I returned to Puerto Rico to visit folks after moving to New England the year before. I remember few things about the trip, but what I do remember has always stood out and is only now beginning to fade with the passage of time.
My mom and I stayed in a motel that had a chain lock, which I remember thinking was very fancy. My mom bought a package of Vienna Finger cookies and I remember lovingly eating every cookie I could get my little hands on. I can tear a box up of those things to this day. We went to a friend’s house and I used the bathroom and this lady had a toilet roll cozy that had a doll on top of it. I remember taking it out of the bathroom and telling my mother that this lady kept a doll in the bathroom. My mind was blown. My mother was embarrassed.
I remember seeing my father. He had a mustache and a five o’clock shadow and looked a little bit like Tony Orlando.
I remember him being really tall and having a scratchy face. We went to a park, I think, and there were swings. He hugged and kissed me. It was a fun day. He said he would come visit me and that we would be together again soon.
Truth is, I never saw him again.
As a little girl, I used to wait for his call and used to pray that he’d send me letters and a plane ticket to see him. When my mom and I waited for the bus in the heat or the snow, I wished he’d come pick us up. My mom said he had two white cars, a Camaro and something else I can’t remember now, and that he lived in a big house he owned himself. We lived in public housing. I wondered why he would leave me where I was while he lived in nice big house all alone, one that didn’t have a cute little brown girl who liked to read, and sing songs, and who loved him very much.
Things were tough with my mom and I think that as much as she loved me she was also really bitter that she had to raise me alone. If I ever asked questions about my father or his family, she’d get really upset. So, I learned not to ask questions, although I had already learned that I was a surprise pregnancy and that the conversation that occurred when my mother told my father she was pregnant was not unlike Kirk and Rasheeda’s recent banter about their little growing Georgia Peach.
For a long time I felt really angry at my father. I felt abandoned and unwanted. It’s taken me a long time to stop wishing that the past was different and to focus on creating and maintaining relationships that are reciprocal with folks who are emotionally available. That’s a journey that I’m still on. And it is that lesson that I am left with this most recent Father’s Day. I am happy to see so many of my friends and colleagues honoring the fathers in their lives who held or hold them close and those who are making a way in their own lives as feminist fathers, godfathers, brothers, uncles, play cousins, mentors, and so on. For example, check out the work Spark Reproductive Justice Now and Strong Families have been doing around Papa’s Day, honoring the myriad of ways we come together as families.
What’s your take on father’s day, fam?