Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe

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.


But maybe she was embarrassed by her friend’s taste.
But maybe she was just embarrassed by her friend’s taste.



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?

10 thoughts on “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe

  1. I knew my father. He knew me. My parents were married when I was born and divorced by the time I was 7. In a failed attempt to grant my father his custodial right we were sent home after he fought with a girlfriend. He also kidnapped us and took us to his mother’s home in Baltimore. I remember being excited about the strange Greyhound bus ride (in the middle of the night). After a few days I started dreaming about my mother disappearing piece by piece. We were eventually returned to our mother in one piece.

    When I was 10 my mother dropped us off to spend the summer with our father. He tried and failed to comb my hair. He was a government employee who bought, smoked and sold weed. He also beat the living crap out of his girlfriends and we witnessed every beating. He never hit me but I was terrified of him until much later when my stepmother told me that I was the only female he would not hit. I tested him. She was right. For some reason only I could sass and defy him and he would not beat me. I no longer feared him but I also felt like he left me and my siblings unprotected from his rage and violence towards women.

    My father told me I would be pregnant by age 16 and I told him that it would be an immaculate conception. He also told me that women, especially black women, had no business being in college. Because of this he refused to support me in any way when I went away to college. I threatened to sue him if he claimed me on his taxes or paid my mother child support on my behalf. In my late 20s we reunited and he stayed with me in my apartment for a couple of days. I told him how traumatic my childhood had been and he told me about his childhood abuse by his grandmother. He said he was sorry… and he owned up to his bad decisions. We never met or talked about it again. Over the phone he said he couldn’t remember what he said but it certainly wasn’t that he was sorry. We’ve been estranged ever since.

    Unfortunately, I can’t celebrate certain holidays because of my particular journey. Father’s Day is one of them. Rather than post untruths or vent angry feelings that no longer bring tears to my eyes I choose to think about how very fortunate I am to be where I am today. This is the reason there is still a certain vibrancy in my eyes and in my smile. I am not bitter and can be intimate with men but the wall is up. I’ve yet to let anyone in because I’m still healing.

  2. MAMA’S BABY, DADDY’S DEFINITELY! I didn’t meet my father officially until I was about 3 when he married my Mom, but of course I didn’t know that. It wasn’t until my parents were getting divorced that I learned that instead of 19 years of marriage, my parents had only been married 13. Mother sat me down and told me the facts of life.

    Without going into all of the things that made up my life with my father (and mother), I will say this. I took the best of them inside of me. As children, we don’t always understand. I think once we become parents, we see that some decisions had to have been hard to contemplate, let alone execute. The one thing I have always done with my children is tell them the truth. I think that with the truth, they see the humanness of our existence as parents and are more easily forgiven, too. I hurt some. But, I got my height from my Dad, his ability to charm, and I look like him. As I’ve gotten older, I see my mother and am grateful for that, too.

    Don’t despair on the unknown. The one time you met, he showed he loved you very much. And in the end, that is all that matters.

  3. In this era of oversharing and “fakebooking”, every life event/holiday, however mundane can take on an overblown life of it’s own (ie, I cooked last night and you can’t have any…my kid took a poop in the toilet, yay!). I would agree the for most people parental relationships fall into a gray zone wistful nostalgia and total crap. Having my stepfather be the only father I known (and dealing with motherly anger when asking about that absent fellow), my view is shaped by present and absent fathers. But, in the end we are shaped not only by the one or two parental forces in our life, but also by the myriad interactions/relationships that we encounter. So, I celebrate all the people in my life whenever I can!

  4. Personally i am very close to my dad. i love both my parents, but my mom just isn’t the easiest person to talk to. But i know for others that may be reversed. The only thing we can do is try to do the best with what life has dealt us family-wise,which i realize isn’t always easy. But it seems like you’ve done pretty good so far

  5. Wow, smh, just WOW! It seems as if you do not like anything a black man or man of color does. You never mention like so many women like you, your mother’s role in your father not being in your life. It’s as If women see there mother’s through rose colored glass’s never asking why did you keep me instead of giving me to my dad when you and him divorced or broke up? Why would you set me up to wait for a call or visit or mail, when you cut off contact with my father? Mother’s are behind the disappointment children feel when the father doesn’t show up. ( They know he doesn’t even know where they live, so they want the child to wait for the father that never shows because they know he would not know where to come pick the child up any way) And the reason your mother’s took you with them is so that they could ask for child support or state aid or If they asked for none of those the the big coupe, THE TAX MONEY. Women who do this is the majority, after time anyone would get tired of trying and then the nail in the coffin, when the seeds the mother has planted for all that time takes root and It’s YOUR NOT MY FATHER! when the father finally does try to contact the child after years of forced separation made to look like uncaring by unscrupulous mothers.

    My mother and father was together till I was around nine, and after they separated my father was still there, I Love both my parents my mother cant replace my dad and my dad cant replace my mother. And I found when I had children how manipulative women can be. After the nine months Its who ever wants to be there, and I was there for first child, so much so, the mother seemed to be offended by It, and would stop at nothing to break a bond that she did not have with her father just so she could say, yeah the dad’s not around. Well I guess not If by design you made it that way. So for my second child, I wasn’t having It, and thank you Jesus, I have Custodial rights, and my child lives with me, and she doesn’t have to have those experiences such as her dad not knowing how to do her hair. I can straight braid, and french braid, and blow dry it and let it be fresh, and pony tails and ribbons, I do the cooking the cleaning the ironing, brushing teeth, bath time, the doctor’s visits the park the daily school lessons, church, reading bed time stories, how to deal when things do not go the way you want them to and still be thankful and grateful for what you do have, That yes you are a princess but unlike barbie you are a princess not because you where a gown and crown but because JESUS is the King of the whole universe and your his child, the ups the downs the good times and bad and everything else.

    I feel sorry for the children that do not get these things on a daily basis, due to a mother who does not care really about there own child, because If they did they would not have created a child with someone who they did not intend on being with in the first place.Or share the raising with ( Including the Taxes) But like the excuses so many use, It’s a women prerogative to change her mind! Well yes It is and It takes a real woman to make choices that will not damage there own seeds into the next generation also. but It seems that that is never spoken of.
    I love fathers day, my child Is too young to buy me something, that I would tell her Is not necessary anyway, but I did get a card she made in Church and she did take me to see ‘Man of Steel” ( I paid but I said she did). And every day Is fathers day when she hugs me and says dad I Love You So Much!

    1. My dad always knew where I lived and what my phone was and he chose to make keeping in touch a chore. He chose to make visitation a chore and a half. My dad chose be a father to his kids based on where he could squat for awhile. My mom didn’t do these things and didn’t make my dad do the bad things he did. My mom or anyone else’s mom should not have to compensate for the “dad’s” shortcomings.

  6. @ MeanIsTheNewHonest, You should really be able to appreciate the honesty of this..Your mom did pick to have sex with and have a child by the man! So since she picked him, its her fault for choosing a loser to sleep with. Your mom should take full responsibility for the loser she chose! As should all women, the man doesn’t just turn into a no good low down piece of crap! He was already one when you chose to be with him in whatever way lead to sex and a child! So maybe women should be more selective of who they open there legs for!

    1. I’m going to say this again. My mom did not make my dad do the things that he did. Do not, I repeat, do not talk about taking responsibility, when you really busted out some emotional gymnastics to absolve my father and all the other “fathers” of color of their sins. If women make better choices, femphobic, slut shaming guys like you would be left out in the cold. And if that happed, who would give you ooh wee cookies for doing what you are suppose to do.

      1. @Meanisthenewhonest, Well tre impress me madam souffle, I am in no way a femphobic. Women should be empowered and have a voice that is heard and understood. So pooh on your thoughts about me on that. I enjoy reading the writer’s thoughts and the comments on this blog, that is why I read it, I am not just some troll, hating on the viewpoints expressed here or in your words a slut shaming guy. When It is put out that all men are this or that, or If no men say hay wait a minute that does not apply to me, what’s wrong with me saying do not include me in that pig pen of men that are being spoke of? And I was not absolving your father or anyone’s father of not being what ever you or there child thinks a good father should be. And don’t be so coupe deville no need to say ooh wee to me, unless some Teena Marie playing. I do what I do because It’s who I am. And If women made better choices I would just have to say no, more than I do now, cause I’m hip I’m slick, and all the women love my cologne! He He ; )

  7. i’m really glad you were able to record those memories (and thank you for sharing them); i always find that i take all the memories i have like that for granted, thinking i’ll always have them, there’s no way i’ll ever forget them, but of course i do forget them. father’s day is complicated, and you’re right that it seems to be making bigger and bigger appearances in social and other media each year, and i always do feel a little left out when i’m not able to express thanks for my dad being the best in the world or anything near the degree of closeness that i feel most people can/do. i’m the age now that my mother was when she had me, and though i won’t have children anytime soon, if at all, it is strange looking back at my relationship with my not-there-father through the eyes of an almost-there-adult.

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