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Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Romantic Rumor

I grew up with a diaphanous father who floated above me like a caption bubble saying, “?”.

He was a romantic rumor, a previous chapter in my mother’s book of life, leaving behind no photos for his three little girls to frame and fawn over. There would be no frame hugging in this family. No searching his dark eyes for our own, or comparing the curve of our noses to his; no joy of discovering a trace of ourselves in his image, thus… answering our desperate curiosity. The only evidence of his existence was our existence.

My dad was an old movie reel flickering in my mind, with imaginary memories, conjured by a credulous child, intoxicated with prime time fathers, and aching for paternal adoration.

I was always comparing my invisible father to the other girls’ dads, which never worked out well for me. I suffered like an amputee with an inflamed phantom limb… finding no possible way to soothe it.

I felt that I had been gypped by life; everybody that I knew had two parents, but I only had one. I assumed that I was somehow to blame for my father’s absence, after all I was little girl number three, and in my little girl mind I thought that he was tired of daughters. I envisioned him throwing his arms up in defeat when I was born, and tromping off to find another family where he could have his very own little boy. Of course all of this was nonsense, but the actual reasons for him leaving were incredibly complicated; certainly nothing a mere child could possibly comprehend.

Father’s Day continues to be a holiday that I view from afar, like witnessing the customs of a foreign country. There is still an empty seat at the head of my childhood table, and a little girl waiting wistfully by the darkened window. She knows that he isn’t returning, but she’s found nothing else that could take his place.

Appreciate every moment that you have with your dad. Hug him, tell him you love him, and do nice things for him, for there are many children, both old and young, who have never experienced a fathers’ love and the joy and security that it offers.

For those of you who have known the void of a fatherless childhood, my message to you is this: Accept the vacancy in your heart as part of yourself; offer it honor and appreciation. You are the incredible person that you are, because of that vacuum. You have had to find your identity independent of a father’s influence. You have had to be brave and resilient during hard times, when a strong hand wasn’t there to guide you…or hold you.

Be proud of whom you are, and of the family that you have—that coalition of love that worked doubly hard in order to fill in the gap left by your absent father. And remember, the greatest love you can experience is the love that you offer yourself. The always present unconditional love that has carried you through your life, when you've allowed it, and will never ever leave you. Ever. Celebrate that today. Celebrate you!


Cheryl P. said...

Leah, I don't know that I have ever seen someone articulate that as well as you did. I had a father but no mother. I, too, suffered like an amputee with an iflamed phantom limb. I also, looked at other mothers to imagine what mine might of been like. Futile imaginings as there could never be an answer to the question.
You sound like you have made peace with this absence but still I have great empathy for you that you had a void that left a wanting and needing that couldn't be filled. It is true that any adverse condition in our life may be a cut into our psyche and as the scars heal over it, it makes us stronger but I can't help but wonder how I might of turned out without the scars in the first place.

Leah Griffith said...

Oh Cheryl, I have wondered the same thing. If I hadn't had the scars would I have been more confident, focused, and able to succeed more in life? But I do have the scars, and those questions are like bubbles…impossible to grasp.
I am sorry that you had to grow up without a mother. For a girl that had to be incredibly challenging. Eating life raw is a messy process.
It seems we found another topic that we have in common. I’m glad that my post touched you…writing honestly is the only gift that I have to give.
Have an amazing day Cheryl, and thank you for your thoughtful post. ;)

Jayne said...

Leah, this is a beautifully written piece--brought tears to my eyes. Such a burden for a little girl to carry--missing the father she never knew. That sort of emptiness seems almost impossible to bare, yet you, and how you express yourself, are testimony to the spirit of the human heart.
I grew up w/both of my parents, and I was lucky to have them for a good long time, until my father passed away a little more than a decade ago. My dad and I were often at odds, and I didn't always appreciate him, and now that he's gone I wish our relationship would have been more, shall I say, "peaceful."
Your advice to all is wise and true, we are the sum of all of our experiences, and we must make the best of them.
I wondered, while reading this piece, if you ever feel as if your father's spirit is with you, even though you never knew him. If, at times, you have a mysterious feeling that an attraction, or a sense, or a reaction to certain things seems to come from another place, and whether or not it might be your father's imprint??
Leah, you must submit this piece. It's stunning. And I think it would bring peace to so many people who've grown up w/out one (or both) of their parents.

Leah Griffith said...

Jayne, as I child I used to imagine my father watching me and I would perform all sorts of little stunts and dances to please him. As an adult I still catch myself doing little things with him in mind. It’s sort of like how a writer feels about her audience or reader, only more emotionally complicated.
I was hesitant to write about Father’s Day because of the emotional stirrings it produces in me. Never knowing my father in some ways makes my relationship with him all the more romantic. I never sassed him back, slammed my bedroom door in his face, or screamed, “I HATE YOU!!!” when he wouldn’t let me spend the night at my friend’s house. Mine was a one-sided sterile relationship, like a surgeon cutting into his anesthetized patient; I was in control of my perception of him, which made him easy to love and miss.
In the real world we usually hurt the ones we love and they hurt us back. That’s the dance of human relationships…messy but intimate;)
Perhaps next year I’ll dig this post up and submit it somewhere. I’m glad that you found some meaning in it Jayne. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. One never feels so naked as when they stand alone.

Christine said...

This is incredibly well written with a lot of soul to it. Good for you for being brave enough to get the words down. Many times people forget or don't realize that some of these holidays can be difficult for those who have lost or never known their parent. I for one do have abit of a tough time with Mother's Day due to not having children and looking at a likelihood of never having them. Maybe someday I will have the courage you have to put the words down...

Leah Griffith said...

Thank you Christine,
I was going to skip over this holiday due to the tenderness of the subject. But...I figured I better get it out of the way, besides, like you said, there are plenty of other people out there having to deal with the darker sides of some holidays.
I think that you're very brave with what you write, and when you're ready you will write about motherhood and all the milky emotions attached to it. There are many women out there who struggle with this subject.
Thank you for your thoughtful words Christine. You are a tenacious and kind soul.

Chris said...

Hugs. And admiration for being gutsy.

Leah Griffith said...

Thanks Chris, I'll take that on the rocks, stirred, with extra olives ;)

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