By: Reyona Hammond
My dad is my twin, seriously. We both have the same birthmark, the same obnoxious laugh, the same round, button nose, the same arch-less feet, and we’re both Cancers. He was my best friend from age four to about age ten. We would have father-daughter dates every single day after he picked me up from school, and we’d crack jokes or see who could drink a bottle of water the fastest.
Honestly, we were so close that I’d cry whenever he stood in the middle of the street and waved goodbye after my mother picked me up from his house. As I got older, though, he became distant and extremely selfish. Our once unbreakable bond was basically nonexistent around the time I reached adolescence, and I just could not understand why.
I can recall a few instances when I’d said I acted a certain way because my dad wasn’t around, therefore my behavior and bad attitude were justified and acceptable. Over the years, I’ve grown to learn how to maneuver throughout the world without guidance or advice from my biological father – and I’ve realized that I can’t use his absence as a reason to live a life of bitterness and mediocrity. However, I do still wonder why so many men choose to remain inactive in the lives of their own children.
Relationships between black men and black women in the U.S., including parental bonds between fathers and their kids, have been in a state of fragility for over a century. Almost everyone knows how important it is for men to be present in the lives of their children, and this is especially true for men with daughters; we learn a lot from what we see.
Though he may deny it, my father chooses to be inactive in my life because he has an issue with women. I can say that watching him use women for his own sexual and material benefit has negatively affected me. I’ve let men treat me horribly, talk to me recklessly, destroy my self-esteem – and a lot of that resulted from what I saw. I’ve been told that I have a tendency to build walls around my ego and my feelings that are basically indestructible. Once I started dating my boyfriend, I began to notice how standoffish and emotionally immature he was, and I could not figure out why.
My boyfriend (we’ll just call him Diz) and I have been together for two years and just like any other couple, we’ve had to jump over some high hurdles. Many, many mistakes have been made in this relationship, but for some reason we’ve always been able to find a reason to keep working on it. It wasn’t until we started opening up to each other about how we felt towards our fathers that we began to figure out where a lot of underlying anger and feelings of emptiness came from.
One day, Diz called me and said that he just wanted to get something off his chest. It took a little while for him to talk, but he finally said “I think the reason why I’m so angry is because I have a crappy relationship with my dad.” It was at that moment that I discovered why I had let old boyfriends treat me so poorly – I was looking for the love and affection that my father failed to show me. We were on the phone for about three or four hours, talking about how we wish things could be different with our dads. We learned a lot about each other that night, and I truly feel as though that conversation turned our short breakup into an unexpected breakthrough.
It’s so much easier to learn how to love a man and accept his flaws once you learn why he acts a certain way towards you. It’s also important to have patience with your partner if his father has been absent for all or most of his life; technically, he hasn’t been “taught” how to be a man. His mother can only teach him but so much, and it is vital to the success of your relationship to always remember that.
Building a relationship with a man who grew up without a father is difficult, and maintaining this type of relationship is even harder when you’ve experienced the same unfortunate circumstances. However, just because a task is hard doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to accomplish. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself and my relationships over the past two years:
1. If your partner opens up to you about an issue that he has about his father, listen – then talk about it. It takes a lot of courage and trust for men to open up about things that hurt them, so listen and offer support. On the other hand, it’s important for your partner to be able to listen and support you as well when it comes to discussing personal matters.
2. You can’t force your father to actually be a father. I’ve cried and begged my dad to work on his communication more times than I can count. The sooner you realize and accept the fact that you can’t pressure your father into being a parent, the better it will be for you.
3. Forgiveness is key to living a wholesome life. Don’t spend too much of your time hating a man who chose not to take his responsibility of a father seriously. That was a choice that he made, and you have to decide not to let that selfish choice hold you down. Forgive him and continue to flourish. It took a while for me to be able to do this, but I’ve been able to accomplish so much by letting go of what I cannot control.
Although I’m not the biggest fan of my biological father, I can honestly say that he has taught me so many valuable lessons. He’s taught me how to be emotionally and financially independent; he’s taught me that a man cannot make things right with his child if he hasn’t even made things right with himself. If I could say one thing to my father, I’d tell him that the fate of our relationship is in his hands. I would tell him to take the necessary steps to repair the bond that we once had, and to do so as soon as possible. I will continue to care for and pray for him although he chooses to be absent. Like my mother once told me, “sometimes you have to love people from a distance.”