Sometimes when I think of the volume of men who have forsaken their children, I lose my mind. When I think of what is implied by the cultural paucity of model paternity, I consider that our fantasy of fatherhood might be a fallacy. When you meet three assholes in a day, you are the asshole, as someone once said to me at my old job. What if none of us, including fathers, understands what fatherhood is? I must be the asshole for believing a father is naturally inclined to want to live up to family commitments. What do we look for in fathers and why do we continue to fetishize the so-called virtues of manliness to the point of inevitably sending them away for failing?
Sending them away. That is my father talking. “You drove me away.”
I frequently describe myself as a father because I am the breadwinner who is never home; prioritizing my work and writing. It’s a joke, really. The punchline is that mothers are capable of living professional lives outside the confines of hearth and care, and usually end up doing twice the labor when they assume both roles. I’m “lucky” in that I have people dividing all of my labor for me. I’m half-assing as both mother and father.
I hope fathers know how much they are thought of.
A friend told me that a person must have incredible self-loathing to leave their child. There is no other logical explanation. A father must think so little of himself that he believes in all honesty that their progeny would be better served without them. On the surface, it is easier for me to believe men leave because of selfish pursuits. They’re bored one day. They’re scared by the intensity of emotional labor. They want something sexier than healthy children. They never wanted children.
I believe in this scenario that we enable them by catching the broken pieces of their departures. In deeper theory, however, I could start to believe my friend: that the presence of a man’s regret in a home might have much more drastic consequences than their resilience under basic household triage.
I received a lengthy letter from my estranged father a few days ago, after a painful message from him on my birthday several weeks before. Typically, a message from him is random pictures of unpopulated landscapes from beautiful parts of the California coastline or desert or mountains he loves so dearly. I respond with “that’s beautiful” but he doesn’t say anything. I used to think he was rubbing it in my face that he was vacationing, and I continue to describe his proximity as estranged because other than these one-way photos I get just the occasional pithy greeting on holidays and if we aren’t having a conversation I don’t consider it a correspondence. As painful as his birthday message was, he did not respond when I followed up with questions.
But if the birthday exchange flattened me, the letter eviscerates me.
My dad is one of the only people left on earth who writes to me by my middle name, and the only one who never uses my first. When I see letters addressed to that name, I’m always a little jarred.
The timing. The timing of this letter is on a level of spectacular uncanny that I cannot overstate. I’m not at liberty to explain why at the moment. You just have to believe me. The timing is so spectacular that it rescues me from the byproduct of an emotional vortex of his creation. It is like a pharmaceutical warfare: the cure is only found because the illness was created and who knows what was harder to manufacture.
“I don’t want you to end up like me, full of regret, endlessly seeking a solitude that can’t fix what’s broken.”
He goes on for a page about regret and solitude. I wonder if it is a metaphor. He is fond of metaphors. I don’t want to prolong the crimes of fatherhood by refusing to respond but I too love metaphors. I will try my best to be transparent, and I am going to respond in a timely manner. That’s what you are supposed to do: be transparent, be timely, respond to questions; be there.
The fatherhood cycle ends with me.
This is a very depressing post so I want to coda by pointing you to something awesome beyond awesome:
One of the best things I’ve ever read is a poem-as-comic book, by Richie Pope, called Fatherson. Please read it and support Richie’s amazing work. He is a wonderful person.