Updated: Aug 20
Every year, right before June 19th, (or whatever day Father’s Day falls on) I go into a deep depression. Every year, I am reminded of how little I mattered to my father. I am reminded that I was a child that he did not want and had no desire to take care of. As a result, he didn’t. He simply didn’t.
My mother advised that it wasn’t that he didn’t love me; it was because he didn’t want the responsibility of a family.
My response to that was quick and hot: “Why did he keep having children if he didn’t want to take care of them?”
I already knew the answer. He didn’t care about anyone except himself. This would explain why he chose to shelter a woman and her three daughters instead of paying attention and taking care of his four biological sons. He was sleeping with this woman so why not?
I’ll tell you why not…for her to keep sleeping with him, he had to take care of her children. They were a package deal. I know this now.
He also knew that my mother was a strong woman, and she had her family to lean on so why take care of his sons? After all, she had landed on her feet after she left him. We wound up living in a one-bedroom apartment in North Philadelphia. And even after all of that, he came to see her and well, she loved him. So why take care of your sons? I’m being facetious.
Father’s Day has come and gone. I can breathe again. Every year, I am reminded that my father didn’t want me nor the other three boys he sired. And that will remain inside of me possibly for the rest of my life.
But there’s something more to this…It wasn’t just that my father didn’t want me. I knew that my mother viewed the LGBTQ community with a certain amount of disdain if not outright hostility. That was reflected in my upbringing.
We never talked about homosexuality or “gay” or what it means. The topic of “gay” (like so many taboo topics) was not to be discussed. We never discussed anything that would be deemed inappropriate including how we cared for anyone suffering from mental illness. We would never place them in an institution. Instead, we would keep them home, surrounded by the love of the family.
I digress, this is not about what my mother did or did not know.
This is about Father’s Day and what it means to me. This is about what I believe. Every Father’s Day, I would go into a deep depression. It was particularly bad when I was younger because I would be bombarded with father/son images…images that were loving, gentle and kind; images that were removed from my reality and try as I may, I could not get my father to see me as his oldest whom he could be proud of.
I remember him as being a hard man…a man who could not express love but could dole out punishment even if he thought you stepped out of line. I was used to being on the receiving end of his strap. And as horrible as living with him was, there were good times. But those were far and few between.
Before he passed on several years ago, I had a conversation with him, and I had the opportunity to tell him how I felt about his absence all those years. I told him that inside of this 55-year-old body was a 13-year-old waiting for his father to come and get him…and he never came.
He gave no explanation. Instead, he told me that he had a heart attack. It was a way to diffuse the conversation taking the heat off him. I realized then that I was never going to get the answers to the myriad of questions that I had going on inside my head.
Did he love me?
Did he ever think about me?
If he did think about me, why didn’t he come to see me more often?
Why didn’t he want to protect and shelter me like a father should?
Why was his girlfriend and her three daughters more important than me?
I know the answers to these questions of course but it doesn’t ease or lessen the pain of abandonment.
Every Father’s Day, I can’t wait until the actual day passes so that I can breathe again.
Tears have since dried up. I have become a man…successful in my own right. I own my own home, been happily married for over 14 years to the love of my life, doing speaking engagements to shed light on the topic of abuse so that no one goes through what I went through.
Despite my upbringing, I turned out okay.
So Father’s Day is over and I can breathe again…until next year.
~ J.L. Whitehead