I Had a Deadbeat Father — Now What?

The title of being called, “Dad,” is a privilege and we, as a society, need to start recognizing that.

Michael Keolalaulani
Jun 26 · 5 min read

“Tears ran down my face. Looking at me is a man who is callous of my emotions and unaffected by my 18-year plight.”

Michael — that’s what they chose to name me. My biological father was a calculated man who accepted risk where necessary and chose to remain at a solid distance.

When I finally caught a flight to San Francisco to see him after an 11-year absence, the awkwardness settled in even further. It was in my assessment that he didn’t see me within a fatherly capacity. He saw me as an outside entity — comparable to a distant, long-time friend.

“May I have a receipt, please?”

We crossed the toll through the iconic Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, and with that accompanied the eerie silence of his past transgressions committed against me. I knew I was not welcomed — he made that known through his dicey body language.

“So how are you, Michael?” He asks.

“I’m good. Things in Hawai’i are… Good.” I nervously answered, clutching my bag.

“Good. I’m glad to hear you’ve been doing well” He replied.

I swear within my heart that the interaction could not have been more quagmire. The tension between us could have been cut with a dull blade. His small comments about towns we were passing were not met with ease. I kept thinking to myself if I had made a mistake by coming to see him. Was I intruding on his life? Was I being cold and calculated to seek answers?

“Growing up in Hawai’i was extremely difficult for me.”

Being fatherless in Hawaii, for a lack of better terms, sucked fucking dick. I grew up with such an extreme disadvantage, especially being of black descent. My family members resorted to calling me derogatory names. I vividly remember two of my aunties who made fun of me — ridiculing the fact that I was a fatherless child, even calling me a bastard on multiple occasions. My mother never had the backbone to stand up for me but found it within herself to seek out her interests.

“Robert. You need to take him. I can’t handle it.”

My mother was crying on a public pay phone in the layaway section of a Wal-Mart. “PLEASE, Robert. I can’t handle Michael anymore. He is ruining my life.” My mother’s tears stopped for a second and she turns towards my direction and hands me the phone.


“Yes?” I reply.

“Michael, you need to behave. You need to listen to your mother and you’ve got to start being a good boy. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good. Hand the phone back to your mother.”

In a dazed moment of confusion, I give the phone back to my mother. She reluctantly takes it.

The voice over the phone was an unfamiliar one that carried a familiar tone. Was it my father? Did he even care? 3,000 miles away and he was asking me to behave without anything substantial. Who was this stranger claiming to be my father? I was around 8 years of age at the time.

Photo: Elisabetta Franzono

I had a younger brother named Clyde. Incidentally enough, his father’s name was also Clyde. I would often see them go on adventures. Clyde Sr. would take Clyde Jr. surfing, teach him how to play baseball, and did everything a “dad” was supposed to do in developing a child to become a contributable member of society.

I was left in the dust.

While my younger brother got a ride from his dad back home from school, I walked. While my brother's father took the time to check his homework, I was left at the dinner table alone trying to solve complicated mathematical problems with my fingers. While my younger brother learned how to develop into a man, I was constantly reminded I was worthless and how I would never amount to anything.

Being a child of an absent father, I resorted to reckless behavior. I took opportunities to emotionally and physically hurt my younger brother because I was jealous of him having a father. I took opportunities to be involved in gangs because I sought male bonding. I took opportunities to be involved with people who “cared” about me, yet put me in a position that was breaking the law.

The Differences.

Fast-forward to the outcomes today and I can readily say that there are significant outcomes. I dropped out of High School at 15. My brothers — 4 in total; comprised of my mother (1) and my biological father (3) — did not. All four of my brothers attended college or university immediately after high school — I did not. From my knowledge, I was the only one involved with a gang — My 4 other brothers did no such thing.

Although my life eventually conveyed me into military service, I can only imagine the possibilities of having a loving father standing proudly behind me. The military gave me structure and taught me life lessons that were obviously absent in my journey to becoming a contributable member of society. However, an important variable was missing.

“I’m Proud of You, Son.”

As cliche as it may sound to approach this with a generic ending, I can attest that as a child of misfortune, there is nothing more beautiful than being told, “I’m proud of you.” The insecurities wash away. Confidence explodes and one is left with a feeling that they can do anything they put their mind to. I experienced a similar feeling through “father figures” who wanted nothing but the best for me.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” -Frederick Douglas

Life is about growth. Though some of us may not have the most desirable outcome in life, we should hold ourselves responsible to father our children to help nurture the best possible outcome. Regardless, if it's within a biological or adoptive capacity, the best outcome is produced through our ability to be fathers or father figures for the many lost boys to come.

Michael Keolalaulani

Written by

Native Hawaiian, African-American, Navy Veteran, Surfer, Aspiring Author. Various issues with a less-than-conventional approach. IG: Keolalaulani

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