Candour
Published in

Candour

The Fatherless

How a son sees his father longing for his absent father’s presence

The toddler on the counter is my father. The man next to him is my grandfather. This faded picture is the only one I have of them together. For reasons, I will never know or understand, my grandfather left his family, and his absence affected my father in deep-felt ways.

As the story goes: “Go buy some chicken,” my grandfather said, “and I’ll see you in five days.” He then handed my father some money and drove off in his Cadillac. That was sometime in the 1960s. It was the last time they spoke. To hear my father tell this story broke my heart because every son needs their father. His absence left a profound mark on my father’s life because my dad longed for a father-son relationship. And when the day came where he became a father, my dad tried his best not to repeat the cycle of fatherlessness.

It embarrassed my dad that his father was not around. His absence took place during the dismantling of a segregated America in the 50s and 60s when not being in your child’s life was uncommon. But my dad was just a statistic — another fatherless child operating with a parental deficit. What was quite unusual back then has become more known and normal. Today, upwards of 60% of black children feel this pain from the absence of a parent, just like my father.

I, however, beat the odds. My parents are still together after 44 years, and my father provided me with a streetwise role model. I felt blessed to have my father in the home, and at times it felt like a luxury. I knew it was unique to have both my parents raising me together and I savored that indescribable feeling. My dad’s presence shaped the person I am today — a pastor, father, husband, and entrepreneur. I can’t even begin to imagine the painful void that a child experiences from a missing father, or where my life would be if I experienced what my father went through.

As the youngest of five children, my father needed a father figure along with his siblings. His brothers were adults and out of the house when my father was born. He was a surprise baby, so it was just him and his mother. My dad was the funniest person I have ever known, and I believed he laughed to keep from crying. His sense of humor masked his anger towards his father.

My father medicated his emptiness with motivational speeches, trying to discover the wisdom his dad never gave him. He listened to motivational cassette tapes from the likes of Zig Ziglar, Les Brown, and Dennis Whitley consistently. He still struggled. These motivational speakers could not cure the emptiness.

Like other children, he wanted to live up to the legend of his dad. As a young man, he was often stopped by friends of the family and told about his father’s latest business exploits. His father was a serial entrepreneur who owned a restaurant, real estate, and a cab company — these stories of my grandfather’s business successes were all my father had left of him. I watched my father think out loud, expressing his hopes and ideas to the world. In time, my father became an entrepreneur just like his dad, just not as successful. My father encountered a world that did not slow down for dreamers and did not offer him a safety net.

My grandfather’s absence did not provide the validation my father sought. He never received the validation I firmly believe men need. And my grandfather went on to have another family, which left my father feeling rejected. This rejection left my father emotionally stunted, unable to express his emotions in, healthy ways. He learned to hide behind his pursuit of money and talking about business.

I often wonder how my father, who didn’t have a father, could know what it was like to be a son. Yet, without him even knowing, he gave me the confidence and validation I needed. I relished it all — through his consistent, nurturing presence — I grew. With the combination of all he gave me, I discovered the most important thing; believe it or not, I found God because of my father's shortcomings. My father’s weaknesses somehow made the idea of God real to me, and although he missed out on key parts of his development, I got what I needed from him.

The day my grandfather died, my father's life didn’t stop. I don’t remember him crying or even talking about him. Attending his funeral was never even a consideration. He made a decision to stay and provide — my father didn’t leave his kids, and he could have.

This spring, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. I never cried more and my world did stop. On his last day on earth, we spoke, and he let me know how much he loved his family and me. He certainly didn’t think he would die so soon at only 63 years old.

So on this day, my first without him, I am still his son. My father taught me by example and his steadfast behavior. I will always remember the importance of being present for my children because of him. Although I miss my father dearly, I know he is with God the Father — and he can finally see that the creation of his loving family was all the validation he ever needed.

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