“A girl abandoned by the first man in her life forever entertains powerful feelings of being unworthy or incapable of receiving any man’s love.” Jonetta Rose Barras
I cannot recall my earliest memory with my father, but I do recall the earliest memory I formed of my father was regarding his absence.
It was around Christmas time, somewhere in the early 90’s.
“Is Daddy going to be there too?” I asked my mother. She wrapped her arms around me and held on to her elbows, anchoring me in place as we rode in the cab. I knew of my father because we’d spoken over the phone from time to time, but he was something like a mystery to me – like Yetti. I heard of him, but never experienced the magnitude of his formidable presence.
“I’m not sure,” my mother said. “Your grandmother didn’t say, but do you know who you will see? Your Uncle Ronnie!”
“I always see Uncle Ronnie! What about Daddy?” My mother must have been tired of my questions because she encouraged me to look out the window at the skyscrapers as we drove across the Brooklyn Bridge. I stared out the window and looked down at the East River instead.
I remember being over at my paternal grandmother’s house, sitting on the sofa with my uncle, waiting to open this big box. I’m certain my uncle reassured me that I was going to love the gift, but the only thing I could think about was, “Where’s Daddy?” The fact that my uncle was sitting next to me on the sofa was confirmation enough that he’d continue to stand in the places my father could not.
Once I got older and understood how sex and feelings worked, I informed my mother that she fucked the wrong brother.
For so long, he was just absent. When he did come around, there were always arguments. From my younger years, I remember asking him when he’d come to take me out, and he’d say soon. Well, sometimes soon was at 10pm when everything fun for a child was closed, and there was nothing to do because it was my bedtime. I don’t think there was ever a time I can remember feeling genuinely excited about my father’s presence. It was always overshadowed by grief and anger.
Grief and anger and a whole lot of frustration pretty much defined my childhood. At too early an age I can no longer recall, my mother informed me that my father did not acknowledge me as his child. That he actually went to court to seek a paternity test and hired a lawyer to determine if I was his. If Maury was a thing back then, while I know it’s a show my mother would never be caught on, I could only imagine the drama with Maury hitting my father with, “In the case of 1-year old Jamila, Allen, you ARE the FATHER!” I imagine the audience going wild, and the sweet satisfaction of this victory would only show up in a smug look that my mother would offer the camera, as she sat back and collected the victory of knowing all along.
In later years, I would ask my father why he’d make such a choice. I grew up looking at photos in my grandmother’s house – our school photos sitting side by side and thinking, how could he ever deny me when I looked just like him? My father says this was never actually a thought of his – He says he made the decision because he was doing what I now know absent father men to do – continuing to deny his responsibility – now in the financial sense, and to make the woman out to be the offender. To assuage his guilt, he tried to appeal to my emotions and follow up with, “I could never deny you, Sweetie. You are my beautiful daughter, and I love you.”
Funny, I was never able to feel that love. I felt absence. I felt his lack of presence. Like there was something I missed out on by not growing up with my father’s presence. A void. Even though I felt the satisfaction of knowing who he was, I really did not. I couldn’t understand his motives, I couldn’t understand his choices. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he started a whole new family and stepped in to take care of two children that weren’t his biologically. Couldn’t wrap my head around having a brother that’s 14 months younger than me that I rarely saw. Didn’t understand the disjointed unit he had created, and that he left me and his older son out in the cold.
As a child, it made me wonder if I was good enough.
By 12, I knew I didn’t look the part. My step-mother (at least she should be known as that, but my father lacks the respect to make an honest woman out of a woman that bore three kids for him, cares for him, and takes all his shit – this should be a longer rant, but I do have a lot of respect for someone willing to do so much for someone that does so little), being the product of German and Cuban parents presents as white, and my siblings are biracial. It was during a family road trip through the amusement parks of the mid-Atlantic, and all the faces that stared back at us in the restaurant confirming what I felt in my heart: This girl is too dark to belong here. She clearly does not fit.
So when I thought back to my older brother (for I have a brother that bears his same name, and is my father’s child from his previous marriage) and I lacking a clear father figure in our lives, I settled into the thought that we simply weren’t white enough to be accepted by my father. If you’ve ever seen the scene from I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, I always compared my dad to this guy:
Maybe he was Black, but outside of what he preached, had no real respect for the culture, because he abandoned his responsibilities to his Black kids to be a full-time caregiver for his half-white ones. Sure, I knew my father’s family to preach nothing but the joys of being Black, but my father’s personal choices suggested a disconnect from his family’s beliefs early on.
This is a tough blog to write – there’s so much to grieve while living, it’s tough to imagine if there will be any more feeling left when it’s time for my father’s number to be called. If I’m being honest, prior to COVID, I might have excused many of my father’s behaviors. I would have called him absent-minded when he didn’t return my calls like he said he would. Called him forgetful when I’d ask for at least a week’s notice before an event, and he’d call me on the day. I would have even called him lonely, because despite the amount of time I spent with my nuclear unit on my father’s side, his presence was rarely felt – either he was absent from the event, or trying to plot an escape.
I didn’t have to confront the many ways I felt my father was shitty until my uncle’s unexpected death in April, 2020. Losing my uncle shook me pretty bad, and actually caused me to think on an even deeper level: in the absence of my uncle, what role does my father serve in my life?
I set out on a mission to figure it out.
And I came up empty-handed.
First and foremost, I would like to thank all of you for sticking with me during this three-month writing hiatus. I really needed the time to think about the stories I wanted to tell the most, but 50 pages of failed blogs later taught me that I wasn’t telling the most important story:
How did I even become this way?
I didn’t know how to approach the topic. Writing about the men who I’d been with began to trigger memories of my father in ways I couldn’t explain. I began to see my father in Osiris who can never have enough time because he’s created so many different families with different women. I saw my father in Harold who was smooth and evasive, and knew the right lies and had a cheat code to the heart by telling me everything I wanted to hear.
I saw my father in Francois – a father who willingly steps out and abandons the emotional responsibility of raising a child for temporary satisfaction. I saw my dad in Jay who was unwilling to acknowledge how his personal actions caused harm for others. I saw my father in men I haven’t written about yet, because I had to pause and acknowledge that I’m the only common factor between all these men, and I wanted an understanding of my patterning. Why was I drawn to these men? Why was it so easy to share myself with them – to even learn the things that caused them hurt?
Perhaps, it was so I could let the real healing begin and explore my relationship with my father. These stories about my father are incomplete – they’re complex, and the hurt runs deep.
I must keep digging to unearth this weed.
I may only be a windowsill gardener, but here’s what I do know: if you don’t pull the weeds, the whole garden will suffer. Sometimes, you need the strongest herbicide to get rid of it, and if you’re not careful enough, that herbicide will kill everything else positive growing in the garden.
I started this blog finally coming to an acknowledgement that I had a garden that needed some work. While tending to my emotionally fragile garden, I noticed a stubborn weed. It’s always been there – and I tried to kill it – I dumped herbicide on there and figured out nothing good could grow until I waited out the process.
Even with the best attempts at trying to remove this weed, it kept growing. Even sent its cousins as distractions.
I digress, but you get where I’m going.
It’s here that I need to spend some time being delicate. Until September, I’ll be tending to this garden with a few stories about my father. No longer will I allow that weed to continue destroying the good I’ve planted deep within. It’s time to get this weed the fuck up outta here.
I would like to thank my therapist who’s been journeying the void with me for today’s blog. It was her noticing that I’m slipping with the things I love that was all the reminder I needed to get right back here.
I love you all. Thank you for journeying through these L’s with me.
My Deepest Regards,