This is going to be one of those articles that I put out that is more catharsis than meaningful practical, tactical advice or wisdom. One of those articles where I open up a vein and bleed it out on the page, as Hemingway has always suggested. Maybe it will mean something beyond a bit of personal blood on the page to anyone who reads it. Maybe not. It’s OK if it doesn’t, because it means a lot to me.
What this article is, is a letter of forgiveness to an absent father now long passed and the lessons that can come from it. It is an attempt to find some closure and to release something heavy and burdensome from my heart. I know that this will not let it fully fly from my soul. His absence in my life will always be at least a small shadow. But this is the hope for a pinprick of light in that darkness, and maybe a beacon of hope to anyone who has also experienced something similar.
To that ends I want to say, I forgive you dad.
I forgive you for leaving a scared little boy to fend for himself. For leaving me to the viciousness of the men that came after you and for forcing me to pretend to be a man when I was terrified of the world and I needed my dad to shield me from the misery of life that is only barely manageable after you grow up. I forgive you for putting me in a position where I had to defend my mother and my sisters. For not being there to protect me from the beatings I took, mentally and physically. For the poison you put in my heart about love and security and my self worth.
I forgive you for never reaching out after you left. For never checking up on me or your daughters. For never sending a birthday card. For never taking us to the park or for an ice cream cone or sitting with us and playing a shitty, stupid game of Candy Land.
I forgive you for that phone call you made to me when I was 18. The one where you told me you were were dying and you need some of my liver. I never heard your voice before and it was strange to have a feeling so strong to want to know the man behind a stranger’s voice. I wish I could remember now what you sounded like. I might imagine the conversation went differently.
I forgive you for the shame and the grief that phone call caused because of the decision I made. The angry, petulant decision that ensured I would never, ever get to see you. I could have given you life. I suspect it would have been the same life you gave me, the one where we were never together, but I could have at least given you that. It would have been something and I would not have had to carry around this guilt for the last 21 years.
I forgive you for all this, because I want you to know something; the only space you have ever had in my head is a sad one and I don’t want you to live there anymore. I am cleaning out that closest and you can not stay there. You are an old, dusty thing that has been there too long and I need to unburden myself of those old hurts so that the new ones have a little room to breathe.
So you are moving out of that sad closet in my head and you can have a place in my heart. A small place where you put those small things that you are not even sure exist, but it is a place for you all the same.
You should know, before you go from my head to my heart, that my son will never know you, because I have no stories to tell him. I half believe he thinks I was immaculately conceived because he has never asked about my father and even if he did I have nothing I could tell him. He will not know you because I never knew you. Nothing. I have nothing of you except for the name we share. The name he now shares with us and the name I am working to restore so that when he walks around with it it means something more than what you or I ever made it mean. But I forgive you for that all that, as well.
And among all this forgiveness I offer you one solitary thank you.
I thank you because you did one thing right. You picked the right woman. You picked the right woman to create a child with and I learned what I needed about being a man from that woman. The woman you left with those three kids to fend for herself. The woman that struggled to provide for us, yet who made sure we were never truly without. I call her mother. My sisters call her mom. She is probably divine, but in her mortal form she raised that little boy you left and did what she could to make him a man.
I thank you because, while I wanted you, I never needed you. I had her. And while you get that small, still place in my heart, she gets the rest. She get’s the space that keeps growing.
I recovered from your absence and the brutality that came after you because I was lucky enough to be left with her. And when I teach my son lessons about being a man know that they come from her, not from you. I don’t say that to be cruel to you. I say that to be kind to her. Because she deserves the credit and I owe her that at least for the lifetime of hurts you and I heaped upon her.
With that in mind, here are only a small part of the things she has taught me.
Courage and strength come in many forms
The ability for a human to be courageous and strong has nothing to do with the dangling junk between their legs. The ideas of courage and strength have been synonymous with manliness for as long as they have existed but the lessons I learned about these manly traits never came from a cock.
They came from a mother who had the courage to stand up to men that wanted nothing more than to break us as individuals and as a family. They came from her constant battle against the forces of poverty and the hardships of a system that make women second class workers yet still finding a way to keep us fed and clothed and with a place to live.
But it’s not just struggle and battle that makes courage and strength possible. It is in vulnerability as well. It is in the capacity to keep loving after it goes wrong so many times. My mother is a professional at that. She has a shitty picker but a pliable ticker. Her heart has been broken, shattered, crushed under heel like a dry brittle bone, but she has never stopped putting it out there and that is one of the most courageous and strengthening lessons I have ever learned from her. And it paid off, because she finally picked a good one. Or that good one picked her. They picked each other and that was only possible because she kept opening up her heart and letting people in.
That’s something a man needs to be able to do. To be vulnerable and let themselves open up a little to the world. Does it suck sometimes to put yourself out there and open up and have someone nut-punch you for your efforts? Fuck yeah it does. But it’s going to suck even if you don’t do that. And it’s going to suck in a way that leaves you empty and hollow. I would rather face the pain and keep trying to get it right, than empty out all the possibility and shut it all down.
Power does not mean physical might
The first entry in the dictionary definition of powers is, “the ability to act or produce an effect”. That’s the power I am talking about here. Not the possession or control over others that men usually go for.
There is a delusional definition of power that is must come from physical presence or domination. That it must come from force and subjugating others to your will. I faced down those sort of power mongers. I stared them in their eyes floating in whiskey or beer and I felt the impotent strength of their power. There is nothing powerful in that. There is only lack. A sad emptiness that manifests as violence and rage.
Because you want to know what makes a man powerful? Sacrifice. Through doing what must be done so that others that rely upon him can do and have the things they need.
The kind that has you working late and hard and then coming home to make sure the house is clean, the homework is done, the ball is thrown, the bellys are filled, the kids are bathed, the beds are tucked and the day is done. All before you settle into a moments rest before you collapse down on the couch to do it all over again. Because it is the only way it would get done. That’s the sort of power I learned from my mother and that’s the power a man should have.
I also learned that sometimes power means resilience. It means exposing yourself to a world that you know is going to beat you down but doing it anyway in order to accomplish something bigger. My mother has always been good at picking herself back up when she has gotten knocked down. She is a heavyweight boxer in that regard. She gets in the ring with every opponent she has to face and, though she may take a handful to the chin, she wins every fight because she never stops giving herself to the world. I want to be that sort of man. That kind that has the toughness to face an opponent that he knows is going to demolish him, but is never sacred to open up and do it all over again.
Your Mind Is Great Gift
There is one secret gift that I prize above all others that my mother bestowed upon me. A gift that changed my life and allowed me to temporarily escape the madness of our situations. That gift was a love of reading. I suspect she knew the power in those pages. How it could take you away from where you were and bring you into a world that was so much more. I am sure that she gave me that gift so I could have a place to run to like she did. Whatever the reason, it saved my tiny soul.
If you were to enter my room when I was a very small child, after I was tucked into bed for the night, you would have found me with the comics of the newspaper. The green sheet, it was called. It started there. The funnies. I needed the funnies. It escalated to Garfield books and then to choose your own adventure books and further into the early classics, before I opened my mind and just started consuming it all. Every fucking book I could find. And we never had a shortage.
I have never stopped reading. I am like a man parched from thirst and the only healing liquid is the steady stream of words you can find in the pages of a book. That precious gift has made sure that, despite the school expulsions, the drugs, the random and disastrous fuck-ups I committed to in life, I had a place to retreat to and dream in. A place that would push me towards the achievement that I eventually accomplished. There is no power greater than that found in the constant search for more words – for more knowing.
Now intelligence is not merely a man’s trait, obviously, but it is a trait that I am glad my mother gave me, because it makes me more of a man everyday. To be able to think and consider and analyze the situations of my existence and come to reasoned and practical solutions has served me well over the years. There is an irrationality that comes from a lack of intelligence. Something that leaves you bare to the winds of life without a buffeting shield to consider which way they are blowing before you go out there and move in them. And in those books I also found role models that I would need to fill the chasm left by my father’s absence. Men that I could look up to and who would defines aspects of my being that is the usual duty of a father.
As I said at the beginning, these are not the only lessons about being a man my mother has given me, but they are the most powerful and have been the longest lasting. These are the core that I will pass on to my son in the hopes that he can continue to be more than I ever had the chance to be at his age. I have more now that I have learned from the experiences I have had and the books I have read. Those lessons will come as well. But they all spawn from what my mother gave me.
I see my son as a reflection of what I could have been had I the right environment, the right structure, the right foundation, and the right tools. My mother gave me everything she could and more, but a boy needs his father. He does. And that is what I am always going to be for him. But when he looks at me – the man that I have become – and asks me how I became that man, I am going to look him dead in the eyes, smile a wistful, knowing smile, and tell him that it was because a woman taught me how.