I was raised in a stable safe home, by a single mother that often struggled to make ends meet.
We didn’t have a lot but we always had each other and I always knew I was loved, a lot. My parents ended their very short lived marriage by the time I was eight months old. My dad would visit from time to time until I turned three. Around that time, he left town without a trace. He didn’t visit on weekends, or send birthday cards, and he certainly didn’t send any money for child support.
I grew up that way; it was my normal. It was the only life I ever knew, just me, my mom and my sister. I don’t remember the times he’d come around and I don’t remember him leaving. I’ve actually always considered myself lucky; I’m a child of divorce but never went through the divorce. I didn’t grow up going back and forth from house to house. I didn’t have to split birthdays or holidays. I wasn’t used as a pawn to pit one parent against another and I don’t even remember any fighting between them. I did however spend many nights in bed after my mom had gone to sleep wondering why I wasn’t good enough for him to stay. I wondered what I did to make him not love me nor want to see me. I spent so many nights imagining a day that he would show up and rescue me from my father-less life. He’d be an amazing man, of course he would, I mean in my imaginings he usually rode up on a white horse. Then finally one evening, Christmas Eve in fact, when I was in fifth grade the phone rang and I jumped to answer it as most pre-teen girls would. “It’s your dad. I’m just calling to tell you how much I love you.” My stomach dropped, the words I wanted to hear so desperately from the man I needed to hear them from, yet even at that young age, I knew intrinsically those words were empty. It was the worst Christmas I remember. I hung up the phone and cried uncontrollably.
I spent the majority of my adolescence in awe of friends who had a father in their life. I would see girls with their dads, protecting them, guiding them, encouraging them. I would even think ahead to someday when I would get married, there would be no daddy to walk me down the aisle, no father-daughter dance and no man to give a speech about daddy’s little girl. As much as I knew my mom loved me, and she did love me, I carried with me void that couldn’t be filled. I still carry that void. My mom did all she could to fill it. She never spoke poorly of my father, she never shared her opinion of him and she never once complained about doing it all on her own. She really was an amazing rock. I would feel guilty for wishing I could still just have a dad. I would hand-make make her cards “for Mom on Father’s Day” because she truly played both roles but I was never able to forget that something was missing in my life. A relationship that should be so simple, yet it was so profound that I would carry that loss with me for all of my life.
When I was 22, I found my father, which was no easy feat, in a pre-internet era. He was light years away. He’d always been since that day he walked out when I was three. He lived out of state, about 2,000 miles away. I spent a few days with my “dad” and asked a lot of questions; but mostly just, WHY? Why did you leave? Why weren’t you there to protect me? Why wasn’t I good enough? I learned in those days that my dad had spent all of that time as an addict. In his words, he had nothing to show for his life. He spent most of it living in cars, or fields, or on somebody’s couch. That day I met my Dad, he’d been five years sober. All that time, I had no idea of the life he had lived and he had no idea of mine. He carried a picture of me in his wallet, one of the only possessions he’d managed to keep. A constant reminder of a life he chose not to live. I learned in those days that he had missed out on so much more as a childless father than I had as a fatherless child. I tried to maintain a relationship with my dad from then on, it was actually at the encouragement of my mother (I mentioned she was amazing); but the wounds he’d inflicted were far too deep. I flew home after that encounter, able to close the door to my unanswered questions, but profoundly sad, for what we both had lost due to his choices.
It wasn’t until I began working in treatment many years later and learned more about addiction that I began to heal. I learned that choices made so young in a life that spiraled out of control, devastated everyone in its path. So many people paid the price for my father’s addiction, not just me, but also his parents, his siblings, his wife. It was through education about addiction that I finally understood that my life without a father wasn’t about me at all, it wasn’t my short comings, I didn’t drive him away. I wasn’t at fault. I have not personally struggled with drugs or alcohol, yet I still bear the scars of addiction.
I never knew addiction had affected my life.