As much as I try and deny it when my Wife laments about it, our son clearly has a preferable parent…Daddy. In a perfect toddler world, his preference would be to have us both within arm’s reach at all times, but that’s not always possible. If the Wife needs to leave the house, the boy will typically fuss a bit, he even might shed a tear or two, but if Daddy has to go? Like every morning when I leave for work? Well, if you ever heard the term Bat-Shit-Crazy, that comes from my son, JSYK. Screaming, heaving his body onto the floor, hitting, kicking, and more screaming. And more screaming.
And it doesn’t stop there. My son follows me from room to room when we’re home, saying things like, “Ko Daddy” (aka Come on Daddy) and “What’d you doing Daddy?” I think the Wife actually gave birth to my second shadow. If I somehow manage to leave the room by myself, he tends to get very whiny, and sometimes very nervous and scared; only be relieved and all smiles when he sees me and runs up and grabs me.
Sometimes I get frustrated by the whining, and at times wonder out loud to the Wife, “Why is he so upset? I’m right here.” My Wife always tells me how much he loves me (which I know), and how I’m his hero. She also tells me to put myself in his shoes; he feels lost without Daddy. It makes me really reflect back on my relationship with my father, or more appropriately, the lack thereof, and one very pivotal time in my childhood where I felt very alone.
Over the years people have inquired about my dad from time to time, as I have spent the majority of my time talking/writing about my mother and the abusive relationship we had.. I never really wanted to talk about my dad. I realize now, that’s because the emotions were far more painful because they were born from a lack of his desire to know me, or even see me.
After a nasty divorce when I was just a toddler, my dad who was in the Navy, went off and lived the Navy life as a single guy. This meant I rarely ever heard from him; never saw him; and many birthdays/holidays passed with little or no contact. He eventually remarried and had more children. I met him, and spent a small amount of time with him in my pre-teen years, but for the most part our relationship was non-existent at best.
In early June of 1992, the week of my 8th grade graduation, my father was in San Diego (where I lived) for some sort of naval training exercise. He reached out to my mom to let me know he was in town, but only for a few days; so meeting up wasn’t a lock to happen. In fact, as the words left his mouth, I could sense the instant hesitation and regret because he might actually have to meet up with me.
I wasn’t super book-smart growing up, but I knew how to read people really well at a young age, so I picked up on his hesitation immediately. Pushing that aside, I decided to go for broke and invited him to my graduation that week, stressing that I really would like him to come. More hesitation, but he eventually agreed and even mustered up a half-hearted response of excitement and sense of gratefulness for my invitation. I knew he was lying, but for all my growing up way too fast and being able to sniff out a bullshitter like whoa, I still was a boy without a father. A boy who had always silently yearned for male connection; something I had none of to that point in my life.
My mom tried to be supportive; her attempts however, could not hide her massive skepticism. If she were a betting person, she knew she would win all kinds of cash betting on my father being a no-show to my graduation. But I didn’t care; I knew he was coming.
The big day came. I still remember it like yesterday. It feels today, like it did then; like a scene out of a movie. My dad hadn’t shown by the time the pre-ceremony chit chat and socializing were over. So what? So I didn’t get to take a picture with him before the ceremony; there would be plenty of time afterwards to take pictures and go to dinner. The important thing is that he’ll see me walk and get my graduation certificate.
We all took our seats as the graduation ceremony began. Nervously shifting in my seat, I turned from side to side, looking back and forth hoping to catch a glimpse of him as he arrived. Scanning every face in the crowd, eyes squinted by the bright California sun, I saw parents’ faces full of pride and affection, but none of them belonged to me. Occasionally I would catch my mom’s face; a smile plastered on her face as if she has just swallowed cough medicine. She was trying to convey pride and joy, but just under the mask of faux-happiness was a tornado of sadness, worry, and angst, along with a dash of “I told you so,” as she watched me desperately search the crowd. But I didn’t care; I knew my dad was coming. I would not acknowledge her worry; I would not give her the satisfaction. This time she would be wrong.
The ceremony came and went like a flash; I stood and walked and returned to my seat. It went by so fast I could barely scan the crowd for my dad for what felt like the 500th time, but I knew he was out there and he saw me, so no sweat; that’s what was important.
As soon as all the pomp and circumstance concluded, we were released out into the world; but first back to our parents. My mom found me so quickly it was almost as if she materialized out of thin air. She was beaming with pride, tears in her eyes telling me how proud she was of me, and how much I have grown up, hugging me tightly; too tightly. That’s when I knew; my father never arrived. Even though I knew the truth the lonely, sad, boy inside would not be shoved aside this time. I blurted out, “Where’s dad? Did he see me?” My mother stared at me blankly for a moment, and just as I looked away I spotted the slightest of smiles form on her face. Not only was she not sad; she was happy this had happened. Victory was hers.
So yeah, my son hovers around me, and follows me from room to room. And yes, my son has to be involved in everything I’m doing, but you know what else he does; he bursts into the room on my mornings to sleep in and wakes me up by jumping on the bed, smotheringme with hugs. So my son whines when he can’t see me, or cries like a crazy person when I leave for work, that just means there is a super happy running hug with the scream of, “DADDY” when I get home.
I don’t begrudge him for getting upset anymore; well I try not to at least. And when he calls out, “Daddy, where are you?” I make sure to hug him a little tighter these days when I say, “I’m here buddy”…because I’ll always be here.
A version of this story has been published in the book Dads Behaving Dadly 2 (clink the link to purchase this book).
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