Did you know that as a parent or step parent or grandparent, or whatever we are, we are responsible for small people? There are little ones with tiny hearts and trusting brains that are relying on what they see us do and say to shape what kind of adults they turn into. They see every smile, scowl, and embrace, just as often as they hear every raised voice, kind word, and snide comment. They learn from how we treat other people, how we talk behind closed doors, and care for those (that are believed to be) less deserving. They see every broken promise and every apology that is followed by more shitty behaviour. They are emulating all of us.
Because of this, I try to reflect what I would like to see in the world. And I want desperately to see kindness, love, appreciation, kept promises, more handmade items, more sustainable living, strong wills, and strong constitutions. I want to see openness whilst maintaining integrity, I want to see strong voices and opinions, and I want to see those tiny hands learn how to do as many things as they can bare to do in an effort to create a world less concerned with consumption, and more consumed with who can braise the best beef and apply the most glitter.
It is often said that you should strive to give children what you wish you had as a child yourself. With this thought, I try to emulate every day what I was missing, things that I've had the time to sift through and process. Things I used to harbour huge amounts of guilt and anger for, that have now turned into things that bring pride, appreciation, and understanding. Sometimes I do slip, and on particularly dark days I question the actions of my parents, my sisters, and my extended family, but those days are few and far between, for I have taken the time to process and then grow from the actions of others and of myself.
The largest burden in my tiny life came in the shape of a man who was always a mystery to me. A man who I'd not seen a photo of until I was eleven or twelve years old. A man who had held a mystical, exciting place in the deep caverns of my mind. I would visit him on days that my mother was too sick to get out of her chair, and on days when her third and fourth husbands were too busy beating on her to help me with my homework. On these days, I would lock myself in my bathroom and lie in the tub, wishing that I had something else. Something more than what I had screaming outside of that chipboard door.
I wish I'd had my father in my life. Not my step-dads, not my mother's slew of boyfriends, and not my friend's dads. My father. The man who helped create me. I wanted that normalcy that I had seen when visiting my friend's Barbie- and NKOTB-themed rooms. I would close my eyes as tight as I could and imagine what it would be like to have him hold me and brush his bushy moustache across my forehead as he confided how much he loved me. Tears would bloop past my eyelashes as I wished as hard as my little heart would let me that he would show up at the door and swoop me into his arms to take me away from feeling frightened, discarded, and hated.
And in the absence of a full blown daddy in my house I would have taken my parents just talking. So many times I agonized over why my mother refused to talk to my dad. Why I had to be shuttled immediately out of town when she'd caught wind that he'd be passing through. I didn't GET it. I begged and pleaded for her to call him so we could all meet up for lunch. That's all I wanted. I wanted to feel like my mother and father were normal people who could sit in the same room and talk. I didn't need for them to be married and in love again, I just needed to feel like I was important enough to come together for. I needed to see them act like the adults they were, and to meet up and talk about how I was doing in school, what I was going to be for Halloween, and how I was being disciplined for painting my friend's playroom walls with mascara.
I tried to bargain with her to let me see him, only to be met with hideous allegations or distractions. When she didn't want to deal with it, she would just ignore that I had mentioned him at all. His name was a curse word in our house and I was left confused, unable to comprehend why my mother wouldn't share. Why he wasn't allowed to even have one of my school photos. Why I wasn't allowed to have a photo of him in my bedroom whilst my walls were filled with whatever else I wanted. All I wanted was family.
I dreamed of having a huge collection of families like some of my other friends. I imagined a world where I was allowed to spend time with my mum and my dad without feeling embarrassed for being happy about it. I hoped that the day would come that I would be able to get hugs from my mom, my dad, and his wife. I wondered what magical things she could do that my mommy couldn't (which couldn't possibly be much, because MY mommy was clearly the best mommy in the world). I wondered what kinds of meals she'd cook, if she'd teach me anything, and whether she'd ever tuck me in at night. I lived a relatively solitary life with half of it completely banned, which was confusing and horrifying for a child to process. To have to wonder what could be so wrong with this man who helped to make me, that he wasn't allowed to even hear my voice during their heated arguments on the phone.
The only person I found to question about my father's absence from my life was myself. Was I so bad that my mum didn't think my dad should ever meet me? What did I do to leave me disallowed from meeting the man who had made half of me? If he is such a terrible person, what chance did I have to grow up normal or kind? I am half him, won't I turn out a criminal, cheating, pathological liar too? What can I do to stop it? Am I already broken and beyond repair?
All these questions have been agonized over for virtually my entire life now. I've chewed them up and rearranged them over and over again to try to come up with some semblance of an answer, with no form of relief. I've tried looking at it from all angles, spoken to half a dozen therapists, and written my feelings out for twenty-odd years with nothing to fall back on yet.
So, because of all of this loss, I find myself desperate to ensure that the children that I have in my life don't have to face the stuff I did and do. I harbour safe, loving relationships not only with their father, but with their mothers, step-fathers (if applicable), grandparents, and family friends. I encourage appreciation of the strengths of all these people, reminding them daily how important those people are. I encourage letter writing, phone calls, and sending photos. I build them up and remind them that they have nothing to feel shameful or embarrassed about. I do these things because they are things I never got. I was never offered assurance or encouragement from my maternal family and I don't want any of the children in my life to ever be able to say that I ever took any of them love or valuable feelings that they are most certainly entitled to away from them. I want them to be able to say that I did nothing but nourish and lift up all of the people in their lives, in hopes that they, no matter how I have been made to feel, are able to decide for themselves what relationships are valuable or not.