A Note from Paul. I would like to thank Brenda Kula for valiantly responding to my call for manuscripts on the experience of being raised fatherless. She blogs over at View from the Pines. This is her story:
When it hits me most profoundly, I am in a park where children are playing. I hear the high-pitched child’s voice calling “Daddy, Daddy, look at me!” A man turns his head at the sound of the familiar voice. He smiles with pride. And I am struck with the overwhelming loss of something I never had. A father.
I was one of those “black market babies” you sometimes hear about. The year was 1957, the 19th of February, when I was born to my mother, Martha Colleen. A woman I’ve met perhaps three times in my 51 years. Three more than I met my father, who remains a shadowy mystery. A tall lanky figure in a black and white snapshot I have of the two of them on their wedding day.
I scrutinize his features in this coarse, barely discernible snapshot, looking for me. I only see myself in the tall cheekbones, the dark eyes. He is smiling, an arm around my mother. She looks happy and girlish. My only photograph of the people who brought me into this world. And just as quickly, turned and walked away.
For some unknown reason, I was not sold to a couple so desperate for a baby they offered up their savings. I was lost to everyone who was familiar to me for the first year of my life. Sold, some say, to the midwife who was there at my birth. Or maybe, they recount, their eyes seeking a memory…a nurse. Somehow as a toddler I ended up back with my maternal great-grandmother. How or why I don’t know.
I have been married three times. Searching, yearning, for the enveloping safety of a father’s love. Trying to find resolution; completion. To fill the emptiness of something, oddly enough, I never had to start with. But the little girl inside me misses the fact that she never got to say “Daddy”, and someone turned in her direction. Something in me is missing because of his absence. Something essential that has kept me searching for the intangible bond called trust.
I know that if men can give love, then they in turn can take it away. Once in anger my husband said that I was unlovable. I wonder if that is what my father saw in me, if he bothered to look at his second daughter at all? But I wonder if it is true? And why I seek men who find pleasure in driving that fact home to me in the cruelest fashion.
But somehow, I know why I stay. Because I can’t forget the little girl who stood at school watching enviously, as fathers and mothers came to admire their child’s schoolwork on those occasions called parent/teacher night. And I had a great-grandmother who was too tired, after having raised eight children of her own, to exude delight or even attend. I remember how embarrassed I was at the lack of parents by my side. As if somehow it was my fault they were missing from the portrait of my childhood.
My great-grandmother kept me shrouded in secrecy. I was not allowed to be told anything about my parents. My questions were met with pursed lips and silence. But one day, one of her daughters-in-law found me in a corner alone. I was around eight years old. She leaned down and whispered, “Your father died.”
My father? I had a father? Who was he? Where did he go?
I did not say a word.
How does a woman cope with the lack of not having had this pivotal person in her life? If I’d figured that out, I would probably not be in the position I’m in. I probably wouldn’t be afraid. I probably could sleep at night without three medications. Magic pills that lull me to a place that is safe. That give me respite so I can go off the clock of “forever-watching” long enough to rest.
When I was six, I took a bottle of prescription pills. It was the first sign of my depression. The battle has been lifelong. I would not dream of forgetting my morning medication to keep the depression at bay. I have not forgotten once in 25 years. Because the place I go is dark. And there is no end to the desperation. Just a free fall of events that shroud me like a heavy blanket. A grief that does not go away.
My great-grandmother died when I was barely thirteen. My life after that was no more normal than the first part had been. Somehow I fell through the cracks. My memory of it is sketchy and blurred.
I am a college-educated woman, yet the simplest of things escape me. Intellectually I know that what happened at my birth had nothing to do with who I am. That a baby who is abandoned by all who should love her is not at fault in any way. Yet I punish myself with self-doubt, and peer at the world outside with something akin to fear. I know I stay where I am because the thought of going “out there” is too unimaginable for me to contemplate.
I am super-aware of my surroundings. Noises bother me. Being in public with cell phones endlessly ringing and conversations going on all at once as people pass by makes me want to cover my ears and run for safety. The thought of a job where I would have to show up every day and be social and make chit-chat is nothing short of terrifying. I relish the days when I can stay home with my pets and wander my gardens. Alone with nature and my plants and the burbling pond in the background is the only music I want to hear.
I suppose if I could, I would wish to live out in the woods in a cottage that was simply one large room. Danger could not lurk behind doorways. I would feel safe. I would be surrounded by my animals and my social outlet would be the computer.
I volunteer at Meals On Wheels, and my elderly neighbor, who shares my love of gardening, goes along to help me out. I only do this once or twice per month. But I know it feels good to give back. To bring a hot meal and a few words about the weather to a person who might not see anyone else all day. Though I envy that thought myself.
What would I say to my father if I could say one thing? I would ask him why he left me. It is the same question I asked my mother in the only letter I ever wrote her over twenty years ago. Her answer was: It was your father’s idea. Just that.
I suppose this concoction of scattered emotions is why I write a blog. To put my thoughts down. To record my life, so someone will know I was once on this earth. And that perhaps I mattered.