Fathers, dads, papas — whatever you call them, they all have a special ability to lift you up with their support and love or crush your very being through either intended or unintended cruelness. Or at least that is how I imagine it to be. Because how would I know? My father technically left when I was a baby. He properly checked out when I was 20, some 12 years ago now.
I was minding my own business on a small town street, standing on the corner looking across at the shops in the distance, wondering where to go next on my quest for cute clothes.
"Hey stranger," a familiarly irritating voice cheerily announced from behind me.
Luckily, I had enough time to compose myself and turn around with an expression I wished for him to see; one of a total lack of surprise that completely covered up how I was feeling inside — shock.
Stranger? It was a stunning prediction of what was to come because I haven't seen him since that day.
He promised me he would pick me up after work to take me to his father's (my grandfather's) birthday, but instead he called me back to tell me there was not enough room in the car so I couldn't attend the family gathering. Hmm. Pretty revealing, especially now as a learned adult I can find in a second that I wasn't worth making an extra 20 minute journey; the internet tells me it is a mere 10 minute drive each way. So, as I said, I haven't seen nor heard from him, not even a peep or an indication of his whereabouts, since that day.
He wasn't there when I had boy problems.
He wasn't there when I entered university.
He wasn't there when I graduated from university.
He wasn't there to celebrate me obtaining my first job.
He wasn't there when I got married.
He wasn't there when my son was born.
He wasn't there when my son died.
What was he there for?
He was there to sing to me the words of that awful Daphne & Celeste song:
"U-g-l-y, you could make an onion cry!"
Great, nice thing to say to a kid already struggling with being bullied about her appearance. Totally the reason I entered trashy beauty pageants. Because you know, nothing says you aren't so damn ugly after all like your picture in a small town newspaper claiming you were Miss of some beach on some particular day, am I right? Validation; I still have the sashes.
He was there to tell me off for not liking the carrot cake he made for me for my birthday. Jeez, who makes a child under the age of ten a cake made out of vegetables anyway! Thank you for taking the time to show me on my one special day of the year how little you know about me. Chocolate cake; is it really that hard?
My experience with my loosely-termed and definitely undeserved father also gave me an insight into the life of Harry Potter well before the glorious Rowling had put pen to paper. I will never forget devouring those fresh pages detailing sweet Harry spending his time in the cupboard under the stairs; it brought back those wonderful childhood memories of being the only person sleeping on the bottom floor of a farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere, on a mattress, hearing the click-clack of rats' claws scratching about me on the wooden floor.
What else do I have in the memory bank, not much? But you know what. Magically, from the age of 20 all those negative stories vanished. Because he vanished along with them.
It took me a while to figure out it was a blessing in disguise. I no longer felt rejected, let down, pissed off; I no longer expected anything, so I never got disappointed. So if a father chooses to be absent, you are better off without him. The most important reason being that their absence forces you to take notice of the people who make an active choice to BE in your life. And everyone has them.
I used to spend a bit of my time every day chatting with Stan, the caretaker of my elementary school, as he busied himself with general duties and spouted off words of wonderment — he was and still is a brilliant human. We still have a yarn if we run into each other.
I had teachers, in fact too many to count, who inspired me to see past the rejection and give me the time of day to make me feel not only worthwhile, but like I actually had some kind of place in the world.
I have a beautiful group of people I call my family; some who aren't even related by blood, but who would do anything for me - and they have. In fact, my family is more diverse and richer than I could ever have possibly imagined and I am grateful every day to have such amazing, intelligent, wonderful people in my life.
And have someone who I consider to be my father; my grandfather. He is also adopted in the sense that he chose to be part of our family, support us, and be with my grandmother as a life partner out of love, not out of a sense of duty. Sadly, he passed away. He was remarkable.
One of my fondest memories is of him so thoughtfully gifting me with a beautiful classic fountain pen to congratulate me for pursuing university studies; I still have it. That pen means the world to me; he got to know me like nobody else had tried to know me; he knew what I loved, knew what motivated me, and knew what I wanted to be. Not only that, but he supported me in doing those things. To some people, a pen is just a pen but for me, that pen is my precious. I have always wanted to write; and here I am.
His action of taking me under his wing taught me a great deal about the nature of life and what it is to be a good human; a lesson my father was and is still incapable of teaching. He inspired me to be the kind of person that cares for people regardless of whether you have an actual family relationship. He taught me through his actions that life isn't about what you do, it is what you do for others.
I regret that I didn't even call him the title he so deserved; the title of 'granddad'. I just called him by his name — Derek.
And that is why I will never call the person formerly known as my father anything even remotely referring to the title of a male who raises a child they have produced. You can't be said to be something you are not, have never tried to be, and have actively absented yourself from being; you can't have a title without earning it. Especially when the one person in the world who deserved it the most, was just happy to be known only by his name.