The most difficult part of growing up without a father was always Little League Baseball. I know that my dad played Little League, because everyone in the family told me, and I loved baseball when I was a kid. Looking back, I’m sure that I was trying to make some sort of connection with a man I had no memories of. But the problem with Little League was that I didn’t have a dad to come watch my games, or to play catch with me. The coaches would always tell us to practice at home with out fathers, because that was the best way to become a great ball player, and I would be crushed. There was no way I could become a great player, because I didn’t have a dad around. Yeah, my mom tried to practice with me, and she came to the games, as did my grandparents. But it wasn’t the same as having a dad to come to those games. And so, even though I played Little League Baseball for many years, trying in some way to have a relationship with my father, it was all a miserable failure. I’m sure a good therapist would say that my dislike of baseball springs from that childhood trauma.
My father and mother were both very young when she got knocked up—a pair of college students that were still very much children themselves. My father died when I was two years old, leaving my mother alone to raise me, and me with not a single memory of him. I’ve often wondered if it is possible to miss someone you never really knew. Is it them you miss, or the idea of who they were, or what they may have represented? Do I miss my father, or do I miss simply not having one?
I wish that I could say life got easier without a dad as I grew older, but in nearly every way I can think of, it became more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got plenty of friends who grew up with inept fathers, and they all claim they’d have been better off without their dads around, ignoring them or abusing them, or doing whatever damage they did. But if there is one good thing about having a crappy dad, I’d imagine it would be the fact that it gives you a stick by which to measure yourself. If I’d had a father who was around—whether he was a good man or a bad man—at least I would’ve had someone to gauge myself against. I would have had someone I could’ve looked at and said, “I’ll never be like him” or “I want to be just like him.” Instead I had neither, and as I grew older, and tried to define myself as a man, I searched for some indication that I was doing it right or doing it wrong. Of course, I had my grandfather and other relatives, but it was not the same as having a father—or at least not the same as I’ve always imagined it to be.
I try not to spend too much time thinking about this stuff, or wondering about what my life would have been like if I’d had a father around. And yet I think about it quite often. It is the elusive inner peace that I can’t seem to find, no matter how hard I try. We all have these issues, brought about by one trauma or another, and these issues plague us as much as they define us. They are the faulty parts from which we are all constructed—the roof that leaks, the basement that floods—and it is up to us to learn to live with these emotional/psychological flaws and find the best way of coping. For me, the best way to cope seems to be to write about these things.
This time of year is when I think about my father the most, when my roof starts to leak and my basement starts to flood. Today is his birthday, yesterday was mine, and I can’t help but think of all those annoying joint birthday parties we never had, where we’d have to share the same cake. I would’ve hated those as a kid, and cherished them as an adult. But this was not to be, and so every year at this time I get lost in the possibility of what my life could have been, even though I know it’s not too healthy to dwell in that space for too long. And I’ll be honest when I say that things have gotten worse as I’ve grown older.
It took me a while to figure out why, but now I know. For more years than I care to remember, I wished that I could know my dad, and have a conversation with him, even if it was just for a few minutes. But the fact of the matter is that even if that was possible, I’d be talking to a kid in his early 20s who made some very bad decisions that left his son without a father. And the reality is that I am now old enough to be the father of that 20-something kid. Even if the greatest, most unrealistic wish of my life could be fulfilled, it would do me very little good. Even if the greatest miracle of miracles gave me a few minutes of time with my father, I’d be in the company of a boy with no wisdom of how to be a man. And more than anything, that’s what I’ve be longing for my whole life.