I’ve never known my father. I’ve never cuddled my forehead under his chin while we watched TV, never ran home from school to tell him some pointless story, never had him pin a corsage on me for my high school prom, carry my stuff to my dorm room when I went away to college or listen under the hood when my dilapidated car was making a squeaky, scraping noise.

For as many years as I’ve been alive, my father has been a figment of my imagination, a figure shrouded in as much mystery as the Tooth Fairy. I’ve never met him, I’ve never talked to him and aside from two or three yellowed, ancient pictures that my mom saved of him from the height of his Afro-wearing days back in the 70s, I’ve never seen him. The same goes for my whole estranged paternal family—grandparents, aunts, cousins, uncles, the entire brood.

I’ve watched reality shows where grown folks still lament the absence of their missing parent, dig up all kinds of info on the internet and literally track their mamas or daddies down. I, on the other hand, could go weeks, maybe even months, without the reality of my missing-in-action father interfering with my random thoughts. Even as a kid, I never felt like something was missing because I didn’t have a dad.

First of all, my generation kind of ushered in the epidemic of runaway fathers, so having a man in the house—especially in my neighborhood and especially as a young, Black child—was more of an anomaly than not having one. An on-site daddy who was an active member of the household was somewhat of a luxury, something to be appreciated like having central air conditioning or a dishwasher or cable TV, but nothing that moms and their kids couldn’t live without.

Besides that, the good Lord gifted me with an awesome father figure. My granddaddy, a man of honor, integrity and masculine head-of-the-household-ness, was the quintessential daddy dearest. He was the one who sat on a barstool at the end of the driveway and watched me teeter my chunky tail back and forth on my first two-wheeler. When I busted my lip wide open with my color guard flag, my grandfather was the one who escorted my blubbering behind into the bathroom to patch up the bloody boo-boo. And when I entered my preteen years and my mother and I butted heads about going to school dances, my grandfather was the one who pulled her to the side and reasoned on my behalf. I don’t know what he said to her, but all I know is when they came back, he gave me a wink and she grunted that I could go to my ol’ silly dance.

With a man like that playing his part, I didn’t have a reason to miss the relationship I never had with my biological father. When my granddad passed away a few months shy of my 13th birthday, he’d left an impression so powerful that even now, some 18 years later, I know what to look for in the man who will become my husband and father my own children.

So life went on, dad-less, until the end of last year, when one of my eight (count ‘em, eight) half-sisters—who I met years ago purely by coincidence while we were high school students from different cities attending the same college prep program—invited me to my grandmother’s 95th birthday celebration. My dad’s mom. Dad’s mom’s party meant not only would I be meeting her for the first time, along with a consortium of other long-lost relatives, I’d be laying eyes on that man live and in the flesh. They’d like me to come, she said. They wanted to meet me. In the midst of her doing her best to convince me, I shocked myself.

The proposition stirred up a whole hodge podge of emotion that I didn’t even realize existed and probably had been festering inside of me my whole life.

If they wanted to meet me so badly, how come no one ever reached out to me?, I wondered. Why did it take her to play The Closer in order to unite that broken tie? With the advent of email, the world wide web and a take-your-pick assortment of social networking sites, why was it my responsibility to make the first toddling, uncertain moves toward our initial introduction?

These same people were adults who could have reached out to me when I was a kid, even while That Man was hellbent on being a deadbeat. Out of the whole crew who, in 2010, was so anxious to meet me even though I’ve been alive and kickin’ since 1979, no one had ever sent so much as a birthday card or initiated a phone call. Now it was up to me, after all these years, to accept their word-of-mouth invitation to meet for the first time and celebrate 95 years of life for a woman who hadn’t observed nor acknowledged not even one of mine.

It was surprising to discover that I was angry. Insulted. Maybe even a little hurt. Still, there was a part of me that was afraid to roll my eyes, pop my neck and sashay away from the opportunity without giving it some consideration. I’m big on history and ancestry, and this was a chance to fill in the missing branches on my family tree. Even though I didn’t want to offend my mother and the amazing job she did raising me by herself with no financial or emotional support from the man who laid down to help create me, I also considered the possibility that when I’m well into my own golden years, I might regret not having met the other side of my people. Maybe the resentment and hostility that had suddenly bubbled up in my 30s would come back to haunt me when I’m in my 60s and make me wish I could give my children and grandchildren a full account of their heritage—from both sides of my gene pool.

Besides that, I was curious to see myself in this batch of strangers, to pick out traits and qualities that I’ve lived with and accepted as a part of who I am personified in other folks who possibly acted or looked like me. Either way, I was putting myself out there: if I turned down the invite, there was the chance I would miss out on finding a part of me. But what waited on the other side was the possibility of another slap of rejection and a karate chop of disappointment.

After some prayer, I ultimately decided to pass on the party. Once upon a time, I never thought I’d ever have the chance to meet my father or his family. Then when I was faced with the opportunity to do it, turns out the move I made may have been a one-time-only deal. Because she’s already 95, it’s pretty safe to say I might not have another chance to talk to my dad’s mom. But when I do make the move to break the ice and meet the family unknown, if I ever make that move, I’ll feel empowered that it’ll be on my own terms and in my own time. It’s a calculated risk to hold out and hope that when I’m ready to meet my dad, he’ll be ready to answer the questions I have for him. But if it never happens, I’m fine with that. Sometimes mysteries are better left unsolved.

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  • Kit

    I can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like not to grow up with a father. It’s upsetting to think about.

    I guess turning down the invite was partially a defense mechanism. If you’ve never had something you can fantasise about what it’s like, but you can’t really miss it. So having pined for that father figure and reached a place where you had come to terms with those difficult feelings of hurt and pain, you would have to be really brave to go back to those emotions and possibly get hurt.

  • Girl

    Im so glad you decided to do this on your own terms. How rude of them to expect you to come running. It hurts to read things like this cos I was raised by my parents and I love my father dearly esp for being there for me and my siblings. Women arent meant to do this on their own no matter what mordern society says. You CANT be a mother and father.

  • This piece really hit home for me. My father wasn’t in my life period. The last time that I saw him I was about 4 or 5 years old and I didn’t meet his two sister until I was 17 at my high school graduation. While that day was and still is bittersweet in memory, it was same day that his oldest sister gave his obituary ( the funeral was around the corner from my house and I was sitting outside on the porch and no one said a word) and I knew that I would never have the chance to have a face to face with him. While I was mostly raised by my grandmother and my aunts, I saw my mother struggle trying to be both mother and father to me and never really explaining the situation at hand. Since I was little she (mother) always said that my father was a jackass but after I met his sisters, my mother started to go into detail about how he was and their relationship but she also talked about how he told her that he wasn’t ready to be a father and that when I was baby he come around and be in a state of disbelief because I favored him so much. I had been going to school with relatives on his side of the family and some of those people decided not to talk to me after they found out that I was his daughter. While I don’t like being referred to as the “family secret”, it makes me angry that he wasn’t around because he missed out on seeing me grow up but it also makes angry that his family and other relatives continue to be in a state of shock and grief when I didn’t ask to be here. While I try not to be angry at my mother for the situation at hand; I’ve learned that things happened for a reason and no matter how many questions you ask, they still may never be answered. I’ve gotten to point where some aspects of my life will have to come to a point of closure eventually.

  • MsMelissa!

    I just happened to stumble across this blog and I can TOTALLY understand!

    I never met my father, my mother kept me away from him. My relationship with my Mom is very bad, mostly because I look just like him. I have two sisters from my Mother that I am also not close to even though we grew up in the same house. My searches to find my Dad lead to arguments with my Mom and me being put out of the house.

    When I finally found him, he had already died. The first picture of him I ever saw was on his obituary. But I found out that I have 5 half brothers, one of whom I sent to school with. I have an Aunt that lived in the same neighborhood and never knew it….and niether did she.But most special of all is I have a half sister, and two nieces. My sister and I look alike, have the same laugh, and think the same. I have only known her for 4 years, but I love her DEARLY. My nieces and my my daughter are so much alike and get along like peanut butter and jelly. We all spend at least 1 day of every weekend together and my life had been so enriched.

    My point is that sometimes adults make a mess of childrens lives. Its almost as if some people are set up to fail. Dont wait too long to reach out to your family, everything is in Gods time and there is a reason that you didnt meet your sisters until now. Maybe this is when you will need each other the most. You will find parts of yourself that you never knew were missing.

    (((hugs)))

  • Boo hoo hoo

    How many black and black biracial children I personally know and seen and how many that are out there with out their black fathers? I was so tired and tired of hearing about this and they still beat this horse down to death!

    The epidemic of black and black biracial children without fathers or ones that are present everynight for there and just take their seat at the mat and it shows in their children.

    Black women are a great reason for this cycle. It is one thing to spoil black men and sons rotten its another to not encourage them compassionately to be a man. Lets face it some black mothers are terrible mothers and most black men are generally statiscally horribly bad fathers (basically sperm donors) whether they are in the home or not.

    Black women spend so much time catering to black men and that is all well and dandy and being nasty to other black women often and kissing everyone else rears. Then trying to make a life for survival that as long as the roof is over the head they cottle their sons to death and that is why many are the way they are now and send their daughter of to the wolves. Many of which come back like hyennas some shrinking violets and the rest somewhere in between.

    • saddest part

      Saddest and most embrassing part of the black race is the number of missing or invisible at home fathers (which are never counted or owned up to in statistics). No other race has this problem like black people it is so sad how many black and biracial black little boys and girls have grown up since 2005 without a father. I would always hate when other races of people pointed this out. I cant tell you how many people of other ethnicities would go around asking black people or biracial black people if there dad was at home or at least in their lifesetc.

      And 99 percent of the time it was a reply of no! I knew this biracial black girl who said she grew up with out a father and her mother she had to live with her white grandmother an only child and she said that she had no one and her grandmother took her but never really warmed up to her. They’d bicker about the fact she would call her son and say come her you little monkey! The girl was really bitter about it. I hadnt heard anyone with a whtie grandparent that was biracial mention something like this. And, all she ever did was whine about why like most black and biracial kids father didnt find them important enough, special or loved them enough. The question I hear is why couldnt they love me or care to at least come aroudn even if they didnt pay child support?

      I say beep ’em. I have never found a beep that was worth me whining over worry over him. Any beep that cant take care of his own son or daughter for whatever reason is just a no good beep that live up to that stereotype. It shall be a lesson to all these generations that it is unexcusable and hopefully we will be blessed with better circumstances in the future.

    • boo hoo hoo

      I meant to say how many just sit at the table and take their place at that mat and play daddy but are anything but and just are existent but not fathers just baby daddys their in flesh but not mind. Those that brag that they are with or aware of their daddies often just have table mat and couch coaster daddies to linger. Some of which play house at other homes as well as their own and often are better fathers to other people’s kids than their own. Or, just there in the home in spirit but dont actually take on their role.