Fatherhood

      I never knew my father. Not at all. He may as well never have existed. Except… he did exist. And I met him. And it was the strangest experience of my life.
      When my mom was very young, she met my dad and got married. It was probably a mistake. She was too young to know the difference between loving someone and needing someone. She needed someone to take her away from the life she had had, and she thought that that meant that she loved him. My father was a way for her to get out… away from her mother, away from the hopelessness of her own life. He was an escape in her eyes.
      It's unfortunate that she didn't realize that he wasn't really someone who would "save" her. She jumped at the first chance she had to leave her old life behind, never realizing that the life she was running to would be no better. Soon after they married, the bright future she had envisioned seemed to fade. He didn't seem to love her and every day they seemed to like each other less and less.
      And then she thought that if they had a child, things would change, just as when she thought that if she got married, things would change. I was born. And things did change. They got worse. Maybe he didn't want to be burdened with a child. Maybe he resented her for bringing someone else into their "family". Maybe he just saw no more reasons to stay around. In any event, he left her. He took off. There was no divorce. There was no warning. He just abandoned her to a two-year-old child and a life that turned out wrong.
      I don't know how she dealt with that. She had no "husband". She had no family support. And yet, for ten years, she raised me as best she could, all alone. She sacrificed herself to exhausting jobs that paid little. She'd work two or three shifts a day. We'd move from state to state, every time she couldn't find the money to pay the rent. I'd move from school to school, never knowing how long we'd stay, never wanting to find a best friend… because I knew that sooner or later we'd have to leave.
      And yet, there was always food on the table. There were always clothes on my back. Somehow, someway, she kept me insulated, protected from the harsh reality that she faced every day. I was already twelve years old before I knew we were poor… because I never knew there could be something different. It was only when we moved to an area where my friends were well off that I began to realize how poor we were, how much difficulty and fear my mom had to face every day. I can't really imagine how terrible it must have felt to never know if your paycheck would cover all the bills for that month, how it must have felt to pack up and leave your home every time you lost a job. I can't imagine that, because, as I said, she protected me from that, taking it all on herself. I don't know if I could ever be that strong… but she was.
      And when I was sixteen, my father re-entered our lives. We had moved back to our original home area, and he called, wanting to see me. My mom did not want to see him, did not want to have anything to do with him, but she gave me the choice. She told me that as a young adult, I had the right to make that decision myself. I never knew him as a man… only as a rumor, a person that was rarely spoken of, and never in a good way. I hated him… not for leaving me, but for leaving my mom, for making her fend for herself, for making her suffer and struggle so much. But I was curious. I felt that I had to meet him, just on the one in a million chance that I was wrong about him… just in case there had been a good reason that he had left. And so I told my mom that we should meet.
      And one afternoon, we did. In a park near our original home from sixteen years ago. "This is your father," my mom said as an introduction. She wasn't happy, but she wasn't rude either. And we talked. He asked me about school, about my friends, about what I wanted to do. And every moment, I was waiting for him to say it. We sat there for an hour, and every moment I was waiting, waiting to hear the words. I wanted to hear him say, "I'm sorry."
      I wanted to hear him say it. Not to me. To my mom. I wanted to hear him say that he was sorry for making her suffer. That he was sorry for making her raise me on her own. That he was sorry for choosing his own desires above his family's needs. His actions were unforgivable, but I needed to hear him apologize.
      But he didn't say it. Not once. When it was over, I didn't hate him anymore. I didn't hate him, because to me, he wasn't even worth hating. He was a stranger. A person I never knew and from then on never wanted to know. I didn't hate him anymore than I'd hate a stranger who lived ten thousand miles away in the middle of a desert. He wasn't my father, and wasn't a part of my family. I haven't seen him since, and don't believe I ever will.