My father had always left the affection integral to parenting up to my mother- he was the bred-winner, the disciplinarian, the patriarch. In our household he was Alpha and Omega, so much so that he could silence my siblings and I with a single glare if we dare disturb his sleep. And so, when he walked in, I knew it wasn't for a goodnight kiss. My teenage mind immediately began preparing believable-sounding excuses to whatever I 'd done to disappoint him. I stop short of blurting out an incoherent explanation when I saw what seemed like tears in his eyes. Immediately alarmed, I sat up and waited with baited breath, not daring to speak before he did.
He handed me a $20 bill that he had in his hand and instructed me to split it with my 2 younger siblings. I took the money, assuming it was for our school lunches, and laid back down as he walked out of my room without another word. Soon after, I heard the front door slam shut and the headlights fainted into the distance, returning my room to the comfort of darkness. The next morning,I found my mother distraught with the realization that my father-her husband- had walked out on us, taking every dime they had in the bank except the $20 dollars he'd given me.
For years, I never allowed myself to dwell on that night. I could never find words or emotions in any language adequate enough to capture that moment and fill that void. After my father walked out on my family, I promised myself that I'd never give another man the opportunity to do the same to me again. Throughout undergrad, I became engulfed in a cycle of unhealthy relationships where I would leave the men who truly cared for me, never giving them an opportunity to get close enough to hurt me. In contrast, the men I devoted too much of myself to in order to prove that I could keep whatever man I wanted, were men who, like my father, were never relationship material in the first place. Although I've come to recognize this cycle that I was in, I am never quite sure if I've broken it with this realization or if I remain romantically crippled, continuing to redefine and reinforce my "daddy issues" in different forms at different stages of my relationships.
As an adult, I've tried to overcome this insecurity by loving those who deserved to be loved by me wholeheartedly but, in the back of my mind, I always wonder if I love too long, give too much of myself, and get too little in return. Am I my mother? I do not know if I can tell the difference between the signs that a relationship has become unhealthy and needs to end vs. the regular trials and tribulations that are necessary to strengthen a bond based on love and mutual respect.
Now that my current relationship is experiencing a rough patch, I find myself increasingly thinking of the humiliation, heartbreak, and betrayal my mother endured because of my father. As I prepare to turn twenty-five, my mother also secretly prepares to commemorate her twenty-sixth wedding anniversary alone, still in love with the memory of my father. In his absence, he's become a burden that defines her present and haunts my future. Thus, if you could take sorrow and package it in the stains of dried tears and whispers of generations of careful disappointment, you would find me, as much of a reflection of the women who've come before me as I am of the men they loved.