Father of mine
tell me what do you see
when you look back on your wasted life
and you don’t see me

“Father of Mine”
So Much for the Afterglow

Day 4: Your Parents
Part 3: My father AKA The Sperm Donor

The pictures shown on this entry are the sum total of all of the photos I have of my father. My mom and Michael got married once they discovered she was pregnant and divorced before I was a year old. For many years, I never saw my father. There were some custody and child support issues that I didn’t learn about until I was much older. The first time I actually met my father was when I was a freshman in college.

Me and Michael

I was in a musical and he and his wife came to see it. Afterwards, she came up to me and said, “Your father is a chickenshit, so he sent me over here. He’s here and wants to know if you would like to meet him.” How can you say no to an invitation like that, amirite? That began an attempt to get to know each other that lasted for about three years.

In some ways, I think he never really had a chance. Not because mom and Grandma spoke badly about him. On the contrary, they were somewhat vague and noncommittal about why he left and where he was. I know a number of people who trash their ex to and in front of their kids. It’s sad, because I think it sets a horrible precedent that makes both parties look bad, but when you have a lot of anger and bitterness I understand how it can be hard to speak about your ex without tainting them. Mom and Grandma both made a major effort to “be the better person” and not trash Michael. I learned later that they figured eventually I would meet him and get to know him and come to my own conclusions. And for that, I thank them. It’s a lesson I think a lot of divorced parents should take to heart.

One of two family photos

The problem with meeting him was my own expectations of what a father should be. In his absence, I had built in my mind the ideal father. What I wanted a father to be like. What a dad would look like. When you go into any situation with unrealistically high expectations, no one can possibly meet them. The problem wasn’t just that Michael fell short of my expectations. He fell FAR short of my expectations. We did not have the same goals, values, respect for education or the arts. . . the list goes on and on. It became quickly apparent that the only thing we shared was DNA, and that is not enough to build a relationship.

That’s not to say we didn’t try. Attempts were made, both on my side and his. But three years in, we shared a Christmas that drove home the message that we didn’t know each other at all. At the time I was in my early twenties and living on my own. I had a see-through phone that showed all the wiring and parts. It wasn’t a decorating scheme, I just thought the phone looked cool. I also had an apartment and did not own a tv. This was not because I couldn’t afford one. I deliberately didn’t have one. It was a lifestyle choice that afforded me additional time for other activities and hobbies. I also was not a big fan of sweaters. They made me hot and sweaty and were scratchy. Why this is important will be revealed shortly.

That year for Christmas, I was joining them for a family get-together. The first clue that all was not right was when I found myself wandering the mall trying to figure out what the hell to buy him. Correction- I knew what I could buy him that he would like, but I was morally opposed to them, so that was not an option. I ended up just buying one of those sausage and cheese gift baskets because I had no idea what he would like. Then came the exchange. For Christmas he gave me a see-through TV to match my phone. And a pink sweater.

At a summer family reunion

Now I know there are some that will jump on me and say, “It’s the thought that counts!” But first of all, that’s bullshit. There was no thought in either present, either from him or from me, which I will take full responsibility for. But secondly, and maybe this is just me, but if it’s a choice between getting a present that is well thought out and chosen for me versus some random crap that it bought because you couldn’t think of anything but felt obligated to get me something, I’d rather get nothing. Honestly, I had a friend yesterday give me a set of Star Wars themed Pringles cans, and they mean more to me than that gift from my father because they were chosen out of love for me and a knowledge that I was sincerely enjoy it. Take that for what it’s worth, but I’d rather have something cheap and meaningful, or nothing at all, than have something just to have something.

Leaving the party that night, I cried all the way home. I had realized that although there was a blood tie, there was nothing else to link me together with this stranger who called himself my father. When I got home Grandma consoled me. She said that she was sorry I had to learn that way what he was like, but she knew it was a lesson I had to learn on my own. Thankfully, I was able to fall back on the knowledge that family is not and should not be defined by our DNA. Family is who we love. Period. We make our own families by surrounding ourselves with people who care about us and love us for our faults as well as our strengths. Blood does not make family. Love makes family.

Needless to say, I don’t have contact with my father today. It’s sad in some ways, but I’m better for it. And I remember thanking mom for divorcing him when I was little. I’m sure that sounds strange but having seen what I did, I would be a very different person today had I grown up in that house versus that one was raised in. No, my childhood wasn’t perfect. And yes, part of the reason I had such high expectations of a father figure was because I fantasized about some ideal life that can never exist. Despite everything, I am thankful for what I had, because I know it could have been much harder.

I have to be honest- I started writing this almost two weeks ago and still haven’t figured out an appropriate way to end it. I usually try to finish each entry with some word of wisdom or encouragement, but I struggle with what is appropriate in this circumstance. I don’t recommend estrangement, but from experience I recognize that sometimes it’s the healthiest option. I guess the best way to end is to decide for yourself what makes a family, and embrace your family with all your heart, whether they are drawn to you by blood, the legal system, shared interests, or love. We only have one shot at life, and we deserve the best life we can have. Sometimes that means making hard and painful choices, but you have to trust that you know what’s best for you. Don’t let someone else’s mistakes dictate how you master your own destiny. Love those who love you, and don’t worry about the rest. You are worth more than that.