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Dear Father

Today is Father’s Day.  So I called my mother.

My mother mostly raised me and my two younger sisters by herself.  Dad divorced us when I was eight years old.  He moved to a town half an hour away, and I rarely saw him, despite promised weekend visits.  The Friend of the Court assessed him $35 a week child support.  He didn’t pay it.

My mother had a few boyfriends, but up till I went to high school at the age of 15, none of them seemed interested in marrying her and instantly acquiring three daughters.  So she supported us on her own.  At one point she held two jobs and went to school.  I don’t know how.

My mother had risen through the ranks of the Michigan Employment Security Commission, from part-time switchboard operator to Executive Vice President, before she married my stepfather.  He wasn’t worthy of her, and he knew it, and he beat her.

But that’s another story, and besides, he’s dead.  Long ago.

We’re talking about today.  Father’s Day.  I called my mom.

My dad answered her phone.

My dad was visiting my mom.  Dad’s on his fourth wife now, a school teacher exactly my age who was out of the state today, taking care of a crisis in her family, so Dad was visiting his.  My mom saw my number on her cell and handed him the phone.  She has always done her best to facilitate relations between Dad and us girls.  Probably why she never sued him for child support.

“Hi, Dad,” I said.  “Hope you’re having a good day.  I love you.”  (Translation: “If you like.  I’ve been cornholed.” Yes, years have passed since Dad fell off the worthy-of-my-anger list.  Smile and nod, smile and nod.  Less effort that way.)

I’ve seen pictures of my dad as a teenager that I thought were of me.  I go by “Nisi,” but the name I was born with was “Denise.”  My dad’s name is Dennis.  My name was his, feminized, and before the divorce I was Daddy’s girl.  Afterwards, well….

I did write him a poem.  Like to hear it?  Here it go:

Dear Father

I’m supposed to hold a job?
 I’m supposed to tie my body
 to your iron clock,
dragged round by the axe-hands,
 cutting me off in pieces,
minute by minute?

 I’m supposed to report and record my impulsions
for your
 leisured appraisal?
I write one word a day.
Guns.  Color.  Voodoo.

Wrote that back in 1977. 

Thing is, I know I’m not the only woman in the world with an absent father.  My housemate, for one.  Holla if you another.

My father’s father left him when he was quite young, see.  I figure that’s part of how he became as hopeless at loving me as he is.  My father’s father, Vandeleur, moved to Ohio from Michigan and passed as white.  Broken, broken, our lineage is a broken thing, like a thin and brittle stick.

Can anger be sad?  Can anger be dry?  Can anger be charcoal?  Can it burn twice?

8 thoughts on “Dear Father”

  1. Tanya D says:

    Checking in from Chicago. I don’t know much about the man except that he’s older than my mother, there’s still indecision regarding him leaving because he found out I was on the way or if my mother’s family deemed him too poor a man to marry.

    Either way, I’m not longer angry but I am bitter…

  2. Erin says:

    I was also raised by a single mother; my father left when I was 3, immediately after my brother was born, leaving behind 3 kids and a wife who had barely graduated from high school.

  3. QoT says:

    Never have met my bio-dad. Father’s Day for me is about the men who actually bothered to participate in my upbringing. Definitely used to be angry, but now just … don’t care, though I’d like to know if I have any random half-siblings out there.

  4. Jennifer Gandin Le says:

    Can anger be sad? Can anger be dry? Can anger be charcoal? Can it burn twice?

    These words are so powerfully beautiful that they made my heart skip a beat. I am so glad that you’re blogging here.

  5. Nisi Shawl says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. I’m so glad Tempest invited me.

    Erin, I have heard tell of statistics that prove that men are less likely to leave a marriage when at least one of the offspring is male. (Not sure where, now….) That makes the timing of your dad’s departure doubly hard to comprehend. Sorry you had to go through that mess. You, too QoT and Tanya D.

  6. Iyawo Aganyu says:

    Alafia Nisi,
    Big ups from the Ile for your blogging…I’m lovin it. And yes this year for the first time ever in my adult life, I actually thought of my father on Father’s day and of forgiveness.
    Not sure if I’m ready, my pops is the kind of dude that likes to show up for my accomplishments–graduation from high school, college, graduate school–then disappears for years. He likes to tell others how proud he is of me, but never directly to me. As a Black Two-Spirited, Dyke, Lesbian, woman I too missed having a full time Father or part time or 3/4 time in my life, like I would fantasize about him teaching me how to work on cars, or taking me fishing…those “traditional” boy things. The little tomboy in me missed that and still does….

  7. Trinidad. Adventist. Gay?! says:

    Do you think that your attitude towards your Dad can have any effect on your own sons?

  8. Nisi Shawl says:

    What own sons?

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