I can’t watch Father-Daughter dances at weddings, I have to excuse myself. My husband usually takes the kids beforehand as he knows what’s coming. It’s heart-wrenching for me and I usually end up crying bitterly in the bathroom and telling myself to suck it up.
A few times my own daughters have looked so lovingly at their father and whispered “I love you, Daddy” so sweetly that it sends me into the same sort of emotional breakdown. A quick trip to the bathroom and a scolding in the mirror “I thought you had grown out of this, you baby.” before I can go back to what I was doing and pretend that nothing happened.
This post has been a long time coming. I keep writing it, deleting it, writing it again, and trashing it again. I really don’t like getting too personal and I don’t want to whine but I want to be honest about who lives with the ramifications of casual sex and paternity disputes. Spoilers: not the women. Fathers and kids get the brunt of it. My father, as much as it pains me to say it, made the smart move. I wasn’t offered a choice in the matter.
Growing up my mom bitterly referred to my father as “the sperm donor”. She would talk with hatred about his refusal to “be a man” and “do the right thing”. I grew up believing that all men were like this because my mom told me they were and it happened to her again when I was a kid and my one sibling was born (happened to her, see how that works?). What further proof did I need? I knew not having a dad wasn’t normal or ideal but I thought of myself as that poor innocent child who’s Daddy wasn’t man enough to stick around for her.
My dad abandoned me. I have said it so many time in my life that it became a sort of tagline. The sting never went away, though.
“Where’s your dad?” new friends would always ask.
“My dad abandoned me.” I’d mutter and change the subject. I was in full victim mode from the moment of birth; trained to let people know of my plight, trained to seek out pity.
As I got older the stories my mom told me about my father didn’t measure up. For one there weren’t many at all. I got little bits like “he could draw” and “he was from _this country_” but that was about it. On top of that the rest of my family told me again and again that who she said was my father wasn’t really my father at all.
“How long did you and my dad date, mom?”
“We didn’t. Stop asking me questions, it’s over and done with.”
Long story short turns out that at the time I was conceived my mom was sleeping her way around town (by the way, she was married). She wasn’t seeing any of these men she was just “having fun” with them. Playing the victim like she always does she convinced herself that they had used and abused her (just like her husband, according to her, who jumped ship around this time, who I have never met, and who is legally my father) and that they had abandoned us both because that’s what men do. I have listened to her tell this story time and time again, always painting herself as The Victim. People still eat it up.
A little ways back I was talking to a family member and the subject of my father came up. This is the conversation that started the dominoes falling.
“Your mom was trying to convince a few guys you were theirs.”
“Yeah, one guy in particular. But we told him she had a few men she was trying to dupe.”
“So they ran the other way?”
“I guess you could say that.”
Can you blame them? I can’t. I admit that part of me wants to but I just can’t. So after 27 years of “my dad abandoned me” a realization hit me, my father probably doesn’t even know I exist. Sure, he knows I was born as my mom was trying to pawn me off on him (us both, really. I have no doubt she saw me as her meal ticket) but he probably has no idea I’m actually his. And, because of that, I have no idea who he is. I have no idea where I come from, what my genetic or cultural background is, where I get my complexion and crazy curls, what language my family speaks, what sort of traditions they hold to, if they would have loved me, if I have to worry about certain illnesses or defects, if my father is even still alive, if I have siblings… The list goes on. I still run it through my head more often than I’d like to admit.
My mom showed me pictures of my supposed father holding me. Two different sets with two different men that she tried to tell me were the same guy but obviously aren’t (completely different builds and coloring). As a kid I convinced myself it was the lighting. According to relatives that were there both of these men made a point to come and see me and hold who they thought was their daughter. For all I know these men pressed for a paternity test but maybe they didn’t. My mom is unstable and she was then, too (seriously, don’t sleep with crazy). She is one of those impossible people, the type that is completely unreasonable. I am willing to bet that she didn’t give them many options when it came to me. Accept her as your own, no questions, or you’re a coward and a deviant. That sounds way more like my mother than admitting she wasn’t sure who impregnated her and asking for a paternity test does. The only reason she got a test with my younger sibling was because a friend informed her she could make money in child support. How lucky did her husband, my father by law, get that she didn’t know that until then?
My father didn’t abandon me, my mom was a slut that held all the cards. His choice never came into it. There is no easy way around it, no gentle way to say it. This is what happens. Not this exact thing but paternity confusion, unwanted children, and all around brokenness is the standard. Fathers and kids just get drug along while women get to play liberated and victim all at once.
And make no mistake, unwanted children know they aren’t wanted.
This all has absolutely shaped my views on chastity, playing the victim, and father’s rights. It absolutely informed my opinions as a feminist and does today. I don’t think it’s any surprise that this realization coincided with my final abandonment of feminism and my anti-slut shaming/pro sexual “liberation” views. I already had one foot out the door (which more than likely aided in my ability to finally see his side) but this was the final push I needed. My husband started me off questioning what I had been raised to believe and, surprising to me even now, my father helped me hammer in the final nail. I had built my world view around “my dad abandoned me”. I had understood men through that. How many people in my generation have? How many of us have been influenced by the abandonment lie? When I had to finally ask myself what he must have been thinking and feeling when my mom shoved a newborn in his face and then found out she was doing it to different men around town I found myself empathizing with him. What a dangerous thing that is, empathizing with men. It alters world views.