My brother was killed in a tragic accident in his early 30’s. His pregnant wife and three daughters, under the age of 5, survived him. Many lives were profoundly changed as a result of his death.
My brother was a highly ethical man who had very concrete ideas about family and what his role in a family would be. Like many men, he intended to re-write his own history and be the father that, perhaps, his father was unable to be. Being a man’s man he would have fulfilled his role as family protector and provider. More than this, though, he had envisaged his marriage as an equal partnership. Without doubt, he aspired to be the kind of father that all children need and want and I believe he would have been the kind of father that most men dream of being.
Although many men do not voice their expectations of themselves as fathers, I believe that most men have a deep desire to be exceptional fathers. From the moment a man is told that he is going to be a father he starts to plan the “ball games.” He imagines protecting his daughter from boys like himself. He starts planning for the child’s education and often he states out loud what occupation his child is likely to take up (usually his own). You often hear a father refer to his future business as “Me and Son.” He envisions his son having everything in life that he did not; becoming the Champion athlete that he was not. His daughter is going to be the most beautiful in the land - his daughter, his princess.
Recently, I was contacted by one of my brother’s daughters. She explained that she felt her life was a jigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces. She felt that her memories of her father were a combination of her imagination and her mother’s memories, and that this created a very incomplete picture of him. She asked me to share some of my memories with her, in hopes that this would create a more balanced picture of the man her father was.
She is in her early 20’s now: an age when most of us look back and try to connect the dots; an age when we try to know and understand ourselves by reaching into our history. This is an age when we start to consider how our personality, talents and emotions play into who we are. We are more aware of our “gene pool” and wonder how much of “who we are” is a product of that genetic pool. We wonder if having a better understanding of our parents will allow us to better understand ourselves.
Deep within us all is the need to love our parents. We need to know that, above all else, our parents love us. Without this, there is “a Soul Emptiness,” a disconnection from our selves.
We all need our childhood memories. They are as necessary as our vital organs. Without them, we are incomplete. In the absence of real memories, we tend to adopt imagined memories.
My mother, sister and myself have been gathering, talking and writing down as much as we can remember about my niece’s father. It has opened up a lot of sadness but so much joy as well. One memory will set off another and so much of what we have laid to rest and left unspoken has been allowed to re-surface. Pain has a way of being pushed so far down that we sometimes forget it’s there. Of course, it is always there, just below the surface, and in many ways, it continues to choke us. Self-preservation is often the core reason for denial.
Just prior to hearing from my niece, I had been talking with a couple of men, who, after a long absence, had returned to town and were attempting to reconnect with their now grown-up daughters. I am not sure why or how I became engaged in these conversations (probably because I was being led to write this page), but three different men, in three slightly different circumstances, had the same agenda: To get to know their 20-something year old children. Or, perhaps, they needed to allow their children to get to know them. I believe that in their own way, each of these men was seeking to complete that same jigsaw puzzle that my niece referred to.
Just as childhood memories are a part of “who we are”, and their absence leaves us with a sense of being incomplete, it might be, for those of us who are parents, that parental memories, or their absence, leave us with an equal sense of being incomplete.
I believe a revolution is taking place in which absent fathers, who have been silent and whose role in a child’s life has been minimized for far too long, will be “stepping up to the plate,” demanding that they be included in their child’s memories.
It’s certainly common for society to label absent fathers as selfish, irresponsible and even redundant forces in their child’s lives. While this may be true of some absent fathers, I don’t believe it is the predominant truth of all absent fathers. As my father used to tell me, “I did the best I could, at the time I was in, with the limited understanding that I had.” Or to put it more succinctly: If I had known better, I would have done better.
I am using the term “absent father” here for convenience. The term “absent parent” could, and should, be substituted throughout. My definition of “absent” is not restricted to “physically not there.” It extends to include emotionally, financially and spiritually, not there.
Recently, in Australia, there has been a great deal of media exposure given to the “Stolen Generation”. The term “stolen generation” refers to Aboriginal children who where taken from their parents by the Australian Government, in the late-1800’s through the mid-1900’s, and either placed with white anglo-saxon families or in government orphanages. My limited understanding of this is that the Government’s actions were intended to breed out the Aboriginal race – a form of genocide. (I’m sure some people will take offence at this comment, but, what the hell, it is “my” understanding.)
I mention the “stolen generation” here because I see a similarity between Aboriginal children, during this era, being denied access to their culture, language and customs by removing them from their family environment and modern day children being denied access to their absent parent. It is only now that Australian’s are beginning to understand the ramifications of the Government’s actions in that era. Basically, we now have an entire generation who had their childhood memories stolen and who are demanding that the country formally apologise. They demand to be told, “We are sorry.”
The children of the 1970’s and 80’s have become young adults and we may well refer to them as “the abandoned generation”. Could we now have over 100 years adding up to this one common denominator: I am sorry?
This page is absolutely not about guilt or shame. It’s time to stop pushing down our resentment; time to step out of our denial and find our voices.
Our children are now referred to as Generation X-ers. Generation X-ers are portrayed in the media as being: Feral, violent, materialistic and lazy. While there may be an element of truth to the media’s portrait of these children, high unemployment, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues have predictably influenced and affected Generation X.
In my opinion Generation X is going to be the generation that will change the world.
Historically, family life followed a natural course: do as your forefathers did. Children did not have a voice; they did not ask questions; and they did not challenge the way things were done. Children, as they said, “should be seen and not heard.” Your parents set an example and you followed that example. If you were miserable, confused or unfulfilled, you kept your mouth shut and “did the right thing.”
In the 1960’s, the “baby boomers” decided to completely turn this concept of family life upside down. They challenged authority and rebelled against those ideals that did not make sense anymore. With the introduction of the pill, came the freedom of multiple partners, and the decline of family values. Play became as important as, if not more important than, work. Rather than living with our parents until we married, we moved out of the family home to live with friends or significant others. We had little interest in participating in, or taking over, the family business. We travelled and indulged our senses. We strove for higher education. As parents, we stopped teaching our children by “strapping them” into behaving appropriately. We explained things to our children and listened to their responses.
This was a fabulous time and we benefited greatly. We prospered. We were more knowledgeable about the world around us and we were healthier. We had freedom of movement, speech and expression. We made our own music and had fun, fun, fun.
Unfortunately, we gained these freedoms at the expense of traditional family values. Generation X is the baby boomers legacy. Generation X: the abandoned generation - the fatherless generation.
To a large degree, baby boomers swung too far from the centre and it appears that Generation X is now trying to deal with the fallout. Many have been wounded. Some have been broken. It’s time to find an equitable balance between the old family values and the new freedoms.
Generation X is looking for its fathers and they will not be silenced. They demand answers. They are educated and informed and they will look you in the eye and ask you point blank what they need to hear. Now if you think for one moment that you can get away with that sad story you have prepared, you had better think again. Responses that begin with “when I was a boy” and end with a moral, will not be accepted by this generation as reasons for doing or not doing something. These people know what truth is; they expect the truth. They have laser eyes that will penetrate you if you try to give them anything less than the truth. These children want and need their childhood to make sense. They need their memories.
There are many reasons for single parent homes. What is, is. As I mentioned, this page is not about guilt, resentment or shame. I simply need to bring to your attention the fact that the time has come to stand up and be counted. Much can be explained and probably should be, but at the very least we all need to know that we matter, and we all need to hear that we matter from our parents. Likewise, we, as parents, need to hear that we matter to our children.
My niece will never have her own childhood memories of her father. We will share our memories of him with her and hope that they help her to understand whom her father was, but for millions of others, those childhood memories of an absent parent are available as something other than the shared memories of others. Absent parents should make themselves available to participate in the creation of their child’s memories. Reading this now you may be holding back some information that could complete someone. Why not make the time to share that information?
Many women have been devastated by the breakdown of their domestic partnership, marriage or otherwise, and are extremely hostile towards the father of their children. Some women don’t know who that father is, and let’s face it, some women are in a situation that requires no contact with that person.
Ideally, contact should be made with the father and all hostility put aside. This should only be about the child and not about the adults. If a meeting cannot be arranged, then perhaps a letter can be. Contacting the father’s family can also provide a lot of information. If all this is totally out of the question, then at the very least, you should make time to sit down with your child, and, putting your animosity aside, try to give your child a fair understanding of who their father is or was, and what he is or was about.
In most cases, this man was good enough to sleep with and at sometime you saw something special to him. Put everything else aside for a moment and recall what that was.
Simple things like the music, movies and books he liked, his facial expressions and the sound of his laughter. See if you can find photographs. Ask his family for some. If you don’t already know, find out about his parents and siblings; who his friends were; where he grew up. Did he play sports or a musical instrument? What did he like and how did he do in school? There is so much that can be filled in for your child, if you allow it.
Maybe your ex became a real loser or perhaps he was even dangerous? Whatever the circumstance, it’s vitally important to remember that your child has genetic links with this man and will be, in part, a reflection of those genes.
Please understand that I am not talking exclusively about absent fathers. Of course there are absent mothers, and sometimes, both parents are absent. There are unique issues with adopted children and, more recently, with sperm bank children, that can’t be addressed by contact with the absent parent, and it’s not my intention to provide suggestions or solutions for those situations here.
It is my intention to point out that the absence of a connection with a parent during a child’s formative years can be extremely detrimental to that child and result in feelings of abandonment that cause resentment and rebellion in later years. Grown ups are kids too, you know, and can suffer a similar sense of abandonment when their child becomes estranged from the family. We tend to overlook the immense pain and loss a parent feels when they become estranged from their child. There are, of course, many households in which all family members are physically present but abandoned none-the-less.
“Fear of abandonment” is at the root of many psychological hang ups. Any therapist will tell you that jealously, insecurity, aggressiveness, lack of intimacy, low self-esteem or any other emotional imbalance will ultimately have a basis in “fear of abandonment.” How can we not hold deep fears if we were abandoned in the one place we should have been safest, by the one person who should have valued us more highly than anyone else?
We need to reconnect and we need to talk and listen.
I remember a male friend of mine who had a falling out with his brother. They went two years without contacting each other. They met up at a party and stood nearby each other for a long period of time without speaking. Finally they did speak and by the end of the party it was obvious that everything had been sorted out. I asked my friend what had been said to bring them back together. He said, “Nothing, we were just talking.” I asked what they had talked about and he said “football.” (Women find this a strange phenomena – It’s the male version of “secret women’s business”)
I often refer to this story as “2 dogs peeing on a tree.” Men seem to speak without talking and think they have covered everything. It is rarely good enough and certainly never good enough if you are communicating with females or children.
Men often spend money on or joke with their children and consider this is communicating. Children will certainly take advantage of the money but don’t kid yourself that you have connected.
Children rarely find their father’s jokes funny. Lectures are never considered to be “good advice” and fathers are rarely, ever “cool.” Have you ever noticed that when you think you are being “cool,” your daughter’s lip curls up and she rolls her eyes upward? This is child speak for “You’re such a dag.”
When my niece first contacted me she started the letter with:
“I have been wanting to write to you for most of my life, but I did not know what to say.”
Earlier I mentioned that three men that I knew had recently begun making attempts to reconnect with their grown-up daughters. Each of them had said, “I want to get to know my child but I don’t know what to say. These men had effectively put their child on hold for 20 some years.
Don’t let this happen to you. Put simply: Cut the crap. Speak with open, honest words from an open, honest heart, and do it now. Simple phrases like, “I am sorry,” and “I love you and you matter to me,” speak volumes. Maybe you will stumble and maybe you will fumble but even the smallest effort will reap enormous rewards.
Copyright Sonya Green 2004 www.reinventingmyself.com
Submitted by: Sonya Green *
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