It is a well-known fact that when procreation occurs twenty-three chromosomes come from a woman— the mother—and twenty-three chromosomes come from a man—the father—to create the genetic structure of an offspring—their child. The woman that is responsible for half of my DNA is undoubtedly my mother, but the man responsible for the other half of my DNA is not my father.
Growing up without a father figure made things hard on me, but also my mother who was forced to raise five children on her own while only ever receiving help from Section 8, monthly food stamps, child support (on the rare occasions that it was actually paid), and some assistance from family members. There were times when I would come home and find eviction notices taped to the chipped paint on the front door of whatever apartment we happened to be living in at the time.
We never really lived in one place for too long. Rent always seemed to become too high for my mother to satisfy while also simultaneously feeding and clothing five children.
There were also times when my siblings and I had to wait a week or two for my mother’s food stamps to deposit so that we’d no longer had to eat as much as we could at school to prevent the painful sensation of starvation at dinner time.
This repeated series of events often made me—a young adolescent who couldn’t even understand why it was so important for me to eat my vegetables—wish that my biological father was present so that he could mitigate the stress and weight of responsibilities that my mother held on her shoulders every day. As a child, I only ever wanted him to be to me what my friends’ fathers were to them.
The reason my mother and biological father are no longer together is simple. He was a violent man, and she was a vulnerable woman in love. Their story is comparable to an Ike and Tina spinoff—sans music career, though my mother does have a powerful singing voice, and drug overdose, as my biological father is still alive. It has inadvertently taught me many things. One thing I learned from their era of love is that people, regardless of what you sacrifice for them or directly do for them, can still hurt you in ways that you would not expect.
My mother originally lived in Maryland but moved down south to be with my biological father, who had been stationed at a military base in Killeen, Texas called Fort Hood—just before I was born. She packed her and her children’s things, bid goodbye to her six siblings as well as her aunts, cousins, uncles, and mother, and moved fifteen hundred miles across the country away from the people she had known and grew up with her entire life—all to be with him. It is safe to say that the things that my mother did for my biological father, including, but not limited to, working graveyard shifts in the night then caring for us during the day so that when he returned from deployment he would have a family and a household to return to, were, in fact, taken for granted. It was visible to my siblings and me that my biological father’s actions had indeed taken a toll on our mother.
Though this realization did not come at the time that these events unfolded, I know now that people are capable of unspeakable things and—regardless of what I may do for someone— their reciprocation might not show their appreciation of me. However, this does not mean that I conceal myself from the world to protect myself. Instead, I try my hardest to ensure that the people that I surround myself with are not filled with ill intentions. So far, I have done a decent job in doing so, and for that, I have my biological father to thank.
Another thing that I can thank him for is for fueling my need to be independent. The spontaneous switch from co-parenting to only having one frail source of income forced my mother to be independent in a way that she had never been before.
I understood this shift was a travail for my mother. As I grew older and fully comprehended what exactly occurred between my mother and my biological father, my need to be independent grew as well. I decided that I never wanted to have to depend on anyone for anything or be in a predicament where I am struggling to make ends meet to provide for my (future) children.
Throughout my eighth, ninth and tenth-grade year of high school, I chose to sell snacks, such as candy and cookies in school to make money until I was of age to get a job. This venture allowed me to first experience independence because I did not have to rely on anyone for money to go to places or buy things. Since I am 17 years old, I still allow myself to depend on my mother for vital things like food and shelter. However, when it comes to items, such as, clothes and shoes, or going somewhere with friends, I opt to spend my own money.
Furthermore, my strong need to be independent has given me the motivation to excel in my schoolwork. Knowing that performing well in school will enable me to attend a good college to buttress the foundation for my life post-high school, and eventually be successful, motivates me in situations when I lack the desire to finish. For that, I also have my biological father to thank.
Make no mistake, though, I may have missed out on father-daughter events and milestones—which I sometimes wish I had memories of. Not having a father in my life has given me a mindset that could have only been crafted in the wake of his absence. And with this mindset, I will create for myself a life better than the ones my parents lived. The best thing my biological father ever did for me was not being my father, and maybe, one day I will thank him for that.
editor's note: This essay appears in "Discovering Me...Without You: Teen Girls Speak About Father Absence." Copies can be purchased at estherproductionsinc.com/shop