Courtesy of Candace Ganger

What My Son Should Know About My Estranged Parent

For most of my adult life, I searched for my biological father. To this day, he remains an imprint; an image of a man I store in my mind, but it's not weighted enough to ground me to the reality that I'll never see him again. If anything, I cling tight to a false hope I might find all the answers I need, someday. Of the things I'll tell my son about my estranged parent when he eventually asks, the most important is how I'll sooner die than let him feel the void I've carried as a result of not having my father in my life.

I remember bits of him from early childhood and, honestly, those blips of memory continue to fade with time. I was raised by my mother and a father who claimed me as his own (whom I called, and continue to call, dad). However, as the dark girl with the dark hair, I'd always been the outlier, especially after the birth of my blonde-haired, blue-eyed brother. I longed for a sense of belonging, but never quite found it. Those few memories I have of my biological father aren't enough to sustain me. He was a shadow, lurking behind the curtains to watch me grow from afar, but didn't muster the courage to fight for rights to me. It's something that burns me to this day.

The last time I saw this man — a stranger — I was in high school. He never explained what kept him away, so I decided not to pursue the relationship any further. It was a difficult decision, because there was so much about me I needed to know and I believed he held the answers. Later, I found out the night we reunited was the day he had been diagnosed with a cancer that would kill him a few years later. It's a fact I wouldn't discover until I was pregnant with my son, whom I planned to name after him. He died at 44 years old, four years before I searched for him again. Listed in the obituary as his only child? Me.

There's a lot of pain that fills me in the creases of this journey. Things I'd rather forget, things I wish I could know, and mostly, all the things he took to the grave that I will never know. About my colorful heritage. My family history and his experiences that led to the discovery of the cancer (will I get it, too?). So much was left unsaid and undetermined when he went and, now, I'm forever trapped in an aftermath of what ifs.

The details of his absence are relatable. He didn't have a steady job and couldn't provide. My mom, and the man I call dad, did what was best at the time and not knowing the internal restlessness I'd feel in being "misplaced." I always felt as though something was missing, so when I grew old enough to know the truth, it became clear. The thing that was missing was the kind, compassionate man with the dark skin and dark hair whose laugh still echoes between my thoughts.

As a grown woman and parent myself, I understand why certain choices were made. Still, I continue to struggle with the acceptance of it all. Maybe because, with his death, it's so final and I can never receive what I'm after. However, I know one day my boy, who is named after my father, will ask questions. Questions I'm ready to answer because, if anything, my children deserve to know their heritage, their family history, and their mother's journey to get to where she is now.

I Know Little About Him...

I wish I could sit my kids down, especially my son, and tell them everything about my father. Unfortunately, I only have the basics. Those facts aren't enough for me, so I worry they'll feel the same way. In knowing so very little about my own father, it's a constant reminder of how very little I know about myself.

...Except That I Am His

When my son eventually asks about my father (my 10-year-old daughter already knows the basics), I'll be honest: I don't know much about the man, other than I'm his. I know he lived in another country where he taught English to Polish students, married, had no other children, and loved to bake. As far as what kind of father he would've been, I can't say, and that's the hardest truth I know.

He Chose Not To Be There...

The way the story goes, my absent father left on his own choosing. There were times, as I've heard, he threatened to fight for me, but ultimately, didn't. The bottom line is, and no matter what excuse he could've given, he was just gone.

...But I Believe It Was Out Of Love

Perhaps my father was absent because of money or other, more important commitments. Because of all the great things I've heard about the man, I've tried to see this decision from every angle. Whether it was wrong or right, I have to believe he left me out of love. Maybe he assumed I'd have a better life with a working father, married to my mother, or maybe he wasn't ready for the responsibility.

My only peace is to hope he was absent because he loved me so much, he knew the best thing to do was let me go. That's all I have, so I'll hold it close.

It Was His Loss...

My biological father missed some pretty great highlights in my life. Marriage, career highlights, high school dramas and recoveries. However, when I think of all he missed out on, I can't help but parlay that into all my dad (who raised me) experienced because of it. I can't say my childhood was the best, and a lot of that has to do with the very things I'm writing about, but I do know I'm not to blame.

...But Mine, Too

I missed out on so much more than he did because, along with physical absence, I had to deal with a never-ending fear of abandonment, insecurity, attachment, and detachment issues. Because of his absence, I've been in a lot of therapy. I have anxiety and suffered through depression for as long as I can remember. He created holes in me that didn't have to be there. For this, I ache. Every day.

There's A lot I Don't Know...

I don't know what kind of cancer my father died from, why I was named in the obituary when he couldn't bring himself to be in my life, or if I'm a genetic risk of dying from the very same illness. I worry about these things, and the worst part is that I can never know the answers. If my father could die so young, will I? How do I explain these things to my son?

...And Never Will

Answers about my paternal grandparents lives, my father's medical history, and everything I've ever wanted to know about a man who's been a ghost my entire life, will float in front of me without liberation. They've become part of me now.

I Wish I Could Change The Past...

If I could go back, I'd have sought my father out sooner. After high school, when we parted ways and he died soon after, I wish we'd stayed in touch. At the time, there was still too much hurt I couldn't get past. If only I'd known I wouldn't get another chance, maybe I'd have done things differently.

I want my son to know that tomorrow isn't guaranteed. I want him to seize the moment as he has it because, otherwise, he may end up wallowing in regret just as I have.

...But I'll Protect The Future

My husband and I are committed to staying together for the rest of our lives. We've had some bumps, as most marriages do, but we've also worked hard to prevail. When I talk to my son (or daughter) about my absent father, I'll reassure him he'll never go through what I did. He'll always belong, always know who he is and where he came from, and never have to wonder why one of his parents chose not to be there.

I Forgive Him...

It's taken a long time to get to a place of forgiveness. Even now, I forgive my father for choosing not to be in my life, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. If I could pretend he never existed, maybe it would ease the pain, but it would also negate my existence entirely. To hold onto the anger is to say I'm a mistake, but to forgive him is to acknowledge I'm here for a reason.

...But I'll Miss Him Forever

No matter what I say about my father, and no matter how much I try to move forward, there won't be a day I won't wonder what could've been. I'll miss that scenario until the day I die.

I want my son to know that forgiveness and letting go doesn't have to mean forgetting. I won't forget my father that left, and I won't forget the pain I endured as I tried to find my place without him. I also won't forget that despite my heritage, I'm my own person, and I won't be defined by his absence in my life. I'll be defined by my presence in the lives of my children.