I have spent half my life mad at my daddy. My first memory is of him and my mother telling my siblings and I they were getting a divorce. I think I was three. My next memory is of him telling me he would be suing my mother for custody of the older two but not me because I was the youngest and a girl, so he wouldn’t win if he fought for me too. (As it turned out, he didn’t win custody of any of us.)
In the beginning we would visit him often: every weekend… holidays… summer vacation. As the years progressed, however, my visits became less and less frequent. I don’t remember any phone calls. What I do remember is my mother struggling to make ends meet and complaining that daddy would not pay his court ordered child support. When I was seventeen, mommy was finally able to garnish his paycheck and get some of the child support she was fighting for all those years. At that point, I pretty much stopped hearing from daddy altogether.
Let’s be clear. Daddy was around. We all lived with him for about six months when I was 9. My sister and brother would live with him again after that but I stayed with mommy until college. By my teenage years I almost never saw him. My brother had started living with him (whole other story). My sister had her own apartment. Daddy would visit my sister often. My sister lived two blocks away from me.
Daddy did not visit me.
Daddy was not at my high school graduation… or my college graduation… or my law school graduation. And he missed pretty much every event in between. I don’t remember any phone calls just to say I love you and every attempt at relationship ended in him either throwing me out of his house or with me feeling rejected and abandoned again.
My daddy is not an inarticulate man. He has been highly educated my entire life having obtained a master’s degree in the seventies. He obtained a PhD from the University of Michigan when I was sixteen. He has been a community activist my whole life. As a college professor and later a college dean – he has a long list of students and colleagues who call him mentor or counselor and who attribute the success in their lives to his attention and encouragement. By all accounts he is a successful black man.
I am his youngest daughter. He was not successful to me.
I am his youngest daughter… but I am no longer young. Life – and a season married to a man with similar traits – has taught me that daddy’s behavior wasn’t because he didn’t care about me or didn’t love me. In fact, they weren’t about me at all. It was because he just did not know how to show up as “daddy.” He knew how to be a community leader. He knew how to be an educator. He even knew how to be a provider. But a daddy? Not so much.
As a black man coming up in the civil rights era, being degraded was an everyday occurrence for Daddy. And because he was a dark-skinned man born to a dark-skinned man life was not giving him many breaks. Add to that the death of his mother and separation from his beloved stepfather at the age of ten (and if I’m really being honest… add to that me: a strong-willed daughter who refused to just do it his way) and the not-so-young me can see why it was easier for daddy to just not show up at all.
But daddy needed me as much as I needed him. He just didn’t know how to show up. I believe he wanted to. I believe he knew that-as the daddy-it was his job to provide for me; that it was his job to protect me. I also believe daddy knew how important he was to my realization of my own power… to my own identity and validation. I believe he knew he would be my barometer for how I would require other men to show up for me in the future. That I would look to him for my value and self-worth. We all do. We all need “daddies” to show up for us. And I believe all daddies want to show up for every relationship they value: their wives, their careers, their communities…
If daddies-whether biological or not – knew how to show up authentically for those closest to them, they would see the positive impact of the power they inherently hold and realize they are perfect just the way they were created to be. They would stop sabotaging relationships-both personal and business- and instead take back the power they hold to positively impact the world around them-including the one inside their own homes.
So, this letter is not to tell you that I’ve spent half my life mad at my daddy, but to tell you that I see the “daddy” in every man out there trying to show up for their family. This letter is to tell you that I know you love your children, your family, and your community. That I know you know that when you do show up, your family will be transformed… your communities will be transformed… and more importantly, YOU will be transformed… into the version of yourself we all need… and the one you always knew existed.