When I was little I snuck into my mom’s bedroom and looked at my baby book. I probably didn’t have to sneak, but when I was little and felt awkward asking permission I just did it anyway and was very careful about it. My mom kept it in the bottom of her armoire, probably because she never totally finished putting it together, but it was only a piece of paper in the front cover that interested me: a page resembling a birth certificate with my name, birthdate and parents’ names.
I was specifically interested in the line marked “Father.”
This was me at the peak of my wonder surrounding my father, a mystery man I could shape and build into whatever I wanted because I was never going to meet him anyway. Since I never knew him I had nothing to remember him by and without knowing the reasons for his absence, there was nothing to dilute my fantasies of him. Knowing his name was just a bonus. He could be Jason Bourne’ing it up somewhere. He could be an asshole who made promises he didn’t intend to keep. He could be a political figure whose career would be tanked by the appearance of an “illegitimate” daughter. He could be from an alien planet.
I admit the last one’s a stretch, but the opportunities are endless.
Still it’s more likely he’s just a dude named George who slept with my mom and didn’t want a kid because we cost too much or ask for too much or are just annoying.
Some people hear “fatherless and think “daddy issues”. That I’m going to spend my whole life searching for a man to fill the void George left, that I’m going to find it in emotionally unavailable men who won’t stick around (just like him). That I’ve been irrevocably damaged by a man I never met and who doesn’t know me, but the truth is I don’t think of George much anymore.
I confess to thinking of George only occasionally and in only one scenario: him emerging from the abyss guilt ridden and desperate for a familial relationship, willing to pay off all my student loan debt to get it. I also confess that George is very near the bottom of my Names I Wish Were My Absentee Father’s list. Maybe this unfortunate naming is what led my interest in him to fade.
Once I had his name and did an unhelpful internet search, my response to my mysterious father was a resounding “meh.” My initial curiosity was replaced by ambivalence which I credit to my mom and grandparents and their skill at making me forget I was fatherless. For a blissful period I was unaware of the disadvantages that come with single parenthood because my mom and grandparents made those disadvantages invisible to me. Hints of struggle only peeked through as my extraordinarily thrifty mom put me through private school from Kindergarten through high school (with the help of financial aid), and she helped with college, too. I had nice clothes, maybe not the popular brands but good clothes nonetheless. I got braces, glasses, and eventually a car from my grandpa.
Though I knew I didn’t have father, it never occurred to me that I needed one.
Not for lack of trying. I’ve done the soul searching. I even talked to a counselor about it in middle school. I tried to make myself care about this, at least so I could wring a college admissions essay out of it, but it never took. I officially didn’t care the Father’s Day cards I passed out were for my grandfather and uncles, not for my actual father. I didn’t care that I didn’t have someone to take to the Father/Daughter dance (I heard it was boring anyway). I viewed other girls and their dads like a quirky character trait, like “Oh look she has a dad. That’s cute.”
I was remarkably privileged for a kid without a dad, and I still am. I don’t doubt that it was hard for my mom, and she had help where some single moms don’t. I didn’t feel the sting of a missing father because I had a present mother and grandparents determined to help where they could. My mom didn’t struggle to find childcare because my grandparents did it for free. She could go out with friends or go on trips because my grandparents had plenty of room for me. Sometimes she didn’t even need to buy me anything because my grandparents spoiled me.
My mom continues to be generous with her time and money, still buying me things just because she thinks I may like them (and returning them if I don’t), taking some time off work to help me move out of my apartment, calling to tell me when Beyonce tickets go on sale and feeding me when I’m hungry.
This isn’t always the case for kids raised by single parents, but neither is the downtrodden, struggle bus narrative that some people (particularly in politics) like to attach to single motherhood (especially single black motherhood). The idea that children raised by single moms are permanently damaged because we were raised by women alone, that if everyone just had fathers in their lives we’d beat teen pregnancy, eradicate gun violence, end world hunger, stop terrorism, find the answer to global warming, and solve the rest of the world’s problems.
Who knew George had so much power?
This made me fiercely protective of single mothers like mine who do the work absentee dads can’t or won’t do. George, while I don’t hate or resent him for his absence, is almost a nonentity. He’s a character in a book I haven’t read, a movie I haven’t seen, and I fantasize as much about him paying off my loans (that would be incredible) as I do the federal government simply getting rid of them (also incredible). But I get it: some men don’t want kids. We’re expensive and require a lot of attention, and some people don’t want that. I don’t know if I want that.
But on the (extremely) rare occasions I picture myself with children, they don’t have fathers either. Not because I don’t wish for a partner but because whatever flaws I (and plenty of other kids raised by single moms) have, we’re living proof fathers aren’t always a necessity. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice (because damn kids are irritating and someone else should help with that), but I’d probably be okay without.
It wouldn’t be easy all the time, maybe any of the time, but I’ve seen what can come from a mother minus a George: me.
And I like it.