I didn’t know my father very well, which really means, I didn’t know him.
He and my mother divorced when I was an infant and I only saw him once, when I was 5.
It was not easy, growing up the child of a single mom back then. Divorce was not common and if it was, the divorced parties were treated somewhat like lepers.
It never bothered me that I didn’t have my father around. It’s hard to miss what you never had.
“Sudie doesn’t have a daddy,” I heard a classmate say at my birthday party one year.
I froze. What did that mean exactly? To not have a daddy? I had to have had a daddy, Mama wasn’t an amoeba.
“No, she doesn’t,” a friend replied. “She has something better; she has her Pop and her Uncle Bobby.”
What I had was in many ways better. I had two male family members in my life who thought the sun rose and set with me.
My grandfather thought I could do no wrong and was my biggest fan, even bigger than my own mother. If anyone adored me and would have moved Heaven and Earth for this old girl, it was that man.
My uncle was in Vietnam when my parents divorced.
Mama wrote her younger brother and told him she was getting a divorce and may need some help. Somehow, Bobby was able to come home, and I had the luxury of having an Army sergeant as my frequent babysitter.
He is the champion pig-raiser, rescuer of just about every stray in a tri-county area and the wisest person I know, as he urged me to eat my hot fudge sundae before the burger in my kids’ meal from Dairy Queen.
I never felt like anything was missing. But that was just me.
My husband didn’t know his father growing up either. Or rather, he knew him, but there wasn’t a relationship.
What he would have given to have him to throw a ball with, to have had taught him how to do things, but he didn’t.
We women often give men a pretty hard time. Some of it is justified – hello, mansickness anyone? But there are still those rare, few men who not only make it a point to be present, but that care for their families, their friends.
That man may not be the biological father; may not be a blood relative even, but may be the one who takes on the role of the father. The one who is there when that child, or whoever it is, needs them to be.
I think Mama must have known it was going to be tough to raise a child on her own, and this was before she had any inkling of how stubborn I can be. That’s why she wrote Bobby and asked him to come home.
Did she know that it would be his quiet, gentle mannerisms that could stifle my most dramatic outbursts? Or that he would be the one who would keep me well stocked in school supplies throughout my undergraduate degree because he knew his only niece has a thing for pretty pencils, nice pens and college ruled multi-sectioned notebooks.
Did she know that my grandfather would be the one to teach me how to defend myself?
“What do you do if someone grabs you, Lil ‘Un?” he asked me. “Scream,” I answered. “Really, really loud.”
“Lawd have mercy (really, he said bad words, he was Irish, but I can’t put them here). No. You kick them – here,” he gave a swift kick to demonstrate where to aim. “And then you punch them hard when they go down.”
Not sure that would really work, but he wanted to make sure his only granddaughter knew a few rudimentary and primal techniques of protection. He also taught me how to size people up based on the way they treated animals, made eye contact and shook my hand.
Most importantly, he taught me how I should expect to be treated, which I remind Lamar of on a daily, possibly hourly, basis.
I am sure Mama knew they both would adore me, but that’s not always a given just because there’s a kinship.
Being bound by blood doesn’t necessarily mean those people will truly care about the child.
When Father’s Day comes, there will be a lot of mothers who are filling both roles and doing a dang fine job of it. And there will also be some stepdads, some uncles, some grandfathers, and some single mom’s best guy friend who are quietly, lovingly and without celebration filling those gaps as well.