Throughout my life, events have conspired in such a way that I have grown and developed from boyhood into an adult without a father figure of any substance. Many of the great men in my family; men whose stories I am continually told, had died before I was 10, and others appeared more like friends to me than mentors. As a result, the idea of being grown up and having two parents around seems sort of alien to me. I have to remind myself – yes, in fact many people my age still have their fathers around.
Of course, my story is not unique, nor is it some burden torn from tragic literature. I am aware and thankful for a galaxy of blessings in my life. But – the scars are still there. Wounds and frictions that have hampered me in some ways, strengthened me in others.
I never learned about girls.
I’ve never been smooth around women. Never a Casanova. I’m sure part of this stems from my character, but an equal influence was that I never got to see how men and women interacted in a relationship. From childhood, my house was populated with my mom and her sisters, their female friends and daughters. I was without the examplar of male-as-romantic partner. Sexuality, intimacy, and romance was never part of my upbringing – and I now struggle with that like a second language.
I never learned what a ‘Man’ was
Truly, all positive character traits are manifested through both genders equally, but I pose that there is a certain ineffable quality of “manly virtue” endemic to males. Marcus Aurilius spoke of it, Rudyard Kipling spoke of it. Socrates as well.
Masculinity, virility, honorableness, fortitude. I encountered the elements of the Great Man in abstract. Powerful, initiatory lessons about courage, aggression and restraint were self-taught. I pinned on my own badges.
I know what it’s like to have no Dad
It is a pain that is numbed, but never truly ceases. Anyone who has lost an immediate family member will attest. No more needs to be said, really.
I never learned about girls
I encountered the opposite sex with no toxic prior judgments instilled upon me from a less-than-wise father. No one was there to tell me that girls were less intelligent, less capable, or in any fundamental way ‘different’ than boys. I was never indoctrinated with an ‘us/them’ mentality, or led to believe that women existed solely for the pleasure of men, or for their destruction. With no reference point, other than the powerful female role models in my life, I decided to just treat girls like human beings, and let their characters speak for themselves.
I never learned what a ‘Man’ was
No one ever told me that a ‘Real Man had to be emotionally mute, pety, bigoted, or cruel. I was never given the example that violence equated to power, or that if words don’t work you should use your fists. The memetic liturgy that ‘men don’t cry’ never met my ears – I was never taught to hate people because they had a different sexual orientation to myself. I got to write my own story. I discovered, and decided for myself, what it meant to be a Man in this world.
I know what its like to have no Dad
The painful trial I experienced is now a bridge of connection to every young person living in a one-parent household. I can stand embodied as a testament to what manhood looks like. I can communicate about such fragile things with experience, not assumption. Because I know what its like and I know how it feels and I remember EXACTLY how I felt getting lectured from adults who still had living fathers of their own.
There is a parable from Rumi about an eagle who stole Muhammad’s boot. As it sored into the sky, the boot turned and a poisonous snake fell out into the sand – thus God created a small tribulation to shield the Prophet from a greater one. This is how I see my life without a father. It’s worse than useless to lament over the loss of some romanticized, perfect parental hologram I have created in my mind – pouring all my hopes and aspirations into a phantasm, disempowering my own agency for lack of “proper upbringing”. That’s bullshit. Perhaps in another life, I would have had to deal with emotional baggage delivered to me by a terrible father – a situation which far too many people have to struggle with.
Sure, there was no one there to show me how to do it right, but there was also no one there to show me how to do it wrong.