Today’s guest blogger, Nikki Deleon, is Writer/Designer at Finch Creative and Editor at PhxArt Magazine for The Phoenix Art Museum. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Arizona State and you can find more of her excellent writing at iverbyou.wordpress.com
I have been reading The Dad Letters for awhile. Though I don’t have children of my own yet, I’ve always been a collector of fathers, or more accurately, stories about them.
You see, I never knew my father. He left before I was born, and came back only once. It was a Sunday afternoon, and he showed up at my mother’s front door of her tiny economy apartment near the Susquehanna River. As a single mother living a meager, threadbare existence in a town that had already begun its slow descent into poverty after the loss of steel in that part of the world, she didn’t have much to offer in the way of refreshments for unexpected guests, especially the unexpected arrival of an ex who had abandoned her at 22 with a baby in the middle of rural Western Pennsylvania. She left to go to the market the next town over. She came back 45 minutes later, and my father left. I never saw him again. After that day, he became only the fuzziest of memories, a name my mother never spoke, a story she never told.
Those 45 minutes were the only time that my dad was responsible for what happened to me. A few months after, my mother moved across country to get a new start, and my father married a woman with a child my age, whom he adopted as his own. When his parents died, she was listed as surviving kin, not me. I was erased in the same way that he erased his own existence from the public record of my life; on my birth certificate, where it should say David Pearce, it says Refused.
Years later, when I was 27, my father’s niece contacted me, in one of the kindest letters I’ve ever received. She welcomed me as her cousin, and we made plans to meet. My father expressed interest in meeting me too. Told his niece he knew I lived in Arizona. Seemed amenable to the idea. When I arrived, traveling some three thousand miles, he changed his mind. He said it would be too hard for him.
My story is not particularly unique. The world is full of bad fathers, along with mediocre ones. Comb the blogs and first novels of young writers, and you will find a host of wrongs committed by dad that have forever challenged the self-worth and confidence of beautiful, bright young people, who, if they’d only had a father who believed in them… The world is full of stories of aching if-onlys in the dad department.
This Father’s Day though, I don’t want to give any more time to thinking about those dads. Because to me, this day belongs to fathers of a different kind. Not perfect fathers. Not ones who never make mistakes, because that is a fiction that belongs to 1950s sitcoms, the Ward Cleavers and Andy Taylors who always knew exactly the right thing to say and do. Father’s Day belongs to the kinds of fathers who write a blog comprised of letters to their children. It belongs to those fathers who get up everyday and try again. To the fathers who never say no to a challenge because it might be too hard for them. To the fathers who through their efforts, imbue their children’s lives with such love and care that it sometimes takes my breath away when I come across it.
Limited experience though I have had with fathers, I have never lost my faith in them. I suppose that’s what I want to say most today. All my life I had this idea that if I just gave my dad one more chance, he would surprise me by being the kind of father I had always dreamed of. That if I could just achieve enough, win enough awards, stand out from the crowd and become a credit to him, I could make myself worthy enough of his love, crafting myself into a kind of living, breathing olive branch, stretching across the miles of distance and loss, willing him to grab hold. He never did.
The truth is, when it comes to fathers, the best kind is the one for whom his love for you is never a surprise at all. He is the branch that becomes a bridge that carries you across the worst that may come in life when he can, or waits for you on the other side when he cannot. A father is the one for whom you never have to prove yourself to be worthy of his love. You were born worthy.
It took a long time to let go of the need to twist and turn myself to become something my dad might love. I didn’t get there on my own. I finally got there because I discovered I had fathers all around me. Fathers not by fact of blood, but by choice of heart. The first was my grandfather, who died when I was 13, who wrote me letters every week, who sent me a diamond butterfly ring a few months before he passed to symbolize that I was growing up. He was the first one to read my stories and send back notes of praise and pride, who saved all of my drawings and poems and letters pressed into an album he kept in his nightstand.
After him, there were the friends who mentored me, guided me through life, like my dear friend Manny. My father’s age, he and his wife loved me when I lost everything, my life scarred by near-death and a collapsed lung, paired simultaneously with a collapsed marriage. As I began to rebuild my life, it was Manny, my dad by choice with no children of his own, who helped me move, who coached me for job interviews, who evaluated the men I would date as a newly single woman and tell me honestly when they were good enough and when they weren’t. He was the one my fiancée called to ask for my hand in marriage. He is the one who will take my arm and walk with me down the aisle next spring when I am wed. He is one of the ones who have inspired in me the kind of faith that we can dwell on what we should have but never did, or we can embrace with gratitude what we blessedly do.
I was dealt a raw deal in the dad department, but I have been enriched by the good men who came into my life, and lifted me up when I did not believe I could go on, when I could not see my way clear. Men like my grandfather, like Manny, like my cousin Bobby and my Uncle Bob, and my friends Tony and Malik and Daniel and Josh and Chris and Aaron and Jon and Jed and Rony and Mike and Nate, and, of course, my fiancée Scott, who will, himself, be the kind of father I have always dreamed of providing my children. Men who have been more closely fathers and brothers to me than anyone I might have called such by the simple fact of blood. It is men like these that days like Father’s Day were created for. It is for the men who, like Atticus Finch in my favorite book, do that which no one else has been willing to do, who exhibit the most important quality needed as a father: courage, the kind of courage to press forward, even in the face of your own fear and doubt and uncertainty.
I want to thank them. From a fatherless girl making her own way in this world, I want to thank all of the men out there who are good dads, who are struggling to do the best they can. This day was made for you.
Dad of a beautiful little girl. Husband to an amazing woman. Son and sibling of a perfectly weird and wonderful family.