When you picture a typical American family, what do you see? For most people, you probably imagine two parents, a mother, and father, and a few children. But, for the millions of U.S. children living in a fatherless home, this isn’t what reality looks like at all. As the daughter of a single mother, life hasn’t always been the easiest, but the things I’ve learned in my eighteen years with an absent father will serve me for the rest of my life.
First of all, I’m thoroughly convinced that my mom (and all single moms) are superheroes. She doesn’t have x-ray vision (well, at least I hope she doesn’t), and she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a cape. But, the sacrifices my mother made so I could have a healthy childhood and bright future should earn her a spot next to Superwoman. Watching her balance her career as a professor with the responsibilities of both a mother and father for eighteen years was nothing short of incredible; every elementary school drop-off and pick-up, every recital, every breakdown over a boy, she was there. Looking back on my childhood, I can honestly say that her support got me through some of the most difficult times of my life.
But, sometimes life isn’t fair. Even though my mom is fantastic, at times it felt like there was something missing. I tried not to let it bother me, but seeing pictures of my friends at father-daughter dances and watching them play catch with their dads sparked a little bit of resentment. Why couldn’t I do those things? What was wrong with me? In reality, it wasn’t my fault. It’s impossible to dictate another person’s actions or thoughts, and there was no way I could go back in time to change my dad’s mind about me. As unfortunate as it is, sometimes life will hand you a setback, and all you can do is try your hardest to make the best of it.
And, that’s okay. As a fatherless child, you quickly learn the importance of personal strength and emotional resilience. It makes you realize that there won’t always be someone to pick you up when you fall. The heavy lifting isn’t going to be done for you forever. Because of this, I am motivated to do my very best to learn from my mistakes, think critically, and improve myself as a way to make up for the life lessons my dad wasn’t able to teach me.
However, even when you are doing your best, the judgments of others can sometimes bring you down. If you’re a young woman living without a father, you’ve probably heard the phrase “daddy issues.” Girls whose fathers are not present in your life are often stereotyped as emotionally unstable and promiscuous, doomed to live a life pining for the attention of men to fill an invisible “hole” in their heart instead of pursuing their goals. This assumption has been one of the greatest frustrations I have faced as an adolescent; while this can be true for some young women, for the majority of fatherless girls I know are driven, loyal, and goal oriented, and they do not deserve to be judged by a family situation they cannot control.
That leads me into perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from having an absent father; I cannot control everything. While it would have been great to have my dad present in my life, there was honestly nothing I could do about it. As a “type-A” individual who often finds herself trying to manage every situation she’s in, coming to this realization was tough for me. Sure, I could reach out to him in hopes of forming a relationship, but even then, I couldn’t force him to respond. However, I’m glad I learned this lesson young. I’m able to understand when an essay I worked hard on and thought was error-free receives a less-than-ideal grade. I’m ready for the day that I go into a job interview, confident that I’ll get the position, and get rejected. Being told “no” is going to happen.
While I could dwell on the negatives of not having a father in my life, I prefer to look at the situation as a blessing in disguise. Because of my situation, I have the opportunity to defy damaging stereotypes, improve myself, and relate to the millions of other people who are part of families like mine. I can be compassionate and understanding to those who are struggling with the daily challenges of not having a dad in their life. And just maybe, I can help someone to understand that being fatherless doesn’t mean they are any less valid than someone in a typical nuclear family. To me, that’s worth a few missed games of catch.