Growing without a father, growing as a man

Somewhere in a gated community in the upscale suburbs of Wilmington, Del. lives a man I have never met. I’ll call him S. He met my mom in 1992. She was 32 and her “biological clock was ticking,” as it is commonly said. 

My mom would frequent nightclubs in her ‘20s and ‘30s, never wanting to truly accept the fact that her youth was quickly fading. It was during one of her nights out in the summer of 1992 that my mom met S. I believe the club was called Pulsations, a favorite among middle-aged partiers from its opening in 1983 until its demise in ‘95. My mom and S. maintained a romantic relationship for a little more than a year. During this year, S. never found the right opportunity to introduce my mom to his wife and two children. His “dilemma” got worse in 1993 when he found out my mother had a child on the way.

S. was furious when he found out my mom wanted to keep the child, so he vanished a few days later. My mom wanted to name the child Michael, in honor of her uncle who died of leukemia at age 28. S.’s wife ultimately learned of the affair as my mom’s demands for child support became too much for S. to hide. Miraculously, S. and Mrs. S. are still married to this day.

S. is my father. He is one of the most important people in my life. The lessons that my friends and family have given me have undoubtedly led me down the path toward becoming a responsible and respectable adult, but they’re nowhere near as influential as what I have learned from my father. The greatest lessons I have learned are not from those who tell me the right things to do, but rather from the man who has shown me the opposite of who I should be as a man, a father and a member of society.

With every action I take, I am constantly aware of the actions of my father. Since I became old enough to understand my father’s character, I have set out to become the opposite of him.

I am in no way attempting to depict myself as an individual without flaw. What I am trying to prove is that my awareness of my father’s mistakes helps me avoid situations where I would treat others poorly and work to become a better person when I inevitably do make a mistake.

Because my mom eventually married in 2000, I was only deprived of a father figure for six years. However, those six years were confusing. I lived with my mother and grandmother in a row home in Upper Darby, Pa. It was difficult to make friends in that neighborhood or have playdates. It was also difficult for me at that age to understand why there was no father in my life.

My mom worked full-time to support her mother and me while we lived in Upper Darby, so I spent the majority of my days with my grandmother. As a result, my relationship with my grandmother was much stronger than the relationship most children develop with theirs. It is safe to say that during those impressionable years, she was my best friend. Her death in 2007 was especially traumatic for me because we had lived together my entire life. It was difficult to adjust to life without her since I had woken up to her smile every day for 13 years. In a world without a father, she acted as my second mom.

I often contemplate how my life would be different if my father was single when he met my mom. Naturally, I always first consider the ways in which my life could have been better.

I imagine living in his massive house in Delaware rather than our row home. I imagine being able to spend more time with my mom because she would have had the luxury of working less. I imagine how simple it would be to not have to explain why my mother and I have different last names. I imagine things as simple as having a father to read me bedtime stories until I fell asleep.

Then I consider the ways in which my life could have been much worse as a result. And it is these reasons that make me glad that things worked out the way they did. I imagine my life without the strong presence of my grandmother, who likely would have moved out had S. and my mother gotten married. I imagine my life without my stepfather, who has treated me like his own. I imagine my life without the lessons I have learned from the people closest to me. I imagine how different circumstances may have changed the person I am today.

I will never know what life would be like had my father not deserted my family. I frequently consider the scenarios I mentioned, but I ultimately find peace in the life I live now. It is pointless to consider the alternatives because the events of my life have shaped the person I am and the personality I have. I am happy with the way things were, the way things are now and the way things will be.

Michael Carney can be reached at michael.carney@temple.edu.

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