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Our Story Begins: Parental Absence

Our Story Begins:
Parental Absence

There’s something missing from the photo of my family up there, taken over the summer.

It’s not the lack of fancy clothes or a colored background or even the canned smiles that go along with most portrait photography.

There’s a person missing from the photograph.

It doesn’t matter how much things change, how many things I or my four kids might do to make things try to seem as normal as possible, there will always be an absence.  There will be a spot, maybe in the middle there, between a daughter and son . . . or on the outside of the photo, or even in the background or foreground . . . but that spot will always be empty.  I could date, get married again, regardless of how amazing that woman is there will always be one person missing from the family photo.

The kids’ mother will not be there.

I always worried about that hole in the family dynamic.  It’s not just because I was raising the four of them by myself.  I have to be bluntly honest here, I’m not sure if I did it right or wrong.  I cannot say for sure that I got it right and I may never know.  Maybe they’re equipped to go out into the world, or maybe they’ll send me bills for their therapist in about ten years, either is certainly a possibility.

But an article I read talking about a study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood drove home all of my larger fears about being a single dad.  In it, they talked about how a parental absence in early childhood can lead to smoking and drinking at early ages.  While people can tell me, with certainty in their voices, that “you are doing just fine,” there is always part of my brain that has a voice reminding me of a singular fact.  Failure in this particular job, this challenge, this lifetime, has far larger consequences.  My kids lost their mom five years ago.  One was 16, one was 11 (almost 12) and the boys were 7 (just a couple weeks shy of being 8).  The boys, in particular, fall nearly into the age group that the study talks about.

I didn’t need this study to realize the consequences of failure here.  I had seen people, be it as a teen or as an adult, who lost a parent and their lives simply seemed to go off the rails.  Alcohol, drugs, smoking, you name the vice, the draw to withdraw or rebel seemed far more appealing to those kids than the draw to be home.

Whatever my failures, I didn’t want my kids’ legacy to be defined by that absence.

I know I have had misses.  My boys don’t know much about sports.  My kids are only just getting interested in seeing me work on the car or swing a golf club or do the things a lot of kids do.  I didn’t get to doing those “dad” things early on because I was still adjusting to cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, working full-time, and doing as many “dad” things as I could.

So far, though, I have not seen the worst.  Problems, sure, and failures? I’ve had (more than) a few.

I bring this up because absence doesn’t have to just be a death in the family.  I’ve known too many single-parent homes or children of divorce or what have you where there just was one person missing from the equation.  We don’t seem to realize in the throngs of having to do everything that sometimes we don’t do everything well, we have some pretty big misses along the way.

The important part is that we listen, love, and be there when the kids need us to be.  My kids are happy, I think.  I hope that’s enough.  The hardest part is knowing that only time will tell.

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