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A Different Kind of Father’s Day

A Different Kind of Father’s Day

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I’ve lived through 9,855 Father’s Days, and I’m not 9,855 years old.

There was that first one, 27 years ago, when he left. I was two months old.

Then there was the smattering of times he promised to visit or call. Those were the ones spent waiting, hoping and, usually, disappointed.

There were the times he showed up, and then I wished he hadn’t.

There was the bat mitzvah he didn’t acknowledge, the 27 birthdays he “forgot,” the graduations he didn’t come to.

There were the times he showed up, and then I wished he hadn’t.

There were the report cards he didn’t read, the friends he didn’t meet, the awards he didn’t know about.

There was the homework he didn’t help with, the “father-daughter” events he wasn’t around for, and the yearly elementary school Father’s Day cards I made for no one.

There was the year he started a new family—and didn’t tell us.

There was the day he called for the first time in three years and then fell off the radar for another two.

And then there was The Last Visit, although I didn’t know that at the time. I was ten.

These were my Father’s Days.

But then there were all the days in between. Endless days of anxious wondering if and when he would show up. There were months of convincing myself that I didn’t want to see him—I just wanted him to want me, and years of wondering why he didn’t.

This was my childhood. A constant wish that he would call, and a simultaneous fear that he might. Years of uncomfortably explaining his obvious absences with “My parents are divorced,” knowing full well that divorced parents can still be involved in their children’s lives.

There was Shabbat with no man to sing Shalom Aleichem and say kiddush. There was Simchat Torah, watching the fathers dancing with the Torahs in the synagogue and knowing there was no one there for me. The sting of watching my brothers looking lost in the men’s section—the only boys on their own—and knowing I couldn’t help them. The longing to join all the other little girls and boys congregating under their I’d see a father playing with his children and feel a deep stabbing pain.fathers’ tallits during birkat kohanim (the special priestly blessing). The menorahs he didn’t light, the Purim costumes he never saw, and the Pesach Seders where I asked the four questions to no one but G‑d—and I didn’t feel too attached to Him, because of all the father metaphors I couldn’t relate to.

And most of all, there was the daily ache.

I’d see a father playing with his children and feel a deep stabbing pain. A friend would mention asking her father for advice, and I’d feel jealousy running through my veins. I could easily end up in tears by reading a children’s book about happy families. I got angry every time I heard G‑d compared to a father who loves His children no matter what, because to me the comparison was inaccurate. I lay in bed at night wishing he knew how much he’d hurt me.

I dreamed up ways I could hurt him. I wrote him angry letters I never sent. He occupied so much space in my mind and in my heart, that every day was Father’s Day. But he wasn’t thinking about me.

The knowledge that my own father—someone supposedly biologically programmed to love me unconditionally—had rejected and abandoned me was unbearable. I wondered what could possibly be so wrong with me that he wouldn’t want me. Every day he stayed away, I was abandoned all over again.

But things have crystallized, and it’s time for a change.

I’ve come to realize that he didn’t reject me because I was damaged; I am damaged because he rejected me. And I can fix that.

Someone who cares so little, who has spent less than 15 days of my life with me, doesn’t deserve 9,855 days of my He certainly doesn’t deserve to hold so much power over me.attention. He certainly doesn’t deserve to hold so much power over me, my relationships and my self-perception. He hasn’t earned the right to feature in my thoughts, mess with my emotions and interfere with my religious observance.

So this year, I’m observing the real Father’s Day for the first time, albeit unconventionally.

This year, I’ll be grieving for the father I never had and for that important male relationship I’ve missed out on. But he missed out too. He missed out on knowing me—as a child and as an adult. He missed out on having me as a daughter. He’s missed the opportunity to enjoy parental pride, and for that I pity him.

Will I always feel some sadness for my fatherlessness? I’m sure I will.

But from now on, he is banished from my thoughts, except when I choose to let him in. He’s had too much power for far too long.

It’s time to say goodbye.

Reprinted with permission from the N’shei Chabad Newsletter.

Reprinted with permission from N’shei Chabad Newsletter, a magazine for Jewish women around the world that is published five times a year.
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Helen Dudden Saltford April 8, 2014

I agree with the last post. We should respect those we care for. All through history, there has been times that are demanding of ourselves and hopefully, we can remember what we believe.

Passover is a special time. Reply

Sarah Lia April 5, 2014

Thank you Thank you Abby Stein and Chabad.org for this article. I came here looking for some pre-Passover comfort. The holidays are hard for those of us with troubled families. Your article helped me at this difficult time. Thank you. Reply

Helen Dudden UK June 28, 2013

Children who have sadness. I work on the issue, and write on the subject. In the past, I would never have known how this feels, how a child can grieve, feel responsible for a broken relationship.

I personally find it difficult that anyone can ignore their child, but it happens, so we keep working, to make it understood the pain that is felt by a child. Reply

Abby Stein (Author) June 21, 2013

Thank you Thank you, everyone, for your wonderfully supportive comments.

Wishing you all hope and healing and happiness. Reply

Anonymous Israel September 13, 2017
in response to Abby Stein (Author):

Hi. Unfortunately i have the same relationship with my father and now my son is "following the tradition". May we all find healing and love. Reply

Anonymous Cedarhurs , N.Y. via chabadfivetowns.com June 21, 2013

Well written It is very interesting to read how fatherlessness affected you. I also grew up without a father, but I never knew him at all, since he died in one of the camps during the holocaust. I felt many times, as you did, the ache of not knowing what it was like to have father on those occasions when it is so important to have a father around. Your story is even sadder than mine, since you knew he was choosing to not visit and develop a connection to you.
Thank you for sharing your story. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY via chabadgn.com June 20, 2013

Fathers, bad, worse, worser My heart goes out to all of you had with missing or deficient fathers. And, not to denigrate or belittle that painful experience, chas v'shalom., That kind of loss, is surely preferable to a sexually or physically abusive father. So, some of you can tanhk your lucky stars. Reply

Anonymous June 20, 2013

Thank You!! Reading your story touched me deeply. It was as if i was reading my own story. My father lives abroad and has another family there. Years of on and off communication seems always to break off eventually. He came to visit me when I was 24, the first time I met him. After that, a couple of years' silence again. It is sometimes hard for me to grieve, even much harder to let go, say goodbye. I admire you for your courage and the growth that G-d has turned your suffering into. Reply

Sarah WB, MI, USA via baischabad.com June 19, 2013

to anon in toronto Don't justify abandonment. State the facts, without any emotion. "No, your father is not going to be at your siddur party." After the fact is out is the time to have emotions. "I know you are hurt, and miss him. I also think he should be there. But we cannot control your Daddy, we cannot make him come."

It is sad that so many men seem to think that divorcing their wives divorces them from the responsibilities of parenthood.

I also think that the children should have someone who steps in to be a role model in place of the missing parent. Grandparents, uncles/aunts, older cousins, even trusted family friends, need to offer to do this. If they don't offer, ask, they may not know how to offer! The Big Brother/Big Sister organizations also have people ready to offer to have this relationship. Reply

Miriam Toronto June 19, 2013

Thank you for writing this! I had my father around while I was growing up but since my parents began a very nasty divorce 4 years ago... and for many years before that...he was basically MIA emotionally. Now, he barely acknowledges things like my engagement and won't be at my wedding. Despite that, I am incredibly torn since I want that father who can be a grandfather to my children and know that he will never be that.

You have so much strength to share and remind those of us going through, or who have gone through, a similar situation, that we are not alone, that we can survive and most importantly, that we will come out stronger on the other side.

Thank you! Reply

Michael Rudmin Portsmouth, Va June 18, 2013

To the fatherless, says Hashem, #I# will be a father. Keep that in mind. You can have access to Him like few others do. Pray and ask Him how. Reply

Huge Abby Stein Fan BROOKLYN June 18, 2013

important book! i want to recommend a book for people like us - with dads who abandoned or rejected us
it's called "The Healing Is Mutual" written by dr. deb hirschhorn
it helped me understand my tendency to recreate the abandonment scenario, and how to stop doing it.
very important. not enough to say "i'm thru with him" we also have to be thru with doing to ourselves what he did to us. Reply

Anonymous Merion, PA June 18, 2013

men can feel this too So similar a story to my own. Thank you for wording it so beautifully. Every time he showed up I swore I wouldn't fall for it again but love is strong and I started to love him (while still feeling better when he was gone ironically) again... right before the next time he'd disappear. Yes, stories about fathers and sons make me very sad. Seeing a dad with his arm around a teenage son can put me in a downward spiral. It's had to keep getting up. I am tremendously thankful for a wonderful wife, wonderful daughters, a good therapist and a wonderful Chabad community. The pain is there when I see the above but I just turn to the light of all that is good in the here and NOW and I am very very thankful. Thank you for expressing this. Reply

Anonymous USA June 18, 2013

The Absent Father I had one for a short time in my life. But it was traumatic. My childhood growing up was traumatic. But now I have a real Father. The One no body can take away from me. And He is the One I will spend Eternity with. Although the painful past. A new life is starting now. At 65 years of age, I never thought it could happen...
Baruch Hashem! Reply

Anonymous m.m. June 18, 2013

Many childhoods have environments which cause depression and anxiety. False identiifications by the child are made and all needs to be rearranged and redefined in adulthood.
Most of us are all damaged goods in one way or another. Some of us are blessed to recognize that we are all damaged goods in the eyes of the soul creator, father, who is perfect. We are not perfect.
G-D's invisible love is the opposite of your invisible father's behavior. G-D is the only One allowed to have an invisible presence.
You are brave to remember the pain as it was your life and this life is yours to cherish.I am sure you can find a visible father in G-d. Maybe this is what G-d wants from you to teach him how to be a visible father to the fatherless, the orphans.
I would imagine a journey without a father would be a very painful life for a child as you described. You must have a deep appreciation for all of us who had fathers and did not always cherish and honor the dad's, kindness or mistakes. Reply

Anonymous June 18, 2013

Parental Alienation I am sorry about your situation. I hope that does not jade you and make you think that all men are like that, because they certainly are not. I had a wonderful father, and my stepsons have been alienated from their father, who is a wonderful human being and father to our girls. All he wants is to be a part of their lives, but unfortunately his ex wife destroyed the relationship because she is bitter and angry. This happens so often in this age of 50% divorce rate, and the system allows it to happen. I hope you have a family of your own some day, and if G-d forbid it does not work out....please encourage and support the relationship with their father. Reply

Susan Texas June 18, 2013

Better some fathers are absent I am very sorry to hear of your loss. Not having a father is certainly a loss for some and a blessing for others. We can't presume he would have been a good father. My hubby grew up with being beaten (not spanked) by his father often even over the smallest thing and due to the actions of his siblings. He went on to be a 21 year Vet from the Army and never laying a hand on his children (one not biologically his) who have completely abandoned him. Perhaps you were spared a man who would have been a bad father doing far more damage. Some parents have to suffer abandonment by their children.
I have two half sisters who didn't have our dad. The youngest had a good stepdad and the oldest's mother died from an accident when my sister was about 15 years old. You might imagine how she suffered without either parent.
Sadly, they think it was a bed of roses for me, but it not always was. No one's life is. Forgiveness is the key to healing. Aren't we forgiven and cared for by G-d? Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield, MI, USA via baischabad.com June 18, 2013

Wow, how very well written.

I wish you success in the future, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Reply

Lael Davis Chicagoland June 17, 2013

Things Happen for a Reason G-d would never put you in this situation unless it was necessary. It happened for a reason. Perhaps it is so that you can help a particular person or group. You may recognize the reason why or you may not. The important thing is that you trust G-d and live your life well well joyfully. It sounds to me like you have reached that point now. Good Luck! Reply

Anonymous Ohio June 17, 2013

Thank you!!!!!!, Beautifully written. You are certainly not alone in not having the perfect father - mine , along with my mother, abused me relentlessly.

Kudos to Chabad for acknowledging that not all Jewish families are wonderful and filled with happiness. Thank G-d that somehow, we manage to retain our faith despite not understanding why we suffered so much more than so many kids. Best of everything to you. Reply

Anonymous Atlanta June 17, 2013

So amazing. I have never heard anything that could so perfectly describe my own experience as a child. I didn't have the 15 visits. I had nothing. Nothing but that same daily abandonment, rejection and fantasizing that he really did want me. That he would come to find me someday. And he would finally see what a fabulous, beautiful girl I really was. I too lived with the knowledge he had started another family.They had him, but not me. Years of healing later and a beautiful family of my own, I still work on keeping my perspective clean. Your article moved more of that old wound out if my body. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Reply