Motherless children have a real hard time.
— Joan Didion, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING
But what about the fatherless?
I grew up not knowing my birth father. He left when I was months old — the above photo was taken around the time he disappeared.
My mother rarely mentioned him. She’d kept only one Polaroid — from their wedding day — but even that was tinged too green for a clear view. His name was Lee Roy, and the only time I thought about him was when I heard the song “Bad, Bad, Lee Roy Brown.” Badder than old King Kong, meaner than a junkyard dog. It’s likely not true, but words (and actions) stick with a person.
As I got older, I was constantly reminded by family members, and later by friends, to be aware of his absence, that I should be wondering about him, curious about my mystery man, that I should look him up. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t,” they’d say. A therapist even warned me to beware of the men I dated, because surely my subconscious would be father-hunting, even if I wasn’t.
With all those years of warnings, I half-expected Lee Roy, or some form of him, to show up in my writing. But no. It seems that while everyone else has been waiting for me to find my father or a father figure, I’ve been lining my path with more and more mothers. Grandmothers and stepmothers and mothers-in-law. A number of teachers from Sister Mary in 8th grade through college professors. My best friends’ mothers — especially Mom B and Myrime — who shriek with delight when I walk in their doors and tear-up when I leave. This list goes on. My mother has been dead almost 10 years, yet I don’t feel completely adrift.
Not long ago I found another mother figure. Aunt Jody. One of Lee Roy’s sisters.
While I still have no interest in a relationship with my father, I admit it was uncomfortably comforting to be welcomed into Aunt Jody’s home. Her home, where she handed me a photo she’d saved. A photo of my mother and me that I’ve never seen before. The photo you see in this post.
Last night I had a dream. I’d finished my book, and on the dedication page I’d written these words: To all of my mothers.