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.
something is happening here. i like it when you write about these things.
i just read this (“just” as in, i read it and immediately got up to email it to you then saw your post in my inbox):
“Agapi Stassinopouls started to write a book about her mother and wound up writing one about herself.” it’s from a book review of Unbinding the Heart. It sounded like you to me.
And how did I miss your last post? You know I’d be there if I could drive there in 24 hours or less.
AmyG, I don’t mean this lightly when I say you have been divine intervention. There is a reason our paths have crossed when they have. For me and for you.
This picture is so touching, Teri. I love how your mother is holding you, so confidently on the edge of her arm. Babies at this age lurch, it’s what they do and you could have easily done so here, backwards, out of her arms. But you won’t. She has you. She will always have you. That’s what this picture says.
I know you know exactly what I’m talking about here, MSB. It’s all such a complex little roller coaster, isn’t it. We got lucky to have the mothers we had, you and me.
So smart of you to surround yourself with mothers. Mothers are the best. Mothers and women friends. Men can be wonderful, too, but I’m like you– I get what I need from women.
When I look back at the men that were around back then, I see them all on the periphery. Most of them seemed “checked out” and the women just did what they needed to do to take care of things. I learned a lot from that.
I can understand not wanting a relationship with your father, but what about curiosity? Are you curious? Do you know much about him from your Aunt Jody?
I’m not all that curious. I know enough. This could change in the future, but it’s the way it is now…
What a gift to have found Aunt Jody and to be given this picture, a moment in time, a moment that you’d be too young to remember.
I can’t imagine the loss that you must have felt, feel? But if your spirit and your chutzpah and your joie de vivre are any indication, you received enough of whatever it is that we need to be full, or sometimes just less than empty.
And the circle of women surrounding you? It grows.
Aunt Jody is a sweetheart. When I was little, my mother never mentioned my dad, but she used to say to me, “You remind me of Lee Roy’s sister, Jody.”
Funny, I see now what she means.
What a beautiful, determined baby you were, Teri! Look at that little face as she balances . . .
Families grow with the people you choose, and it sounds like you’ve chosen exactly whom you need.
There’s the saying that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. While partially true, sometimes it’s just more complicated (and more interesting) than that.
There’s so much in this post, Teri. I’m not sure what to speak to, but most of all, I am touched by your strength–and your remarkable focus on that which inspires and comforts you and gives you peace, and that you don’t seek out that which you know may not. That to me is the proof of a woman, a person, who is the opposite of adrift. That is someone who is grounded, and who has surrounded herself with those people and memories that keep her there.
Someone recently said about my father, “You should forgive him.” And all I could think was, But I’m not mad at him. I think of him as a stranger. This could change sometime down the road, I don’t know, but for now I feel good where I am.
And the shrink jumps up and down clapping her hands! Right on sister.
Oh, Teri, so beautiful. That photo is perfect — her hair, your little feet! Your mother was beautiful.
At a certain point after my mother died (months later? a year?) I got drunk with my brother and asked him, “But don’t you ever feel like you just want a mom?” He looked confused. He’d been close with our mother, and we both missed her fiercely, but even so, he didn’t seem to understand my desire to have that mom role in my life if it couldn’t be *our* mom.
I read in a book once that no one will ever love you like your mother did. How true, how sad, and how joyous that is. But we can still find other moms. You did, and I did too. I love that dedication you dreamed about — one day, it can come true. I know it can.
I still miss my mother fiercely. I know you know what I mean, Laura. But like you, I’ve been open to other mother figures. When I went home for a funeral in November, my brothers were horrible to me and it was so hard, so complicated. On my last day there, I drove around town and dropped in on my friends’ mothers. We were all so excited to see each other and had the best conversations. Like old times. They saved the trip for me.
Oh, that sweet, worried little brow. What lovely hands she had, and how beautiful they are, curved around you. She was more than enough. I think that’s why you haven’t needed your father.
I can’t wait to see your book with that dedication inside. All your mothers will be so proud.
Averil, I love reading your comments back and forth with your mother. You have such lovely back-and-forth interplay!
My mom is a sweetie, she really is. You should see her when she’s had a couple of glass of wine!
Your mother is adorable, wine or not.
One of the first “grown up” plays I ever saw was Juno and The Paycock (Sean O’Casey). Mary, Juno’s daughter, becomes pregnant out of wedlock and is abandoned by the father .
She laments to Juno that her baby will have no father, to which Juno replies “It’ll have what’s far far better, it’ll have two mothers.” I might have been 12 when I saw that play;those lines have stayed with me.
Here’s to your dream Teri and to that wonderful dedication.
Isn’t it interesting what sticks with you? What a good storyline that is…
And have I mentioned enough how great it is to have you back! Downith’s here, Downith’s here! 🙂
What a wonderful find. Your Aunt, the picture. I just lost my mom last October and though we didn’t have the close relationship I always wanted, I ended up taking care of her the last few years. I had a wonderful Grandmother, and an Aunt that I adored. So I have been blessed with wonderful women in my life. My best friend that I loved like a sister. And 3 count’em, 3 fabulous daughters. Plus one son. Men are great at times, but there is nothing like a sista.
I can’t believe I didn’t say anything about my first mother-in-law, Grandma Teddy. I love her as my own mother. There is absolutely no one else like her in the world.
I’ve heard so much about Grandma Teddy, Oma. She must have been a very special woman! You were lucky to have her.
I can see this photo in your memoir. It’s evocative of so many emotions and so very beautiful.
Sometimes I think I could randomly choose about 20 photos and write a book off them. Optimistic? Maybe. But still …
Loved your emotional, tender and honest story. Made me appreciate my Mom and Dad that are still married after 48 years.
My husband, who is adopted fights with the emotions of not knowing his real father.
But was raised by a wonderful man that he idolized. It is a rollercoaster!
You are so talented as a writer…
Thanks, Angie. And I’m always thrilled to hear of people married for many decades if the years have been good ones. My family felt a bit like Divorce Capital of the U.S. — many marriages/divorces, many children scattered all about.
My parents had a few rocky years…But my Dad was the balance in the family. That Catholic/Kelso strong man, that kept us in line, with his calm but stern personality.
I think you and my husband Tony have a lot in common when it comes to family…I can’t keep up with who belongs to who. A family tree with to many branches!!
Love this. Why do so many therapists think that women are always searching for their fathers? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Ha! Damn cigars.
I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails in response to this post saying it can’t be true, that I couldn’t be that disinterested in my father. That I’m “in denial.”
I think a grown woman knows how she feels Teri…and a smart woman knows the difference between disinterest and denial. I think you are a very smart woman….
I thank God for my Mom, we grew up together. She was 17 when she had me, so we are like sisters. She’s my best friend. I can’t imagine life without her, I cherish everyday that we have together.
My mom got pregnant with me at 19. We fought like crazy when I was a teenager (after she married Wade) and became more like friends when I was in my late 20’s. Our time together was too short.
So much to consider here. Thanks for sharing this, Teri.
My father was in a similar situation. His parents separated before he was born, and he met his father once–for a fleeting visit when he was about three. My dad always said he never had an interest in knowing him, since his father apparently had no interest in him.
I connected recently with my dad’s half-brother, whom we never knew he had. He wrote me this week that he wished he’d had more years of getting to know us all. I wonder how my father, who’s been dead for more than 20 years, would feel about it all.