That they’ve changed. They’re home more, they do the hard things, they support mothers, they disappear less often. I applaud that. I applaud DeAngelo Williams for doing his daughter’s hair in a Pantene commercial. I applaud dads who don’t need a court to tell them to help feed the children they create. I applaud dads who show up to the carline at school with snacks and the alphabet song playing and questions on their tongues about schoolyard adventures. I congratulate every little black girl I know who holds the hand of a man who will always represent unconditional love to her.
But I’m not here for those black girls. I’m here for the black girls like me. The ones who questioned their own worth and searched for it in the eyes and minds of boys and in mirrors. Who patched up holes with copper wire and cotton. Who accepted things she shouldn’t have because they came easy and felt warm. Because when you feel you don’t much matter to your father, when he is lost to you, you tend to search for him. You look for him in corners and in between sofa cushions. You pick apart dialogue and record inflections, trying to reassemble him in places he doesn’t belong. You might take on too much at times, struggling to complete an equation that doesn’t add up because it’s missing numbers. If you have ever felt this way, if you still feel this way, let me inform you of our truth.
The thing about lost fathers
We will never find him. Fathers cannot be replaced. No boyfriend, no husband, no lover, no child can fill the gap of a father figure. No amount of chin-upping, no dose of endurance will fill your cup. The trick is to accept that. The trick is to allow yourself to be less-than.
For a moment.
There’s a hole in your heart. It might be small, perhaps gaping. Holes are funny things. We can walk around them or fall into them. You’ll probably fall in for a while. You might rage against the unfairness but try to convince the world you don’t have open wounds. Then rage will bubble out of you at unworthy moments. If you choose a lover who feeds you, who does his best, who compliments you — part of you won’t believe him. Or perhaps you’ll expect too much of him and refuse to accept that he’s just a human person with flaws and damage who will hurt you from time to time. But you might not see that. You might only see your father. You might only feel your hole.
Or you can accept it. You can try to understand that things we don’t have now, we never had. You haven’t lost anything at all. Your heart is simply shaped differently. Some people have no arms, some people have short hair, some people can’t roll their tongues or eat peanut butter without dying. You are fatherless.
The hype is a lie
Know this too. No one’s love can heal you. No gesture or reassurance or kiss to the collarbone can provide you with what you feel you missed out on. You don’t have to spend time waiting for this to come because it won’t. And if you ever find something that looks like it, know that it is actually codependency. You do have to, however, love yourself harder. Love yourself enough to see good intentions everywhere because that’s what you deserve to see. Love yourself enough to feel confidence and certitude, even when it’s blurry or quiet, because that’s what you deserve to feel.
And lastly: Don’t believe this bullsh*t that you’re not strong. Don't believe that fathers or mothers or that pet you never had are the things that would have made you a better person. You’re a dope person. You’re probably perfectly flawed and interesting and see the world in ways other people can’t.
Fathers are important. Parents are important. But they are just bits of our story. Being happy does not require that you be made up of fairy dust and unicorn hiccups. Being strong does not require that you have the same working parts as the girl sitting next to you. It just requires you to love yourself.
But you must indeed love yourself. All of yourself, holes included.