My father never owned a home.
My dad, a Southern bishop who was married four times before he died of colon cancer two years ago, moved from house to house, never living in any one for longer than three years. He also went from wife to wife, never staying married for longer than 10 years. Dad sought to keep up the appearance of a man of God, including the requisite wife and home, but never really solidified either one.
Dad couldn’t afford to buy the perfect preacher’s house, but he also never tried. The little money he did save went toward founding his church. It seemed to me that he couldn’t commit to building a life for anyone but those who needed him from a distance, the ones who peered up at him in the pulpit to seek some type of spiritual guidance.
My mother, his second wife, left him when I was nine, and they finally divorced when I was 13. In between, she and I lived with friends and relatives. I wondered if Dad’s instability had rubbed off on us permanently. But Mom fought through the fog of severe depression and bought her first house when she was in her early 40s. By then, I was 15 and, in my teen angst, felt it was too late for my mom to make good on the promises she had made when I was little, the things she would buy for me “when we get our house.” There was no point in getting a swing set or the industrial-sized toilet paper dispenser I had asked for when I was three. Although I was proud of her for buying us a home, the house would not be the home I grew up in. I told myself that I would be going to college in two years, so there was no point in getting too comfortable. I didn’t even put up posters of popstars on the walls, like I’d always dreamed of doing.
In college, I promised myself that I would buy a home as soon as I graduated, which, of course, wasn’t feasible with a low-paying entry-level job and a student loan debt. Instead, I moved into a studio apartment and lived there for six years, only moving out because I got married and moved to New York City for a while (where we lived in the same apartment for four years — perhaps a record in NYC apartment dwelling).
Last summer, my husband and I finally bought our first home, a condo in DC. Although, statistically, millennials aren’t buying homes, it was vital for me to have my own. I want to give my future children the stability my dad wasn’t capable of giving me. But, more importantly, I want to be even less like my father. I sometimes fear that, like him, I will take out my frustrations and self-doubt on my spouse and future children, disproportionately looking to them to validate my existence. I go to great lengths to try not do those things, and one more way to guarantee that I won’t start is to do what my father couldn’t: show them my love by committing to a space and a mortgage.
I have reclaimed a power over myself that my father took away from me all those years ago as we bounced from house to house. In the home that I own, I can never be made to feel as if I don’t belong, as if the very bed I sleep in can be taken away at a moment’s notice.
As I unpacked boxes of books, kitchen supplies and sweaters, I couldn’t help but grin. I had finally given my kid-self what she had spent so many years longing for.