Some fathers don’t realize how important they are to their children. Whether they are involved parents or not, their role is critical. If they aren’t there anymore or were never there at all, children miss their dads even if the child doesn’t know what it is they are missing.
When I was fifteen years old, I despised all men who were in the same age group as my father. Boys and old men were okay, but I felt an unreasonable anger towards men in their forties. I possessed a general dislike for my father anyway and since he never lived up to the family man image, let alone faked interest in the lives of his kids, I pushed all thoughts of him out every chance I could. I had no idea what I was feeling at fifteen and I think my mom thought it was just normal teenager crap. Teen crap will maybe get you in trouble once in a while, but it really shouldn’t give you an ulcer or make you want to die. I only realized later in life that what I was feeling was longing for a father.
I don’t want my son to go through that mix of negative emotion and overwhelming confusion. It shouldn’t be a necessary lesson, but the reality remains his biological father dropped the ball. If I could bear this certain pain for my son I would, but if experiencing all that mess meant he would be better or stronger for it, then maybe it would be all right for him to hurt for a while. I don’t know. My experience only scarred. But I’ve seen what happens when you take on too much pain for your child too. They become weak and when you are gone, they are lost and can never stand on their own. Teaching my son to survive without either of his parents seems to be the necessary lesson.
My son’s father died. He had cancer and I knew this was coming; still the rush of tears and sadness caught me off guard and I felt betrayed by my own emotions. Why did I feel like I had lost something good? This was a man who was cruel, who abused my mind and heart and body, and who hurt his own child by walking away. I should have felt relieved that I didn’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. I remembered the day we met and tried to just think about the positive moments we had, but they were few and were mostly smeared away. I started to remember the bad stuff. It was like a dam breaking that I couldn’t hold back or run away from. I grabbed for an edge to hold onto but sunk back into the mud of a growing depression.
The experiences of physical abuse were so clear that they made my body ache. Each forgotten detail became unearthed, in the way someone would dig up the remnants of their washed away life after some great flood. I didn’t want to remember anymore, but some memories are stronger than what we want. Even more painful was the heaviness in my heart, the lump in my throat, the levee of tears ready to break, and that feeling of darkness and weakness. I realized I was living the experience all over again. I had to but couldn’t understand why. What catharsis can come from feeling hurt and abandoned all over again? The answer arrived before the question could complete itself. He did abandon us. Again. He died and there will be no chance for my son to ever know his father.
No redemption found for a father. No answers found for a son looking for them, needing them. That is what I was mourning. Not a great man, not even a good man, just a great dream that passed away.
Native women have filled leadership roles in our homes and communities for years. We are doing our best, but we need our men. We need your support. Our children need your guidance. The elders need you to carry on traditions. Everyone, no matter where they find themselves, is an important part of the community. And whether the echoes of addiction, abuse or your own voice are loud in your ears, our cries need to be louder. We need you. Hear our cries and stand up. Strong hearts to the front.
Crystal Willcuts Cole, Mnicoujou Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, was born in Rapid City, South Dakota and is an artist, writer, and poet currently residing in Big Stone Gap, Virginia with her husband and two children.