Growing up without a father

By Carolyn Chen


(Jeff Robinson/Flickr)
(Courtesy of Jeff Robinson/Flickr)

I don’t think I have ever craved more attention and love than I have from a father figure. The stories of fathers teaching their daughters how to dance, the jokes exchanged by families during dinner time, the father that picked you up and dropped you off at events and celebrations: I craved it all. When I was a little younger, I remember entertaining the idea that my best friend’s father was also mine. And in a way, I truly think that he put in his best effort so that I would feel just as accepted into the family as his daughter (my friend) felt. I remember him cooking us food, lecturing me on boys and clothes, taking us to theatres and buying us snacks. While I never did mention my family situation, I think he knew, and recognized my craving for a family and took me under his wing as his adopted Chinese daughter with poor eyesight.

When I was younger, I remember spending countless amounts of sleepless nights crying my life away, wondering why my father walked out of my life, and why my stepfather wanted the same. I remember the first time I saw my friends interact with their fathers, and the awe and overwhelming sadness I felt when they joked and laughed like they loved each other. Because although I had grown up with someone I called “dad” in my life, he was more of a stranger in love with my mother than a father figure. It took me a long time to understand that it had not been my fault. The choices my parents had made to live different lives, the death and the abuse: they were not my fault. In the end, I was merely a lost and lonely child looking for love and parental support.

I don’t think enough children caught in the midst of adults’ mistakes are offered the explanation that their existence was not what caused these family problems and parental issues. I find it heartbreaking that I have connected with so many people over the idea that when they were children, they believed it was something they did or the lack of worth they held that ultimately led to parental figures walking out of the picture. I spent too many years of childhood constructing plans of running away, entertaining the idea of getting adopted by my friend’s family and living with them, only to fear that I would again be the catalyst for another family’s separation. Children should never have to go through years of believing that they are maladaptive, unable to please their parents like they are supposed to in order to get the love they so desperately crave in return. Children should never have to spend their free time sketching out plans to escape their family to live an isolated life since they “ruin everything for everyone.”

Yet so many children still believe that, whether parents are aware of it or not. Whether the adults intended to blame their child or not, so many kids blame themselves for their family situations. I don’t hold it against my father for leaving. In the process of becoming an adult myself, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes, certain things are unavoidable, and sometimes some families just aren’t built to last. And I think that’s OK. What I do have an issue with is the idea that while some families aren’t built to last, the children should be used as the scapegoat for this. The children that the adults brought into the world should never have to shoulder the blame and mistakes that their parents made. Many children do grow up with separated families, single parents and other similar situations. But I don’t think that their craving for a unified family or simple parental love should ever be used against them. Because children are children, they are meant to be loved and cherished, they are what you brought into the world and until they become adults, you will be what they know best and who they love most.

Carolyn Chen is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]