An Open Letter To My Father

Dear Butch,
Dear “Dad,”
Dear Robert,


We’ve never officially met. Not that I could remember, anyway. I’m sure you know who I am, though.

You and my mom were an item back in 1975, until she got pregnant. From how I’ve heard it told, you offered to pay for her to have an abortion. I’m a little unclear as to whether that was before or after you two broke up. It doesn’t matter at this point, though, since she refused, and subsequently lost a paternity suit against you.

At any rate, you know who I am, even though we’ve never met. I honestly don’t know much about you, although your family is pretty cool and always accepted me as one of their own. Whatever. Like I said, it doesn’t matter at this point.

I’ve thought over the years about what I’d like to say to you, if I ever happened to be in the same room as you, or if I could ever get up the nerve to look you up in the phone book and find your address to write to you. Since I think I’m fairly safe here on the internet — since hundreds of friends and strangers will read this, but the likelihood of you actually finding it is slim to none — I choose to make this my venue to say what needs saying.

First: I understand. I’m a few years older now than you and Mom were back then. And I do understand, to a degree. You weren’t interested in fatherhood or settling down. I’ve read Mom’s diary from 1976; I know what the local social scene was all about. Pool, bowling, dancing, drinking, being social… typical young adult fare, 70’s style. I guess I could also see you thinking that maybe I wasn’t your child, although I think that’s a little bit of a stretch. Or a coping mechanism, or a denial, or whatever. Still, though, I do understand. I don’t agree, but I think I understand.

I’d also like to say that, all things considered, I’m OK with not having had you “in my life” as a father figure. Maybe it’s because I don’t know any different, but I think I turned out fine in a family full of women. Having child support definitely would have helped over the years, though. We were seriously poor for a long time. Not homeless-poor, but we were subsisting on McDonald’s jobs, or food stamps, or handouts from various churches, or government cheese, for most of my childhood. We lived in ramshackle houses with bad plumbing, cheap cinder-block apartments, trailers, you name it. An extra couple hundred bucks a month would have made a world of difference. Again, though, it was a character-building experience, and I only regret having left behind several important mementos in various moves.

When I was in 6th grade, Mom finally met someone she wanted to marry. So, in 1988, she and I finally moved out of the apartment we shared with my grandmother (you remember Jessie?) and my aunt, and she married Tom. He was the only father figure I ever knew, really, and he had his good and bad moments, just like anyone does. However, one of his worse moments happened only two years after the two of them had married, and he snapped and threw us out of the house after a long and drawn-out argument about everything and nothing.

For years afterward, he and I still spent every few weekends together: going shopping in Cleveland, going driving in Amish Country when I first got my temps, going to concerts, helping me buy my first car, general cool stuff like that. When I went off to college, he continued to write and call, and occasionally helped me move my stuff out of or into the dorms.

After my Freshman year, I spent a semester on Academic Suspension, during which I lived with Mom in a nice apartment in Medina. She’d finally scored a decent job, and she only had to support herself and sometimes me, since I’d been at college. She was also dating a new guy by this point, whom she’s still with today, and whom I wasn’t very fond of at the time. At any rate, a couple months after my first car died and I sold it, I felt like I needed help buying another. So, I called Tom — and the person who answered told me that he’d had a heart attack and died only a few days before.

I remember thinking that it was some sort of fucked-up irony that the only father figure I’d known had died, while the person who was my real father never even cared that I lived. At that point in my life, had I met you, I would have been severely pissed off at you for things that happened twenty years before. Whether I would have actually been able to voice my anger is another story.

There are so many other things I’ve wanted to ask you over the years, but they all just fade into the distance at this point. My only real feeling now is one of disappointment. In you. In your inability to take responsibility for your actions when it mattered. One thing that my mother’s experience has taught me is that, especially in matters of sex, if you’re responsible enough to do it, you have to be responsible enough to live with the consequences.

As I understand it, you’ve had some hardships of your own since then. You’ve married and had other, legitimate children, and one of those children has died. On some level, maybe that’s karma. In any case, I wouldn’t have wished that on you.

Frankly, I’m going to shit a brick if you ever actually see this. If you do, though, you’re welcome to contact me if you so choose. I’d be interested to hear your side of the story.

Mom always told me not to hate you, that she didn’t hate you, and that I had to make my own decisions about how I felt about you. Honestly, I can’t say I love you, not beyond the standard love-for-my-fellow-man sort of thing.

But, now that I’m a little older, I at least can start to understand.