From a Guest Author, a letter shared from a son to an absent father about the experience of losing a father:
I am fine. Sorry I haven’t reached out to you in a while. I’m doing very well in school; I have a 4.0 GPA. I’m taking 3 classes, and still working full-time as well.
While I have been busy, that’s not the reason I haven’t reached out, I honestly don’t think its appropriate that we talk anymore. You did a lot to our family that I would never want for mine. You can pretend I’m being transphobic if you want, and I do think I have the right to choose to distance myself from the confusion associated with all that, but apart from that I just don’t want to pretend anymore. I don’t want to pretend that everything you did is okay, I don’t want to pretend I’m not hurt. I don’t want to push my feelings aside so you don’t feel bad.
Since you want to talk about memories, yes I remember when you took me to baseball practice at the hotel, and we got to see minute maid park. I could count on one hand how many times we went to watch the Astros play there before that tour, though. We went with you and your FTM lover and got season tickets. I didn’t want to go with her, we tolerated her for a while but none of us actually wanted to spend the few days we got to spend with you with her. We really missed you and felt like we wanted more attention from you.
Your involvement with my baseball stuff actually made me very uncomfortable, I didn’t like people I knew seeing you and making assumptions. I was jealous that all the other kids had their dads supporting their baseball career while you would tag around occasionally to confuse people. Were you my mom? Aunt? Why do you care about me here? I wanted to be able to call you my dad and brag about you, but instead you left me in an awkward situation feeling embarrassed and alone.
Baseball was so important to me growing up, and I did enjoy how you were actively involved in my little league for a while. It made me feel special, I’d have taken your advice over my coach’s advice any day and I was so proud when you were my coach.
But as I got older you got less and less involved, and my feelings for you painfully changed. By middle school I didn’t want you around any of my friends, I didn’t want you at my baseball games, derby races, cub scout gatherings, anything. And let me tell you it shattered my heart when my best friend noticed you at my little brother’s pinewood derby competition. He told all my other friends he saw my dad and you had boobs and long hair and earrings and acted weird. I tried so hard to say we weren’t related, and when that failed I tried to pretend you were my dad’s ugly sister. I was bullied because of that. My biggest fear became a reality. I could no longer be excited by a surprise visit from you but instead had to live in fear that you’d show up.
By 8th grade I felt so lost and alone in my last year of little league. Everyone had friends from school, and I didn’t. I saw people from school playing catch with their dads and their friends before the games, and I’d be looking for someone that didn’t have a throwing partner. It really hurt, and it was embarrassing to be so alone. Sometimes I’d go to the dugout and pretend to have a headache instead of warming up, that way I could put my head between my legs and cry quietly.
From that point on, I only wanted to see you within the confines of your small house. I hated going in public with you. I watched my strong dad that I thought could do everything and was always there for me become such a different person emotionally. And your physical appearance reflected that change. To see anyone change physically hurts in its own way, but when it coincides with such a painful personality change too. That hurts a thousand times worse. I couldn’t even look at you without feeling pain.
And just as the story with baseball goes, so does it with cub scouts. I was so excited to get my tiger cub handbook and I wanted to work through it with you to earn my badges. They’d been talking about doing away with the rank of bobcat and decided it was optional. But you told me that when you were a kid you did it, and I wanted to do everything you did, I looked up to you. So, I earned that too, but without your involvement, my mom became the primary person taking me to cub scouts meetings, she became the den leader, she took me to all the campouts, etc. I always wanted to go camping with you. Especially when I had the opportunity to camp out at Fifth Third Field, in Ohio, and I couldn’t wait to do that with you, since we did it through cub scouts often. I wanted so badly to bring our gloves and a ball and play catch on a huge baseball field. You never did end up going with me though.
But one commonality of both baseball and cub scouts is that even after I was miserable that you had completely withdrawn from my life, I didn’t give up the hobbies that I associated with you. Why? Because I knew at a certain point you gave up on the same activities. You quit scouts at Webelo and baseball before high school, from what I recall when you broke your nose. At some point, my mindset changed from “my dad is awesome I want to be just like him”, to “my dad gave up on everything, I need to do better than he did”. I wanted to be better than you. So, I pushed through and earned my Arrow of Light, and started Boy Scouts. And I tried my hardest and played baseball my freshman year, I felt great for toughing through every baseball injury I ever had because I was fighting through it like you couldn’t.
But neither instance of me overcoming what you couldn’t made you love me more, nor moved me up your priority list. I did a few months of Boy Scouts before it sunk in that I was doing it on my own and lost interest. My mom wasn’t physically strong enough to help clear debris in hurricane relief (one of the first things I did as a boy scout, not that you would know.) And even had she been, I was still embarrassed and sad that everyone else and their dads were helping rebuild communities, while I was on my own with my mom behind me because you were out who knows where living for you and only you. Similar story with baseball, yes my grades were a factor, but I was miserable being the bench boy who kept score anyways and I had no desire to continue. It wasn’t worth waiting to play any more than it was worth waiting for you to love me the way I used to think you did. That love wasn’t coming back, and I just didn’t want you to be involved in my activities at all anymore.
I remember one day back in Ohio, at the mall I saw this book called “Dangerous Book for Boys” and it was a big red book of projects for fathers and sons to do together. Every single activity in there was something I couldn’t wait to do with you, and I noticed one of the very first activities was as simple as making paper airplanes. I was so excited. I begged and begged to get that for you as a Christmas present, and my mom did let me get it for you and I wrote a handwritten note in it for you too. When you came to Ohio, you opened that book for Christmas. But after that, it collected dust. And now it’s sitting here with me, while I wonder why, in the 10 following years of my childhood, we didn’t do a single thing from that book. I wonder why you didn’t even want to keep it with you, God forbid you let the dust collect while it sits on YOUR bookshelf. Let me keep it, maybe I’ll be able to spare the time of day to have a paper airplane building competition with my son.
Where even were you when we were in Ohio, I still don’t understand that maybe it was out of your control, and maybe it wasn’t. But when you came back to visit, you were more and more of a different person every time.
Ohio was so exciting for me. I was so happy to see real snow for the first time as winter rolled in. And I wanted to make igloos and snowmen, and go sledding. Of course, I did all that but you weren’t around to share those memories with me… which really sucked because when I was about 4 or 5, if not younger, I remember watching Caillou and thinking you and I were just like him and his dad. I wanted to experience snow and everything else in life with you like he and his dad did. Silly to think about, but it’s just one of those things that have resurfaced in my memories since having a kid of my own.
Wherever you were, and whatever you were doing, I did manage to enjoy a lot about Ohio, I really had a whole life up there that I never got to share with you. I had dozens of friends, activities, etc. I collected fossils, rode my bike with my mom daily, went to the park, played baseball, etc. I was proud of myself, and I so badly wanted to share that with you. I came up with goals, and activities I wanted to do, and I had big dreams. But when I reached out and asked you to care and share those dreams with me, maybe even help me achieve a few of them, you put the book on the shelf and never looked at it again. It’s a book for Boys after all, why would you want to be associated with that?
I had huge dreams, and I just watched them slowly fade away as I became more and more ashamed and embarrassed to call you, my dad.
And I’ll say this, I too think about you often, but rarely is it pleasant. But I did have a dream 3 or 4 nights ago that I went to a Mudhens game and little did I know that you would be sitting in the seat next to me. But you physically looked and acted like you did before we moved to Ohio. Younger, short black hair, with the exception of your white spot I always thought was so cool. I loved getting to see that person again even just in my dreams for such a short time. Let me tell you, it hurts, like losing a family member, to realize they are never coming back. I’ve tried communicating my pain to you so many times, and you’ve still built an entire life around your new personality, physical appearance, and all. You’re at the center of your universe now, but I’m at escape velocity. Now I’m the one you can’t reach.
There have been times throughout my life, even after your transition when I thought you really were trying to be more involved, but of course, you never lived up to the expectations I had of you as a father.
For example, I was so excited when you talked about us going to the YMCA of the Rockies. Well, I was pessimistic at first because I’d honestly lost hope in anything exciting coming from you that we could really bond over. But nonetheless, I allowed myself to be excited that I’d get to camp with you like I never got to in cub scouts. But to my surprise, your FTM lover came too and I felt like I’d gotten stuck on a trip I no longer wanted to be on. I felt like we were third wheeling your honeymoon experience with her. Then to make things worse, my expectations were shattered again when I found out we had a cabin, not a tent.. sure, I had always wanted to stay in a cabin… but not like that. It’s not what I wanted. I’m sure it would have been different if it was more of an authentic camping experience, cabin or not. But the fact you and your FTM lover were there sharing a bed together on a trip, just really killed it for me. I thought it was just going to be for us to bond as a family. We were going through stupid therapy with the court-appointed counselor and I thought you wanted to do everything you could to help us feel less hurt, and I gave you the benefit of the doubt. But, at the end of the day, if I hadn’t gone on that pathetic waste of a trip with you and your FTM lover, I could’ve seen my great-grandmother again before she died, and at the very least I would’ve been there for the funeral.
I’m not trying to play God or anything, and say you deserve to feel sad, and I’m not going out of my way to try to make you feel sad. If your actions have consequences that you don’t like, it’s not my responsibility to make you feel better. You really hurt my relationship with you, and I’ve spent my whole life trying to tell you that. I’m an adult I have my own family now. Growing up I wanted you to be a part of that, but at this point, its clear to me that ship has sailed. I’m not here to pretend that I’m happy to keep you from being sad that I don’t want a relationship with you, while that’s tragic that’s just how it is.
Now I hate seeing pictures of myself as a child, with bright eyes smiling, so optimistic about life, and so happy to take a picture with my small aluminum baseball bat, and a tee with a big-league stadium backdrop behind me. My first step on a long journey to the big leagues and my dad was going to be there every step of the way. I hate thinking about any of it. It meant so much to me when you got me that Roger Clemens t-shirt and took me to the game early just to watch him pitch, and now that thought hurts so much. You were my hero.
But now, not only do I want to be better than you, I want to be nothing like you, and I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I don’t want to have occasional small talk, or hear you talk about how I was like my son when I was a baby and you did this or that with me. I don’t want to know. I don’t want more happy memories to be shattered for me.
I hate how every happy memory I form with my son makes me wonder how you could give us such little love and attention, how you could walk away and commit your whole life to yourself and what you want, and never weigh how it would affect anyone but you. You didn’t think that living your life as a woman would impact our childhoods? You didn’t think rarely being home to give us love and attention would hurt?
I don’t want you to think my son won’t ever know of you, because I’d be stupid to never tell him about you. He’s going to grow up seeing me sad about you, hearing my siblings talk about how they’re sad about you, etc. He will know that you’re responsible for that. But I hope he never has a face to put to your name.
All my life, I wanted you to fill the role of grandpa for my little boy. As I’m sure any boy dreams about. I’m heartbroken that that opportunity has been taken from me, but thankfully my step-dad has really stepped up to the plate in that regard and is an amazing grandpa to my son.
You’ve always made time for yourself and your hobbies but somehow managed to miss out on some really important moments in my life that I really wanted you to be there for. You took flight lessons, played soccer, softball, golf, and tennis, and went to more sporting events through work than you ever took me to for sure. (I’ve still never seen a college sports game of any kind, I’ve been to only 1 football game, and possibly a basketball game but for all I know that’s a distant dream I’m confusing with a memory.) But while you had time for your hobbies, you didn’t make time for me.
You missed my 13th birthday. And no I didn’t have a special party or anything, but from dusk to dawn I waited for you to come home from your “business trip” I don’t know what led to you coming home so late that day, but it hurt so bad that such an important birthday to me you weren’t even there for and we didn’t even talk on the phone. And my poor little brother had a similar experience with one of his birthdays at Chick Fil A waiting for you. I’m willing to bet you didn’t make it to Ohio for all of our birthdays either when we lived up there, either. In fact, I remember a couple.
And sure, you were involved a bit with our common interests like video games despite how uncomfortable we all were that you’d always play as a girl, but there were things like fishing, that I was passionate about that you never did with me. Maybe once or twice. But I wanted you to teach me how to tie my hooks, I wanted to practice my knots that I learned in scouts with you. But you never really wanted to talk about my interests. While on the flip side, you always expected me to listen to you talk about yours. And I was always so glad to, because I just wanted to engage in conversation with you. I wanted you to care that much about me. I’ve never liked golf, and I don’t think I ever will. But to see how excited you get talking about it is the only reason I ever tried to learn to play, listened to you talk about it, or watched you play. I’ve grown an even greater disdain for the sport watching you put it before me and my siblings, time and time again, even though I know at the end of the day, it has less to do with the sport than it does your personality. Self first, without even a thought to what your family may be feeling.
This may sound harsh, or like I wish you ill will or misfortune, but sometimes I really do wish you’d died early in my life, because then at least, in every phase of my life I could say ‘if my dad was here he would be the best, he would play catch with me, he would go camping with me, he would fish with me, etc.’ And I’d be able to cling to the belief that you were an amazing father, and an incredible person that would always put his family first.. Instead, I know that you’ve had these opportunities and passed them up. You had your chance to fish with me, teach me to tie knots, how to start a campfire, play catch with me every day before practice, and be my hero. But unfortunately, now I know you would, and did, throw it all away.