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Absent Fathers

Absent Fathers

My father's disloyalty undermined my relationship with God.

by

My father had been gone for months. Across oceans, I imagined him walking beaches in leather strap sandals, sipping black coffee in a glass, thinking of us when he passed a payphone. He was far away from everything that tied him down: my mother, my siblings, and me.

He came back to Connecticut for a short visit, and though my mother wanted it, he had no will to stay. Their relationship was like a baby grasping for the string of a balloon; just as she tried holding on, he slipped away. This is the way it always felt, whether he was with us or not.

Their relationship was like a baby grasping for the string of a balloon; just as she tried holding on, he slipped away.

He honked the horn outside my mother's house, his house, my house; his headlights blinded his face from me. It was just the two of us. The car glided through the night; the drive was irritably smooth and the night was eaten by black, by fog, by cold. I remember gestures: his fingertips turning the wheel, his jacket zipper being pulled halfway up. The silences between us pounded on me, a rainstorm of what should I say now, should I tell him about school, what would he want to hear, should I talk to him about coming back. And he sat there, dry, his back molded into seat leather, clean shaven and unflustered.

I would have given gold to have something to say, but there was nothing to say. There was nothing there. It was a hole where there should have been a wound. He stopped at Toys R Us. The thrill of a child in a toy store, it wasn't there. I was too old for this, but I was also too young.

I could grab from the rainbow of toys on the shelves, pull them all down and pile them into a cart and say, "Buy me all of these." I could have tried to make a dent somewhere, to hurt him and let him know, you owe me.

But I knew this then: filling my cart with possessions would leave me emptier than before.

Running out of options, not wanting him to feel bad, I took a basketball in a cardboard frame. I did not hate him because this is what I expected of him. He was consistent in his unpredictability. He was consistent in his disloyalty, in his unconventionality. He was consistent in his leaving. The father at the amusement park who leaned down to tie his daughter's shoe and said, "Stay close -- I don't want to lose you," this was not him. My father held a hand out, but I had to be the one to take hold. And if I did not, he kept on walking. I didn't expect anything else.

Who Is God?

So who, then, is God when He is referred to as "Father"? He leaves when He loses interest? He leaves when there's something better out there, far away from me? Is it always me taking a giant leap to Him, Him never meeting me halfway? Who is God when He is my Father? A relationship based on need? There only when I need Him? A provider when I seek Him out?

This was my battle. I believed in God, so I wanted to learn more, understand more, and be more than I was. But I wasn't certain of His loyalty. When I turned to God for practical purposes -- money, admittance to school, a good parking spot -- I felt at ease to ask, just as it was with my own father.

When it came to feeling God's love, I'd find myself in a brief moment of connection and lose it as fast as it would come.

But when it came to emotional closeness, feeling God's presence and love, I would find myself in a brief moment of connection and lose it as fast as it would come, with the thought, "God has left me to be with another."

I was in school for nursing, living with my mother. Undomesticated, with no husband to feed, we ate takeout sushi most nights and took turns on the treadmill. I was packing my days to keep out the quiet. We were both trying to date and it wasn't going well. In every path of life loneliness can be found. There was a lot of loneliness here.

Learning that reciting The Song of Songs for 40 days could bring me to the one I was destined to marry, I began. The Song of Songs is a love song between a man and a woman, a metaphor for the love between God and the Jewish people. Every night I read these words: I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine. In the words there is partnership, there is love. In the words there is presence, loyalty, and permanence. This was a new representation of my relationship with God, unlike the one I had fallen into. That God loves me. That God desires a relationship with me. If there was distance I was feeling, the distance was from my lack of understanding, not from rejection from Him.

I learned that doing God's will strengthened the inherent bond between us. So I learned more about Judaism and the commandments (mitzvot). I studied the prayers. After 40 days ended I stopped reading The Song of Songs, but soon started up again. Drip by drip, I was a cracked vessel being filled with sweet wine. There was a relationship forming, greater than any I could ever know.

And so, in the drear of my days, in the mundane and in the fear, in the happiness and in the thrill, in the good news and in the bad, I try to remember that God is yearning as I am yearning.

My battle has not been won, but it has gotten easier.
I turn to Him and part my lips. There is no longer silence.
I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine.
He draws me near when I am far. And He stays.

Published: January 3, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 45

(45) jobardu, July 30, 2015 4:56 PM

Absent Dads are mostly forced to be absent

While many men leave or abandon their families it is my experience that the large majority of them are forced out by family law. In divorce or legal separation the father is forcibly placed in a category called "non-custodial parent". That is a euphemism for non-person.

Almost all men's groups are set up to make fatherhood a parenting option for divorced men. Yet nothing has changed in the past forty years.

The pain of losing all the love and energy a father puts into parenting is almost too much to bear, and something most men never want to be exposed to again. So one really needs to hear the fathers' side of the story. You won't find it in the media or entertainment products. They almost unanimously select feminists to author their articles and shows on fatherhood and depict men as infantile or demons. I've never seen a movie or show depicting the feelings of impotence, disrespect and victimization that most fathers encounter in family law proceedings.

Wendy Langer would do well to speak with her father with open ears and an open heart. You might be very surprised at what you find.

(44) Natan, May 5, 2015 12:05 AM

Wow this was poetry to me. And it leaves me speechless and in Awe that I am not alone in this

(43) Daniel, May 4, 2015 12:44 AM

G-d Who Continues to Hide Himself

This is a real melancholy piece, and reminds me of my life, in a way, except that I was adopted, and State law did NOT allow me to know who my natural parents were.

So, naturally I never knew who I was, never knew the who, what, when, where, or why of things. The pain of not knowing eventually turned into a huge void, and it would take over a half century to finally find out the identities of my natural parents, but not without tremendous effort and great expense.

By the time I found out who they were, they had passed on, but I am grateful that I am in contact with some of my maternal siblings, and a few paternal cousins, and that they are helping me to heal with family photos and stories, and because of that, the huge hole in my chest is starting to scar over, but it may take the rest of my life for it to completely heal.

Like Wendy Langer, I am trying my best to become increasingly observant, and to daven all three services on a daily basis, but Hashem contues to seem so very far away.

And unfortunately, until a majority of Klal Yisrael demands that the Beit HaMiqdash / The Temple be rebuilt, then G-d will continue to HIDE Himself, and we will all continue to suffer as a result (Yeshayahu / Isaiah 45:15).

(42) Yaakovashoshana, May 3, 2015 5:52 PM

This could be my story

I, too, have often struggled with the idea of the fatherhood of God when the word "father" carries nothing but negative connotations for me. My father and mother divorced when I was a baby, and he never troubled himself to be part of my life. I could count the number of times I had contact with my father on the fingers of one hand ... and still have enough fingers left over for a rude gesture. Those few times I reached out to him, hoping to forge some type of relationship, I found nothing but disappointment. I had to make all the effort. As hard as I tried, I could not find anything to respect about the man. When he died, all mention of me was left out of the obituary, and he made a point of completely disinheriting me in his will. My only offense was being the child of the woman who had the good sense to send him packing.

(41) Eli m, May 3, 2015 5:34 PM

Profound

Very well written. You are very self aware to have learnt this about yourself. As a future father I would like to impart to my kids as much godliness as I can to give them a picture of what Gd really is. Above all is love. Very impressive article. And true!

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