Fatherless Day by Abby Stein

Fatherless Day by Abby Stein

Every JewishMOM reading this is a mother, a wife, a daughter. And that means that every single one of us reading this knows what it means to hurt a child or to be hurt as a child, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

In this moving article, Abby Stein reflects on the life-long pain she has suffered as the result of her father’s abandonment of her as an infant. And I am sure that if we ask Abby to write again in ten years, and twenty years, and forty years, then each stage of Abby’s mourning process will look different.

JewishMOM, if you have also experienced pain at the hands of a parent, please share your reflections and insights below…

I’ve lived through 9,855 Father’s Days, and I’m not 9,855 years old.

There was that first one, 27 years ago, when he left.

I was two months old.

Then there was the smattering of times he promised to visit or call.

Those were the ones spent waiting, hoping, and usually disappointed.

There were the times he showed up, and then I wished he hadn’t.

There was the bas mitzvah he didn’t acknowledge, the 27 birthdays he “forgot,” the graduations he didn’t come to.

There were the report cards he didn’t read, the friends he didn’t meet, the awards he didn’t know about.

There was the homework he didn’t help with, the “father-daughter” events he wasn’t around for and the yearly elementary school Father’s Day cards I made for no one.

There was the year he started a new family – and didn’t tell us.

There was the day he called for the first time in three years and then fell off the radar for another two.

And then there was The Last Visit, although I didn’t know that at the time.

I was ten.

These were my Father’s Days.

But then there were all the days in between. Endless days of anxious wondering if and when he would show up. There were months of convincing myself that I didn’t want to see him – I just wanted him to want me, and years of wondering why he didn’t.

This was my childhood.

A constant wish that he would call, and a simultaneous fear that he might.

Years of uncomfortably explaining his obvious absences with, “My parents are divorced,” knowing full well that divorced parents can still be involved in their children’s lives.

There was Shabbos with no man to sing Sholom Aleichem and say Kiddush. There was Simchas Torah, watching the fathers dancing with the Torahs in the synagogue and knowing there was no one there for me. The sting of watching my brothers looking lost in the men’s section – the only boys on their own – and knowing I couldn’t help them. The longing to join all the other little girls and boys congregating under their fathers’ talleisim during Birkas Kohanim. The menorah he didn’t light, the Purim costumes he never saw, and the Pesach seders where I asked the four questions to no one but G-d – and I didn’t feel too attached to Him, because of all the father-metaphors I couldn’t relate to.

And most of all, the daily ache.

I’d see a father playing with his children and feel a deep stabbing pain.

A friend would mention asking her father for advice and I’d feel jealousy running through my veins. I could easily end up in tears by reading a children’s book about happy families. I got angry every time I heard God compared to a father Who loves His children no matter what, because to me the comparison was inaccurate. I lay in bed at night wishing he knew how much he’d hurt me.

I dreamed up ways I could hurt him. I wrote him angry letters I never sent.

He occupied so much space in my mind, and in my heart, that every day was Father’s Day.

But he wasn’t thinking about me.

The knowledge that my own father – someone supposedly biologically programmed to love me unconditionally – had rejected and abandoned me was unbearable. The wondering what could possibly be so wrong with me that he wouldn’t want me. Every day he stayed away, I was abandoned all over again.

But things have crystallized, and it’s time for a change.

I’ve come to realize that he didn’t reject me because I was damaged; I am damaged because he rejected me. And I can fix that.

Someone who cares so little, who has spent less than 15 days of my life with me, doesn’t deserve 9,855 days of my attention. He certainly doesn’t deserve to hold so much power over me, my relationships and my self-perception. He hasn’t earned the right to feature in my thoughts, mess with my emotions and interfere with my religious observance.

So this year, I observed the real Father’s Day for the first time, albeit unconventionally.

On June 17, 2012, I grieved for the father I never had and for that important male relationship I’ve missed out on. But he missed out too.

He missed out on knowing me – as a child and as an adult. He missed out on having me as a daughter. He’s missed the opportunity to enjoy parental pride, and for that I pity him.

Will I always feel some sadness for my fatherlessness? I’m sure I will.

But from now on he is banished from my thoughts, except when I choose to let him in. He’s had too much power for far too long.

It’s time to say goodbye.

Originally printed in the N’shei Chabad Newsletter – nsheichabadnewsletter.com

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16 comments

  1. My sons (and I) were also abandoned by their father. Please offer me any insight on how I should talk to them about him. I dont want to tell them the truth because then they will associate all those bad things as a part of them… and they are good boys. Please help!

    • I went through a story similar to the one described here, so both to the mother above, and to the author I’d like to share my thoughts. While there were factors in my case that made it clearer, I often say that while the experience was painful (until that last contact, and there were still times when issues brought back the pain and had to be dealt with, like a random connection, or important life events), while it was painful, it wasn’t personal. And I know it’s almost impossible to feel that way, but it’s true. This didn’t ease the pain I felt for what my mother went through, or even my brother, that was another mindset I had to develop over decades, but it made the process of healing easier for me to eventually move beyond the experience, at least in relation to my father. The effects on me, in my life will still take a lifetime to deal with.

      I don’t know what I would have wanted to hear as a child, but as the mother writes all negativity will be internalized. At some point I came to believe that my father must have had good traits, for the few tidbits that I heard in that regard, and came to hold onto that to help me humanize the man most of my family described in hateful inhuman ways. The man like it or not, that I had to take after in some way…even if hopefully it wouildn’t be to the extent we saw in his life.

      So while I guess I would allow the children to guide the discussion. But if they want to know about their father say simple positives things, that they can relate to, i.e. he liked sports, he was a good neighbor (whatever might apply). Emphasize they had nothing to do with his decision to live his life this way. Again I don’t really know what a child would like to hear, and hearing how he was a good neighbor might bring up questions like why can’t he be a decent father, but something along those lines as best you can. The negativity was always very painful to me and made me angry for years beyond necessary in my process.

      Good luck to you and of course the author dealing with all this entails. I hope healing comes bringing peace and hope to everyone.

  2. o.k. So I did the same thing as you, to the t..every word…my childhood …double ditto…i suffered very badly throughout my teenage years seeking a father figure and getting hurt again and again…so I got up one day and said enough is enough, I had a hard time with religion too, but then I just adopted Hashem as my father..i was fortunate to have cried so much to Him for the loss and emptiness I felt, I started tshuva, met my bashert, soulmate, had some trying times wgich brought us closer to Hashem, and I promised my first son the name eliav, because after 28 years of never being around and of course not showing up to the bris, I knew who my father really was…the One that made sure my zivug (husband) would be the ultimate dad..and he is…and so today you brought back many memories and I pray that you succeed at healing and starting a new life free from pain, with a new connection to our real Father..

  3. amen, S
    I have the same prayer for Abby Stein
    to start a new life with a good man and raise fine children
    to forget – as much as possible – about her bio-dad – who seems to have forgotten her

  4. I wonder if this is really the best approach when dealing with a parent?

  5. My father did not physically abandon me. He just did not love my mother and he was showing it every day, every time he spoke to her, with his every action and jesture. I grew up with internalized knowledge that men don’t love women, that all a woman pines and desires is a man’s love. My father spent all his earnings on his clothes, all his efforts went to impress other women, while my mother was working two shifts struggling to pay bills. I cannot even describe how it affected me, it would take hours of therapy trying to untangle the incomprehensible arrogance and sheer brazeness of his character. He was handsome and charming, speaking in a soft pleasant voice, while my mother was all nerves, anger and frustration. Just a few days ago, while reading the parsha Balak, I thought how immoral people are often so pleasant and sociable, while virtous ones come across as bitter and neurotic. This is the world we live in, where sinners are happy and serene, and righteous are stressed, pursued and misunderstood – the world of galut.

  6. Abby,

    You’re not alone. Thanks for writing this. Your story is mine too. Good luck.

  7. Naomi Cohen

    Leah, you ask if this is the best approach when dealing with a parent.

    There are parents and there are parents.

    Of course trying to detach from a parent is wrong — when it comes to a normal, healthy, non-abusive parent.

    but when you have a cruel, rejecting, abandoning, hurtful and damaging parent – what would you have Abby do?

    even Rabbanim, when consulted, will tell you to detach and stay away. i know of one case where a Rov told a woman not to even call her mother once a week to wish her a good shabbos, because the call would leave her so shook up she couldn’t function the rest of erev Shabbos. this woman wants to fulfill her obligation of kibud em and in fact she contributes promptly to her mother’s care and upkeep – but to call her – this is taking too much of her own kishkes out.

    we have to protect ourselves, Leah

    those of us whose parents did not care for us – we have to care for ourselves a little extra.

  8. Naomi Cohen

    By “contributes promptly” I am referring to the financial end of it. she gives money towards her mother’s support but does not call or visit her, or invite her to her house.

  9. I hear you, Naomi Cohen, but it doesn’t sound like the parent here was cruel, just clueless and not around. maybe too self-focused to give the kids much time. I don’t know. Just going by what’s written in the article which is not enough information. Perhaps Abby needs to the one to reach out to her father. It sounds like she is an adult now; if she really wants the situation to change she can do something about it.

  10. Naomi Cohen

    THIS IS NOT A CRUEL WAY TO TREAT A SMALL, HOPEFUL DAUGHTER? YOU EXCUSE THIS AS “JUST CLUELESS”? he was clued in enough to impregnate Abby’s mother. but somehow when it came to his daughter’s birthdays he was just clueless, couldn’t figure out if he should send a card or ignore the day. ARE YOU SERIOUS?
    EXCERPTS OF ABBY’S ARTICLE SHOWING REAL CRUELTY FROM THE FATHER:

    Those were the ones spent waiting, hoping, and usually disappointed.

    There was the bas mitzvah he didn’t acknowledge, the 27 birthdays he “forgot,” the graduations he didn’t come to.

    There was the year he started a new family – and didn’t tell us.
    There was the day he called for the first time in three years and then fell off the radar for another two.
    And then there was The Last Visit, although I didn’t know that at the time.
    I was ten.
    THIS MAN IS CRUEL.

  11. Naomi Cohen

    sorry for yelling, Leah
    i just cannot stand “blame the victim”
    let’s place the blame squarely where it belongs – on the cruel selfish father
    and give Abby all the credit in the world for deciding not to let him hurt her any more

  12. Friend of Abby

    one day recently Abby’s dad called her on her cell
    after TEN years of silence, ring ring, i’m here
    abby almost fainted from shock and fear
    i am her friend
    looking at her face i thought someone had died
    i took the phone and told the man “first send a letter apologizing for all the disappointments over the years, then humbly, in writing, ask for a relationship”
    he never sent the letter.
    he never sent the letter.
    as Abby’s friend sometimes I fantasize about punishing him. he hurts her so much. ongoing. starting when she was tiny.
    if anyone is ever going to repair this relationship, it can ONLY be him and it MUST start with acknowledging wrongdoing. something he seems incapable of understanding.
    tragic. painful. terrible.

  13. Hi Abby,
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    ths was a remarkble read.
    I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

    to Friend of Abby – you sound like a one-of-a-kind friend.

    G-d bless you both.

  14. As a divorced father, I think I read this article differently than most. Unfortunately, many fathers are locked out of there childrens’ lives’ after divorce for no reason at all. Or the mother poisons the chilrderen against him. It sounds to me like something like that is at play here. Look – accoridng to friend of abby he just tried calling her recently. that’s not cruel, thats’ a father not giving up despite the way he’s been treeted.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story. May God comfort you and your family.
    My Great Grandfather died when my Nanna was only ten years of age.
    She once said “there was no one to teach us”
    BOTH of her grandparents had died, three uncles had died
    and her only elder brother was only 11.
    The pain of not having a father to teach them was exasabathed by the fact that their father had been a Cantor. a very kind, gentle and caring man.
    For three days I have been searching for an article to put words to our families loss. I thank you for sharing your story.
    You see our loss was compounded by generation after generation marrying outside Jewish families. I am blessed that my wife encouraged me to connect with my Jewishness. It’s a long slow process.
    I sincerely mourn your loss. Thank you for putting words into mine.
    God bless
    Nathan

    I am

    Ben Levi

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