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My brother was killed in a tragic accident in his early 30’s. His pregnant
wife and three daughters (under the age of five) survived him. Many lives
were profoundly changed as a result of his death.
My brother was a highly ethical man who had very concrete ideas about
family and what his role in a family would be. Like many men, he intended
to rewrite his own history and be the father that, perhaps, his father had
been was unable to be. Being a man’s man, he would have fulfilled his
role as family protector and provider. More than this though, he had
envisaged his marriage as an equal partnership. Without doubt he
aspired to be the kind of father that all children need and want, and I
believe that he would have been the kind of father that most men dream
Although many men do not voice their expectations of themselves as
fathers, I believe that most men have a deep desire to be exceptional
fathers. From the moment a man is told that he is going to be a father, he
starts to plan the ‘ball games’. He imagines protecting his daughter from
boys like himself. He starts planning for the child’s education and often he
states out loud what occupation his child is likely to take up (usually his
own). You often hear a father refer to his future business as ‘Me and
Son’. He envisions his son having everything in life that he did not such as
becoming the champion athlete that he was not. His daughter is going to
be the most beautiful in the land - his daughter, his princess.
I recently was contacted by one of my brother’s daughters. She explained
that she felt that her life was a jigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces.
She felt that her memories of her father were a combination of her
imagination and her mother’s memories, and that this created a very
incomplete picture of him. She asked me to share some of my memories
with her, in the hope that this would create a more balanced picture of the
man her father was.
My niece is in her early 20’s now, an age when most of us look back and
try to connect the dots, and also an age when we try to know and
understand ourselves by reaching into our history. This is an age when
we start to consider how our personality, talents and emotions play into
who we are. We are more aware of our gene pool and wonder how much
of who we are is a product of that genetic mix. We wonder if having a
better understanding of our parents will allow us to better understand
Deep within us all is the need to love our parents. We need to know that
above all else our parents love us. Without this, there is a ‘soul
emptiness’, a disconnection from our selves.
We all need our childhood memories, without them we feel incomplete. In
the absence of real memories we tend to adopt imagined memories.
My mother, sister and I have been gathering, talking and writing down as
much as we can remember about my niece’s father. It has opened up a lot
of sadness but much joy as well. One memory will set off another and so
much of what we have lain to rest and left unspoken has been allowed to
resurface. Emotional pain has a way of being pushed so far down that we
sometimes forget it’s there. Of course it is always there, just below the
surface, and in many ways it continues to choke us. Self-preservation is
often the core reason for denial.
Just prior to hearing from my niece, I had been speaking with a couple of
men, who, after a long absence, had returned to town and were
attempting to reconnect with their now grown-up daughters. I am not sure
why or how I became engaged in these conversations, but three different
men, in three slightly different circumstances, had the same agenda: to
get to know their 20-something year old children. Or, perhaps they
needed to allow their children to get to know them. I believe that in their
own way, each of these men were seeking to complete the same jigsaw
puzzle that my niece referred to.
Just as childhood memories are a part of who we are, and their absence
leaves us with a sense of being incomplete, it might be for those of us who
are parents, that parental memories or their absence, leave us with an
equal sense of being incomplete.
I believe a revolution is taking place in which absent fathers, who have
been silent and whose roles in a child’s life have been minimized for far
too long, will be ‘stepping up to the plate’, demanding that they be
included in their child’s memories.
Many men have reached an age or a level of maturity now and the
children have become young adults. That deep-seated longing within
them both has finally become a compelling force leading them to re-
It’s certainly common for society to label absent fathers as selfish,
irresponsible or even redundant forces in their children’s lives. While this
may be true of some absent fathers, I don’t believe it is the predominant
truth of all absent fathers. As my father used to tell me, “I did the best I
could at the time with the limited understanding that I had”. Or to put it
more succinctly, if I had known better I would have done better.
I am using the term ‘absent father’ here for convenience. The term absent
parent could and should be substituted throughout. My definition of
absent is not restricted to physically not there. It extends to include
emotionally, financially and spiritually not there.
Recently in Australia there has been a great deal of media exposure
given to the ‘stolen generation’. The term stolen generation refers to
Aboriginal children who where taken from their parents by the Australian
Government in the late -1800’s through the mid-1900’s, and either placed
with white Anglo-Saxon families or in Government homes or orphanages.
My limited understanding of this is that the Government’s actions were
intended to breed out the Aboriginal race – a form of genocide. (I’m sure
some people will take offence at this comment, but what the hell, it is my
I mention the stolen generation here because I see a similarity between
Aboriginal children during this era being denied access to their culture,
language and customs by removing them from their family environment,
and modern day children being denied access to their absent parents. It
is only now that Australians are beginning to understand the ramifications
of the Government’s actions in that era. Basically we now have an entire
generation who had their childhood memories stolen and who are
demanding that the country formally apologise. They demand to be told,
“We are sorry”.
The children of the 1970’s and 1980’s have become young adults and we
may well refer to them as, ‘the abandoned generation’. Could we now
have over 100 years adding up to this one common denominator: I am
This is absolutely not about guilt or shame. It’s time to stop pushing down
our resentment, time to step out of our denial and find our voices.
Our children are now referred to as Generation X-ers. Generation X-ers
are often portrayed in the media as being: feral, violent, selfish,
materialistic and or lazy. While there may be an element of truth to the
media’s portrait of these children, high unemployment, homelessness,
drug and alcohol abuse, lack of community, indifferent parenting and
mental health issues have predictably influenced and affected the
In my opinion the Generation X-ers are going to be the generation that
could change the world.
Historically family life followed a natural course to do as your forefathers
did. Children did not have a voice; they did not ask questions, and they
did not challenge the way things were done. Children, they said, “Should
be seen and not heard”. Your parents set an example and you followed
that example. If you were miserable, confused or unfulfilled, you kept your
mouth shut and did as you were told or ‘the right thing’.
Copyright Sonya Green
|When My Dad Comes Back
He will tell me he loves me.
Fear of abandonment, emotional healing and childhood memories.
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