What it feels like to grow up without a father

Photo by Steve Shreve on Unsplash

Death confronted me when I was four years old.

I didn’t know what death nor absence was until I learned I do not have what others do – a father. From the wide-eyes of a child, I began to see families with mothers and fathers and then I started to wonder why I don’t have somebody I could call papa like others do. Where is my father? What happened to him?

So one night (while on our bed to sleep), I asked my mama where my papa is and she just told me that he is already dead. I was four years old that time. And because death was too big of a talk my mind can comprehend at the time, I kept inquiring more about the matter. I raised questions like: “Why do people die?“, “Where do people go after they die“, “Who is God?“, and “Why does God allow people to die?” Surely, if you were my mother that time, you would find it quite challenging to explain death to a four year-old girl.

What it feels like to be fatherless

There are things in life we don’t have control over with. And in these moments, we only have the choice to be either consumed by it or work around it (because we can only affect things we have control over with).

You get to wonder and ask why. As my story began when I was four years old, I wasn’t able to entirely wrap myself around the idea that others get to have a father and I don’t. Of all the people in the world, why did God allow it to happen to me? Doesn’t He love me that He just decided to pick out my father out of the picture of my life? It felt so unfair that I began to question God’s goodness at a very young age.

You get to compare yourself with others. Family gatherings, PTA meetings, and father’s day celebrations became breeding grounds of emotional disturbance (grief, self-pity, and more questions directed to God). I just don’t know where to go to when other children (be it my cousins, classmates, and church mates) get to run to their fathers. Like, where will I run to when all of them get to run to their dads? I get so absorbed with those moments that I get to cry inside while I try to suppress the tears bubbling up out of my eyes. It felt like my mind was melting away and I just wanted to disappear right then and there.

You get to think of ‘what-ifs‘. I also get to entertain the idea that if and only if my father did not die, life would have been different. Maybe my mama wouldn’t work as much as she does. I would also have been spared from these feelings I never wanted (but learned to endure as I grew up).

You get to feel that there is a longing that can’t be filled. At times I get to think I am broken. It’s like my life should be this complete puzzle. But since I will never get to experience what it’s like to have a father in the house, a father to talk to, a father to embrace, and a father to run to, my life will never be that puzzle. I never get to relate to people who experienced what it feels like to have a father. All I know is what it’s like to only have a mother and it is never the same.

Common misconception

Irresponsible behavior. I am really surprised when people are surprised every time they get to learn that I grew up without a father. They say I am too prim and proper to grow up without one. They even get to say that fatherless girls are (1) expected to be irresponsible with their lives because they don’t have fathers to straighten them up, and (2) emotionally disturbed as they try to fill this gap of fatherlessness by seeking male attention.

Well, maybe these are real-life tendencies but I can confidently say that fatherless children always have a choice on how they want to live their lives. There are also other factors – such as what kind of mothers you end growing up with, extended families who get to nurture you, and a relationship with the Lord – that will shape who you end up being.

What fatherlessness made me become

I started to think differently. Fatherlessness is emotionally taxing at first but once you get to accept your situation, it becomes a matter of fact you just learn to live with for the rest of your life. The emotional struggles I had since I was young enabled me to see life from a different perspective as I grew up – that life is short and that death is inevitable. I learned that death is a part of life and that everyday, I have the choice in making the most of it irregardless of the circumstance I am in.

I learned to become a shadow of my father (or what was left of him). Once I accepted the fact that I don’t have a father anymore and will never get to see his face in this lifetime, I learned to enjoy knowing him through stories my mama and relatives get to tell me. And because I deeply wanted him to exist in my life, unknowingly I learned how to become more like him. People get to say that I resemble my father and with that, I couldn’t be more happy.

I started to rely on the Lord as I would to a physical father. We couldn’t deny that death is a spiritual thing. Remember the questions I started to ask my mother when I was four? Going back to that life-changing moment, I really became curious who God is in our lives and His role in my life. I earnestly sought answers for the very questions I had that night. The death of my father actually allowed me to know God deeper by reading His Word. From then on, I get to rely on Him like I would to a physical father – because He is the father to the fatherless. And now, I have answers. Knowing God and who He is in my life made all the difference.

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
Psalms 68:5 NLT

Wrap Up

  • There are things in life we don’t have control over with. We always have the choice to either be consumed by it or work around it (because we can only affect things we have control over with).
  • Your circumstance does not dictate who you’ll end up being. Even if you grow up without a father, being in a nurturing environment helps you get through all the struggles fatherlessness entails.
  • Death is a spiritual thing. Knowing who God is in your life makes all the difference.

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