The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

DI Voices | Where my dad lay on the spectrum of absent fathers

Jasmine Nichols

Growing up, my parents were never together. But I’d visit my dad every summer; we’d go deer hunting and fishing in the Texas heat. We’d ride four-wheelers through the country roads and eat kolaches for breakfast, my favorite father-daughter tradition.

One night, he gave me his night vision goggles used for deer hunting and told me to look up at the sky. I saw every single star. I never knew there were so many hiding up there! Of course, it was him who showed it to me. As I looked up and around in awe, I remember silently expressing my wishes to the stars hoping someone was listening.

“Please keep showing me this side of my father. I need it.”

I watch fathers and their little girls walk past. She smiles at him like he is her best friend in the whole world. And a part of me breaks apart. I hope they stay that way, I hope they don’t end up like we did.

My dad: the first man I knew and the first man I’d love. My dad: the first man to disappoint me and the first man to let me down.

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You can’t choose your parents. You’re randomly born to two individuals who might not always have their lives figured out. Therefore, recently, I have been questioning how my poor relationship with my father has impacted my life as well as learning to understand why he may act the way he does.

My dad was in the military. Everything revolved around the Marine Corps. They told him exactly what to do. So once he was discharged, things changed. Once you remove the military, things become more individualistic. He was forced to begin making decisions based on his own thought processes as opposed to what he learned on base. But what he knew about being a father was lacking.

My father’s father wasn’t there for him. He was heavily involved with drugs and was always getting charged with public intoxication and assault. When you’re a young man without a father figure, it’s extremely difficult to know what a “good” dad looks like.

When my dad was told that his dad was going to pick him up and spend time with him, he’d sit on the back steps with his clothes packed, waiting for hours for him to come. He’d never come. That has happened several times.

In another universe, I met my father when he was a child. We throw a ball back and forth, and as we play, he tells me he constantly has to fight. He tells me he doesn’t allow himself to cry. But sometimes the world hurts him and he doesn’t know what to do with all that pain. So I give him the shoulder he needs to cry on. And he does. He cries until he can’t anymore.

Afterwards, I buy him a sweet treat and I listen to his laugh that sounds just like mine — the laugh of a child who knows they are loved. I wish someone could have done that for him. Been a kind, safe place.

Would it have made a difference?

My dad doesn’t know how to be a good father because he’s never seen it. He’s hurting, and it’s rooted deep inside of him. He puts up a tough routine and utilizes this protective mechanism, something that has deeply impacted our relationship.

So I had to deal with the repercussions. And as I got older, this ideal picture I had of my dad was proven to be surface-level.

Because once I was old enough to question him and reflect on all he missed out on, things changed. Why didn’t he show up to my graduation ceremony? Why did he do more for his new wife’s stepsons than for his daughter? I grew angry with him.

We recently got into a big argument that resulted in the end of our relationship. He cursed me out over the phone and then “wished me luck.” A whale could have swum in the tears I cried as I blocked his number. The blood flowing through our veins is the same. We share the same last name. I look in the mirror and see half of his face. Yet that still wasn’t enough for him to swallow his pride and be my father.

I’m easy to care for when close but easily forgotten when apart. And my inner child sobs. When did I stop being your little girl? What a horrible thing it is to read your father’s messages and realize his love for you has vanished. I’m sorry you had to raise a kid you didn’t really want. I love you.

I often blame myself for our poor relationship. Could I have done more to reach out? Instead of being angry, should I have given him the benefit of the doubt considering how he grew up? Why do I feel guilty for not putting in enough effort, when he never gave it to me? It’s a lot of pressure to maintain a relationship with an absent father, but I realize it isn’t all my fault. Because for so long, I was just a child.

But maybe his absence truly is a blessing in disguise. The demons he carries inflict more pain than his absence. Because when I think of him, I remember how terrified he used to make me. My father is an angry man.

You taught me to confuse anger with love, and I grew up to trust men who hurt me because they looked so much like you. When little girls can’t fix their fathers they will spend the rest of their lives trying to fix their lovers.

Why does this feel so familiar? I don’t mean to compare, but it’s hard not to.

Protect me like my father never did. Don’t break my heart repeatedly and I hope that you’ll one day change. I feel safe in your arms. Fulfill the child in me that only wanted to be loved and seen by her dad.

I inherited your rage. You swallow your pain and the bitterness sits heavy in your stomach and festers into poison. Your anger passed down to me and it flows through my blood. You taught me to be confrontational. You taught me to say the worst things I can think of to win the argument. You taught me to be hateful. 

Like father, like daughter.

I could grow up fully embodying you and what I’m supposed to be, but instead, I’m choosing to put an end to our generational trauma. I spent years unlearning what I saw out of you. I found a man who loves me, who doesn’t remind me of you at all. And you only made me realize how strong my mother really is. She played both roles and did double the amount of work to make up for your absence.

But at this point in my life, I’m just confused. I wish I could end this with some motivational message, but no matter how put-together I act, I miss you. I want to hug you and your big belly again. I want to drive in your dirty truck and listen to you rap to Outkast again. I don’t want you to grow old and lonely. I want to be there for you like your dad never was. I want to fix you, so maybe you could grow to love me again.

Until you realize how much you missed out on, though, I will focus on what’s really here. I will focus on the people who were present when you weren’t. And I will keep accomplishing my goals. Hopefully one day you can see all that I’ve done, and you’ll come back to me.


Jasmine is a freshman in Media.

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