Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
I was 8 when the weight of my father’s absence hit my heart full force.
I was attending our annual street party and an impromptu dance session had erupted on a neighbour’s driveway. Dancing with some friends, swaying my little-girl hips, I felt the cool breeze on my tanned bare legs.
I closed my eyes, singing the latest 1998 pop hit. When I opened them the song was over, and a slow song started to play. My friends ran off to their respective homes, and I was left standing alone, overcome by emotion as I watched a picture-perfect scene before me.
A young girl of about 4 was dancing with her mom and dad, sandwiched between their embrace. I could feel the love between the two parents like an electric shock through my little body. The girl didn’t look much different than me. As Whitney Houston sang When You Believe, I stood immobile, entranced by this endearing moment of a young family.
In an instant, I felt a cloud of grief wash over me. Tears began streaming down my cheeks. I remember running as fast as I could, my feet pounding on the pavement as my heart beat wildly in my chest. I found my mom on our porch and hugged her around the waist, sobbing.
In that moment, I felt the loss of my father in a way I never had before. It wasn’t the last time I was overcome with emotion over my father, but it was the first I can remember. I still recall clearly the words from Houston’s hit song, “there can be miracles, when you believe.” They poured salt on my wounds.
I had spent many years hoping and believing that a father, any father, would miraculously show up on my doorstep. I spent my childhood poring over books about orphaned children, begging God for my own Daddy Warbucks to rescue me.
Almost 20 years later, I am a fatherless woman who remembers that day clearly, and many more like it.
My father left my mother when she was seven months pregnant with me, and, aside from the occasional awkward Saturday visit, my dad was not a presence in my life.
At first, I didn’t notice the absence of a man I had never known. My childhood was idyllic. I lived in a comfortable home, surrounded by toys that I never had to share with a sibling. My mother worked for Via Rail, and I have many memories of long train rides, listening to the hum of the train moving along the tracks. My mom took me to picturesque Belfountain Conservation Area every fall. I would grab clumps of crunchy brown and yellow leaves and throw them at the sky. I was a voracious reader, and spent hours immersed in books by Beverly Cleary, Ann. M. Martin and Lois Lowry.
But as I grew into a young woman I felt a gaping hole inside me. It grew bigger and bigger as the years passed: no father to bring to the father-daughter dance at church; no father to wave at me as I danced on stage, no father to high-five me after I hit a home run in baseball. As these moments passed, the hole seemed to get bigger until it was impossible to notice much else.
A few days before I left for university, my dad called to speak with me. I remember his words: “There’s no point in going to university, Brianna. I only completed 11th grade, and I did fine.”
His words cut deep. I was the first person in my family to attend university, and I’d worked hard to get there. His reasons for calling were self-preserving, I knew: If I didn’t attend university, he would not be legally bound to provide financially. My heart still ached. My father wasn’t proud of me.
I ended up graduating from university, getting married and having two children of my own. Through it all, I continued to believe in miracles. I longed for my Dad to enter my life, or for my mom to remarry and find a man who would adopt me. I hoped for a happy ending to this part of my story, but it never seemed to work out.
I remember many moments when my mom asked me: “Aren’t I good enough for you?” It was hard to answer that question when she had sacrificed so much to raise me. She had been a wonderful single mother, and I always choked back a sob as I nodded: “Yes, you’re enough.”
It wasn’t until I became an adult with my own family that I realized how hard she had worked, and how difficult it must have been for her.
Even though my father never did fill that gaping hole, I have found enough love in my life that sometimes my heart seems to be bursting with it all. In my heart, I carry the love of my mother, my ever-attentive husband, our two young daughters, and my caring in-laws.
I will never forget the moment when my life truly did come full circle, a few years ago.
My first daughter was newly born, and my husband turned on some music, picking up our sleeping infant. He cradled her in his arms and started swaying back and forth, softly singing in her ear. Then he grabbed my hand and drew me close to him. I wrapped my arms around my small family and swayed my hips back and forth. I closed my eyes and remembered that moment 20 years ago. I wished that little family well, and smiled at my own.
Whitney was right. When you believe, miracles do come true.
Brianna Bell lives in Guelph, Ont.