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How Growing Up Without A Father Has Had No Effect On The Person I Am

I don't have a father.

Now, before this story explodes into a worldwide phenomenon about my mother being the bearer of an Immaculate Conception and my birth being a sign from the heavens above, please let me explain.

I’ve never met my father. My mother told me that he disappeared shortly after I was born. From the sounds of it, he vanished quicker than a mafia boss in the middle of a murder scandal.

It was as if he had entered the witness protection program and ceased to exist in my family's life, without even a trace of his whereabouts. In reality, he just didn’t want to raise a child. As far as I knew, a stork dropped me off at my mother’s front door.

I can make the jokes because I’ve grown beyond the mourning period, so much so that in my mind, my dad really doesn’t even exist. I don't ever think about him; this is the first time I’ve even discussed the topic publicly.

My family gave me a few brief ideas about him, like traits we may share, but for the most part, we are nothing like one another.

From what I’ve heard, besides a bloodline, we have nothing in common. I know, for one thing, I got my height from my mother and my grandmother, so my father and I don’t even share that.

In the past, I wondered what he looked like, what his personality was like, what his political and religious beliefs were and what talents he possessed.

I was curious what he did for a living and what his hobbies were. I wondered what his side of the family was like. At the root of it all, I used to wonder if he thought about me.

It didn’t help that when I looked around at the other kids in school, I saw the norm was to have a mother/father household, and I was an outsider to that tradition.

Kids can be cruel, and “where's your dad” and “what do you do on Father's Day” became regular interrogation questions on the playground. Also, try explaining to your teacher when you're 5 years old what your father does.

“Um I don't know him.”

I wasn’t as creative back then, otherwise I would have made up a different story every time. He would have been a pirate, astronaut, rock star, spy, storm chaser, soldier or superhero — anything but a ghost.

Being a “Star Wars” fan, I always wondered whether there would be a day when an adversary would reveal to me that he had been my father all along.

Fortunately, growing up, I had my caring and nurturing grandparents, my supportive aunts and uncles and my strong-willed, independent mother to fill any absence that may have existed in the father-figure department.

They would collectively reinforce the fact that a father didn’t make or break my upbringing, and that I was going to do just fine without him.

Down the road, my stepdad would come into the picture to actually take a title role in the household and provide adequate support, but the biological mystery remained. It still remains.

Who is my father?

My mother has never told me. I had asked her a long time ago for the answer, but she told me she would let me know when I was older. She also told me I wouldn’t like him, but said she would tell me if I really wanted to know.

I told myself that one day, I would reopen the decade-old classified case like I was Rust Cohle hunched over a six-pack of Lone Stars.

However, the time has passed, and the case remains open. It’s collecting dust on an old, internal shelf in the attic of my brain, where it will stay forever. I no longer care who he is nor do I even want to know him.

I don't want him to be a part of my life. Whomever he is, he didn’t care enough to know who I was — am, and even worse, he didn’t have the common sense to acknowledge the moral obligation of fatherhood, for which he signed up.

He is pathetic in every sense of the word, and a disgrace to fathers everywhere.

More importantly, I choose not to know him out of respect for my family. Why invite someone like him back into our lives? He pissed everyone off with his departure, and he’d do the same with his arrival. It would be nothing but a waste of time.

Sure, I'd get the answer to the classic “Kindergarten Cop” question, “Who is your daddy and what does he do?” But, do I really need the answer? No, not at all. It wouldn’t make a difference about who I am or how I came to be.

All jokes aside, his absence led me to appreciate those whom I do have in my life. I could sit around crying about what I don't have and blame my problems on his absence, or I could focus on those whom were there for me and still are.

I learned about independence, respect, responsibility, nurturing, discipline, determination and commitment in the household in which I grew up. Not having a father didn’t halt my development in the slightest.

Instead, it taught me everything I needed to know about being a respectable member of society. My lack of a father taught me what not to do when it comes to being someone who takes responsibility for actions.

I’ve learned that you can't run away from your responsibilities. If you have an obligation, like a human being that you brought into this world, you must be there.

You care for them, nurture them and guide them in the world, while passing on traditions and values in an environment that focuses on love and support.

You become their role model and aid them in their cognitive, emotional and spiritual development. Or you don't, and they write a long article blasting you 27 years later.

I have never gone without. My family sat in the stands, stood on the sidelines and laughed alongside me, every step of the way. I have no regrets and wish for nothing different. I wouldn't have my experience in life any other way.

I share this story because I know there are people out there who have lived through similar experiences.

Either their fathers or mothers were missing from the household, they grew up in a broken home or they don't have the luxury of calling anywhere home or anyone family. It's sad, but it's the truth.

The important thing is, you're not alone. Regardless of your situation, there are people out there to whom you can turn. Everyone has a story, and there is always someone out there who has an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.

There are people who will fill the void, be it another family member, friend, social group or person with similar experiences. Remember that you are never alone.

Now, to all you fathers and future fathers out there who don't think you're ready or have walked way from your sons or daughters: Take accountability for your actions.

Be men and become role models for the soon-to-be miniature version of you that's premiering in the movie theater called Life.

To speak frankly, do the right thing. Don't be a scumbag.

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Ryan Nallen

Contributor

Ryan Nallen is a Chicago-based actor, writer, and improv comedian. He is a graduate of iO Chicago, Second City and the Annoyance Theaters and has a degree in Communication from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.
Ryan Nallen is a Chicago-based actor, writer, and improv comedian. He is a graduate of iO Chicago, Second City and the Annoyance Theaters and has a degree in Communication from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

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