“Please don’t go, Dad! Please don’t go!” came the fraught muffled pleas of my ten year old brother. His head buried into my father’s abdomen. His chubby hands griping my dad’s tear stained shirt. Inches away, I stood on the asphalt, numb, emotionless, like a hollow effigy. As a seven year old boy, I was doing that “thing” I do. The thing I still find myself doing in a crisis today — shutting down — refusing to feel. Ignoring the ache of the blows until after the fight. So I can sort things out alone, lick-my-wounds privately.
My father said goodbye, then hugged my brother and me. He was headed to Virginia, which at the time seemed worlds away from this California boy. Then he turned, opened the driver’s-side door of his black truck and slid inside the cab. With the hallow metallic thud of a closing casket, the truck door shut. The ignition cranked, the engine throbbed and the truck lurched forward, merged into traffic and soon disappeared. This was the second time my father left. The only one I remember.
The first time he left, I was 14 months old and have no real recollection of it. At that time, when I was seven, the only thing shared with me about events surrounding my father’s first departure was a despairing account of my brother shrieking at a pained window, both hands pressed upon it, with tear stained cheeks, watching him leave. In that moment, the second time he left, I experienced none of that standing there on the asphalt. There were no screams from me, no heartbreak, no warmth of tears gathering behind my eyes — just cold numbness. Though ignoring the emotional grenade helped shield the present pain, it couldn’t stop the message searing through my psyche like slivers of hot, twisted shrapnel: “ You’re not worth much, Joel.” the message came.
In my experience, there is nothing more psychologically debilitating than fatherlessness. In the wake of a childhood devoid of a good — involved — male, a chasm forms. This breach of the soul is so deep it rarely heals — at least, not on its own. The good news is that a fatherless heart can be restored — revived — even resurrected, if you will. In the next few posts I would like to share some of my story and how, eventually, my unfathered soul found its way back home. My hope is that yours will too.
Please feel free to comment (below) or if you’d prefer to message me here (or on my instagram account @joeljohnsonorg). I know sometimes talking about this subject can awaken some painful memories, I would like to help you navigate through them any way I can. I look forward to corresponding with you.
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