Father’s Day is tricky.

My biological dad never wanted much to do with me. He was a handsome dreamer who didn’t know how to stay. Gold chains around his neck and a wide-collared shirt unbuttoned just a little too far. Alluring gap between his front teeth and eyes so blue you could swim away in them.

He would breeze in periodically with gifts from the latest bar he’d managed—an XXL Jose Cuervo t-shirt that came down to my knobby, skinned knees; a Bacardi mirror that Carrie used so she could curl and feather her hair just so.

But the only lasting things he gave me were my athletic build and cavern of want in my heart.

Whatever was broken in my young life, I was sure my dad could fix. Whatever was missing in my young life, I was sure my dad could provide.

But he chose not to fix anything. He chose not to provide anything. So, I guess I’ll never know for sure what he might have been able to offer us.

“Chaos,” my steadfast mom assured me in my saddest of moments. “He would have brought chaos to our lives.” She was the one who knew best. She was the one who knew the chaos most intimately. The wedding gifts gambled away. The empty bank account and the empty bottles of Scotch and the emptiness in our hearts.

I remember that when my dad’s identical twin brother died, my well-meaning cousins—his kids, who, of course, looked like they could have been our siblings—urged Carrie and me to mend fences with Dad before it was too late. But with my dad, there were no fences to mend. The fence had never been built in the first place. The white picket fence of my childhood dreams had never come to fruition.

Carrie didn’t lament the fact that we didn’t have a dad at home, but it was the source from which all my unworthiness and abandonment issues stemmed. There is a fatherless ache in me that never quite goes away. The issues he left me are mine alone now, and I get to either figure out how to eradicate them or at least learn how to co-exist peacefully with them.

I’m fairly certain my dad is still alive in this world, but I’m not sure I’d know if he wasn’t. My only connection to him was through my sister, and when the glioblastoma took her, it took my last vestiges of him as well.

I don’t wish my dad ill will. It’s useless to be angry with someone you don’t know. I mean, I wanted to know him, but he chose differently. He gets to choose in this life, and he chose things other than me. That was his prerogative. He had his own demons to wrangle. We all do.

That’s what being human is about.

My mom, beautiful and independent and proposed to by many suitors, married my stepdad, Bob, when I was fourteen.

Although I was angsty and argumentative and I put my dirty shoes on his dashboard time and time again, he loved me, anyway. Like a father should. His own biological children were grown and flown by then, and I was the only child left to raise.

We made a home in our small Midwestern town, Mom, Bob, and I. It was a single-story home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a big backyard. It was filled with iced chocolate Roselyn Bakery brownies and after-dinner free throws on the driveway and beef burgundy with pea salad and road trips to softball tournaments and sleepovers with my loud, funny high school friends.

There was finally a father who did not make me, but who helped create the adult that I’ve become.

I was first left, and then I was later loved.

Life can surprise you that way.

(Happy Father’s Day, sweet Bob.)

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