I realize I am (really) late to the party on this one, but I just finished reading Barack Obama’s autobiographical book, Dreams of My Father. It’s incredibly well-written, reflective and fascinating. (Note: I’m going to stay away from politics here.) Aside from the themes of growing up with the influence of various cultures and races (and how that can leave you belonging nowhere and everywhere) it is, most of all, an examination of the effects of growing up fatherless, the longing and doubts, the fantasies and resentments this can elicit.
Perhaps one of the reasons I was so drawn to this is that my own daughter has been without a father since she was six, and my late husband’s father abandoned him when he was two. The two circumstances (and their effects) were quite different even if the end result is the same. My husband’s mother was an unwed teenager when she became pregnant. Her partner in crime married someone else months after she gave birth and my husband never knew his father. I remember when we first married and had a child, he told me he had no real idea what a family was or how a father should act. He literally had no road map to follow – and had decided tendency to mistrust fathers in general. (In fact, he turned out to be quite good at it.)
Nine years after he died, our daughter is a happy, well-adjusted 15-year-old. Though of course she went through a very rough time when her father died, she came out the other end, in part because she knew he had loved her. I recently asked her if she missed having a father and she said that she did wonder what it would be like but that she was “happy with us.” She, too, will have to discover her own road map. Of course, in this day and age, so many of us have to create our own families.
Children, as the Dreams of My Father and Obama’s amazing journey make clear, are incredibly resilient. And patterns can be broken. And some sense of peace with the past can be found. I’ll stop rambling. All I can say is, read the book. If nothing else, you will come away with a greater appreciation of all the different forms that families can take.