"Kid's see through you," he said. ( Mother or father, you should know this--kid's see through you.) I have heard this said about Tim Russert, in the shocking aftermath of his sudden death Friday. Tim Russert will be remembered by so many of his colleagues as a man who encouraged them to be good fathers, good mother's, since it is that job that matters most. That job that will have the most lasting legacy, that will change the world, that will pass love into the future. That job is the one that will change a life, and then the lives that flow out from that life.
I am frightened about what the loss of Tim Russert might mean for the political season to come. Could one man matter so much? How will we know?
But what moves me most right now, are the stories his colleagues tell of Tim Russert the son, and Tim Russert the father. And it is this aspect of Tim Russert, the man, both father and son, that has moved me most.
Father's Day was always a difficult day for me. I had not one bad father, but two. Abandoned by both. With never a backward look as far as I knew. No birthday gift, or card, or call for an abandoned daughter. A silence so profound for me, it was deafening. It made me sad, and lonely at first. It made me feel unloved. And finally it made me angry. It wounded me, and so profoundly, it damaged every relationship with every man to come later in my life. The little girl who got left by her daddies, left every man to come after. I became the woman who leaves.
I left my first love, just when I knew I loved him. I married men I didn't love and left them, too. I made love without loving. What did I know of love? What did I know of men? That no matter how much you loved them, they'd leave you? I knew that no matter how much you needed them, they would leave and never look back. And this is the woman I became.
I got pregnant once in my mid twenties. Pregnant by a man I feared. How can you love a man you fear? A better question might be, how can you make love to a man you fear? But that's a longer story. For now, I'll simply say, I knew I did not want this man to be my child's father. I did not want to be tied to this man for the rest of my life, trying to force him to be a good father. What did I know of good fathers? And I worried that I would not be able to protect a child of mine from the wound that broke and hardened my heart. And so (pre Roe v Wade), I chose to have an abortion. I can't really say I regretted the choice I made. Because, late in life, grown up daughters have found me.
Now one of my daughters is having nightmares that there are tanks in the streets, a knock at the door, a gun to her head. Apocalyptic nightmares, recurring. And in the last few days she said in passing, that her father has been calling her. Her father, the man who walked out on her and her little brother when they were small, leaving her mother to raise them alone. He fathered other children. Left them, too. Now that she is almost thirty, this fatally flawed father wants to talk to his daughter. There is desperation in his plea. She does not answer the phone. She does not return the calls. He texts her, he pleads. He wants to bring her back to God, he says. She listens but doesn't hear. And now I believe I understand the nature of her dreams. The unwanted invader at the door, forcing in his way. The gun in the face.
A father's abandonment leaves a wound that might not heal. It might leave you childless, alone. It might hold you hostage a lifetime. Fathers, your kids see through you.