Danielle Young with her father
Photo: Courtesy of Danielle Young

My father has never really been a major part of my life. Not having a father around was pretty much a normal thing throughout my childhood. My birth mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 3 years old, which left my brother and sister and me to be raised by family. My aunt became my mother as she stepped up and took us in to raise us as her own, along with her three children. My aunt was also a single mother. And overnight, her household doubled.

My new mom’s oldest son became a father figure. I looked up to him. I asked him for support when I needed it, and he was always there for me and my siblings each and every time.

Growing up, I didn’t even know I was missing my father. I have a few memories from my childhood when my father would come to Rocky Mount, N.C., to take me four hours away to Winston-Salem, N.C., for weekend visits. The flashes of memories were miserable. My stepmother made the visits uncomfortable and, at times, unbearable. Even as a child, I knew that the way she treated me was wrong.

My father was supposed to be spending this time with me, but he was hardly ever around, and I’d be left with my stepmom and her devices. All I knew about going to my dad’s house was that I hated being there.

When I was old enough to let my mom know, I did. But the visits didn’t stop; they just lessened. But for years, the vibe was already set. I felt like I didn’t belong at my father’s house, and my father would come and get me, only to not spend time with me.

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By the time I was a teenager, I had opted out of the visits, and my father and I would just chat on the phone when I’d call him. Honestly, most, if not all, of those calls were surface-level. And by the time I graduated from high school, I hadn’t seen my dad in over four years. I extended an invite to my father to attend my high school graduation, and he showed up with my stepmother in tow. I thought I would be bitter at seeing them, but I was actually excited to be able to share this milestone with my father. I did ignore my stepmom and her nice-nasty, underhanded compliments, though.

My dad told me that he was proud of me, handed me $300 and some luggage for my college move, and headed back to Winston-Salem. My dad and I didn’t speak throughout my whole four years in college. There were a few phone calls here and there, but nothing substantial. I can’t remember whether or not I told him that I was moving to New York City after college, but I know he wasn’t there to see me off or support my move in any way. In fact, I packed up a U-Haul and drove myself there.

Before I knew it, a couple of years had gone by and my dad and I were still back to being strangers. I remember the day I decided that I would change that. I told myself when I left the gym that night that I would call him. It was as if God had heard me and whispered into my dad’s ear, because I was on the treadmill at the gym when my phone rang and displayed his name and number. Under any other circumstances, I would have ignored that call, but I’d made the declaration earlier that I would call. So I stopped the treadmill and picked up the call.

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“I miss you, baby girl,” my dad said to me. I don’t think I’d ever heard him say that to me. Tears formed, and I told him that I missed him, too.

“It’s been way too long,” I said. Now, I’d never called my dad “Dad” or anything other than his first name. Even when I was speaking to him, I wouldn’t call him “Dad.” I was a professional at coming up with various ways to address him or talk about him without using the word. It just felt foreign in my mouth.

After that phone call, my dad and I started speaking regularly, and he would even come to see me when I visited North Carolina for the holidays. My dad was also back in the dad business of offering me advice and financial support when I needed it. So after a few years of being connected again, I didn’t think twice about asking my dad to help me with a financial situation that I was stuck in.

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We were chatting about my request in text messages. We were texting back and forth, and when I typed the message about needing money, the responses stopped cold. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and assumed that his phone had died or he meant to press send and didn’t, but I knew better. I called, but he didn’t pick up. The next day, I tried again and nothing.

I figured out a way to handle my financial fiasco by myself and even let my dad know that I had handled the issue, but still no response. Fast-forward to a year later, and I’ve made no effort to contact him. I have no idea what happened to him or our relationship, and sadly, I’ve stopped caring. It’s sad because I’d love to have a relationship with my father, but I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t want one with me. I hope I’m wrong. I am wondering if I should try again ...