"One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end." -- Jiddu Krishnamurti
Growing up without my father was, by far, the hardest thing I've ever dealt with in my life. His choice to leave before I was born felt like a curse. It was "the unknown" that scared me so much. The unknown things like the why, the how, the what of growing up without him there. As a young child, I never really missed him because I didn't know any better. He just wasn't there, and that was that. My mom and the man she eventually married, the man I call Dad, never left me wanting for anything, but there was nothing they could do to fill that void that was in the shape of the idea of my father.
I was in 8th grade when I began putting things together and asking questions about him. It started with little things: walking down the street wondering what he looked like or if I had walked past him. Unknown. I wondered how he dressed and how he talked. Unknown. What kind of music did he like? What were his favorite movies? Unknown. Those questions ate at me constantly. The more I thought about him, the more I missed him. The more I missed him, the more the unknown scared me.
As I went into high school, the questions became bigger -- and so did the anxiety. Why did he leave? Was I completely unlovable? If I were an amazing kid, would he hear about it and want to be a part of my life? Did he think about me? Did he wonder who I was becoming? The anxiety attacks increased. I had no self esteem. I had a hard time trusting anyone. After all, if your own father can leave you, so can anyone else. Those words haunted me. They repeated in my head like a song stuck on repeat. The older I got, the more I grew angry. How could you leave your son? How could you just pretend he doesn't exist? How could a man just up and leave when he finds out he's going to become a father?
The questions and the anxiety never stopped. I never put the two together, but looking back now there is no doubt the anxiety and the unknown questions about my father were so clearly linked. I reached out to him my sophomore year of high school; I wanted to hear his voice, to know how he spoke, to just say "hi." I looked him up and called, secretly hoping he'd see the error of his ways and just say, "I'm so sorry. Thank you for calling. Lets go grab lunch and talk." Instead I got, "Don't call me again. If you need something go to family court," and then a dial tone. Devastation all over again. In college I happened to run into him and got a similar response, but face to face. Still, my mom never spoke badly about him. She, wisely, let me draw my own conclusions.
Now, a few years after college, I'm finally recognizing just how damaging a father choosing to leave his own son can be. I'm learning how I internalized his choices, as if I had done something wrong. I'm learning that my past -- that idea of my father that I created in my head -- ruled my life and every decision I made. I let fear rule my life. I let control rule my life. I couldn't control him leaving, so I would control everything else in my life. I'm learning that his decision, his choice, the same one he continues to make to this day, is just that: his choice. It has nothing to do with me. He doesn't know me. I can't tell you how many people told me that growing up. I heard them, but I didn't get it. His selfish choice to abandon the life he created is about him, not about me. I've held on to the fear of the unknown for all of my life, and I'm ready to let it go. I have to be okay with not knowing the whys, the hows and the whos. I have to come to terms with the fact that whether he comes back or not, I will be okay. I am worthy. That is what is I know. I am able to handle it. As I'm learning this, I want other fatherless sons to know that you're not alone. Your worth is not based on his choices or anyone else's but your own. So embrace the fear. Challenge the thoughts. Write out the story you've been telling yourself. Question the idea of the father you created in your head. Most importantly, know that no matter what, you too will be okay. You too are worthy and lovable. Only then can you be ready to jump into the unknown; it is the only way to free yourself.
Kyle appears in a two-hour special event "Fatherless Sons" on Oprah's Lifeclass, airing May 5 on OWN.
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