Move Over Fantasy Dad: This Father's Day I Celebrate My Real Dad

Many of us from divorce carry around a version of our Dad that doesn't always square with the flesh and blood one.
06/11/2013 11:40 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Many of us from divorce carry around a version of our Dad that doesn't always square with the flesh and blood one. He could be cast in your mind as a hero or villain, or somewhere along the edges of either extreme. One of the great attributes of imagination is its ability to help us cope with major life events. Thanks to the creative mind, there's no reality that can't be sugar coated or overblown and no vacancy so big that it can't be filled by illusion. Nature does abhor a vacuum.

As a kid I chose the sweet sugar coated version. Then, as I got older, I swung from hero to villain. Perseverance in my search to really know my dad has paid off with a gift of perspective and now I can celebrate the dad I had, not the one I dreamed I had.

Here's my story:

My dad abandoned my mom, me and my brother when I was three years old. A year later, according to mom, he died. For eight years I pretended he was living in my spirit, although that's not how I defined it at the time. It was like I'd lost a limb but still felt it attached long after it'd been severed.

I was 13 when I found out he was alive (long story) and wanted us to travel two states away to see him. If you're thinking I expected to see and be with the dad I'd created in my mind, you're absolutely right. Forget what mom might have told me about his circumstance; imagination running wild, I only heard what I wanted to hear. Dad's return to the land of the living was a miracle!

Turns out dad had had another family (wife and three kids). Talk about messing with a miracle. I stayed with them for a day and then called mom and begged her to buy my bus ticket home. Back in familiar territory it didn't take long for the other, idolized dad to return to my fog of fantasy. It made life tolerable. Need I mention mom was no picnic?

Dad left that second family and started a third. I began my own family. Soon we were in contact through letters: letters full of love, regret and family news. We'd each put pen to paper to define and redefine in words our visions of who we were to each other. Over the years, distance kept the letters coming and kept our fanciful, fragile tie in place. I kept every letter he sent. I'm glad I did because one day he died for real. It took some time, but rereading those letters without the buffer of imagination, I was able to discover what he was trying to say to me.

So today I celebrate you, Harry L. Carr, my real dad for sticking around in my early years. Those joy-filled memories of you carrying me on your shoulders have lingered a lifetime. Thank you for inviting me back into your life when you had gone searching for your own illusion. Thank you for all your self-effacing stories like when you joined the communist party not because you believed in their principles, but because a friend did. For turning me on to Studs Terkel, for writing so many letters to me, one in which your words of consolation reached the depth of my sorrow after losing a son. Thank you for showing me the importance of having children in life and for your diligence in writing your own story about being raised by two spinster aunts. Following through for your dreams must have been difficult when you'd been disappointed so often. Thank you for leaving so many beautiful warm children behind, all of which I'm on Facebook with. The Carrs are far from a saintly bunch and I believe you believed you were trying to raise the bar. Thank you for talent and for exhibiting how one can stay in the stream of life through creativity. My fantasy dad couldn't have possibly done all that. In the end, he was no match for YOU.

Happy Father's Day, Pops!

Which dad are you celebrating this Father's Day?

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