I'm sure there was more contact somewhere in there, but my next memory is of crossing a frozen parking lot from my mother's car to his -- like a prisoner in an exchange between countries -- when I went to stay with him for the first time. I played video games (Donkey Kong) for the first time in my life.
On the third -- and final -- visit that I remember, his wife and I baked an apple pie for his birthday. I met a half-sister whose existence was previously unknown to me, got my period, and wound up in a fight with him.
Needless to say, Father's Day held little meaning for me for many years. I didn't mourn the absence of a father because I never had one.
Two marriages changed that: my mother's, and my own.
The man my mother married has become a father to me. He is constant and kind. He is loving, and forgiving. He sends me cards when I am blue and offers gentle guidance when I feel lost. Sometimes, now, I get flashes of jealousy for people who grew up with a father. The feeling passes quickly, but is a reminder of just how fortunate I am now.
For my husband, fatherhood is a challenge. I believe he was abused, although the family mythos is that the boys "deserved" the treatment they got. He told me once, "I don't want to be like my dad." He isn't, although it's a struggle. We work hard to find a path together, and don't always succeed. Still, he loves our children with depth and desperation, and they know it. He is great for wrestling and board games. He is instilling in them a tremendous work ethic. The kids are unaware of how much knowledge they have absorbed from his lectures, but I hear and see it in their school lessons. He tries, over and over and over again to give them what he never had -- support and unconditional love and an awareness of just how very proud he is of their efforts and accomplishments.
I know now what I never had, and am grateful for what I do have: a man who has become my dad, and the man who fights every day to be a good father to our children.