Story 15

Growing up without a father

Hi, I’m Mădălin, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I’m a developer who’s always looking forward to discovering new technologies and playing around with them. Recently, I became the happy owner of a Scottish cat named Cosmo. Our relationship is work-in-progress.

No father figure in my life

What follows is a story that many other children could relate, no matter where they live globally: growing up with a dad, but without a father.

I know that this may sound confusing, but there is a huge difference. A dad is someone that contributed to your creation, while a father is a person that has always been there, helping you grow up and trying to provide all the needed support. Hence the expression father figure.

This is why I am saying that I grew up with a dad, but without a father. Physically he was there, but emotionally he did absolutely nothing positive for me. I moved from my hometown for seven years now, and he is missing in-person too ever since.

The first time I felt he was only a dad was when I was four years old, but I became fully aware of it 20 years later.

Growing up in a small village in Romania is probably a dream for every kid. What could not be great? I had a small community, many exciting surroundings, and plenty of spare time to spend with my friends. I played football all day long (still a big fan of FIFA), like everyone around me. I used to hit the ball against a wall, hoping that someone will see real talent in me and will lend a hand to become a pro. It never happened, but not because I was unlucky. I was not as talented as I wanted to believe—just a regular boy, doing tricks with the ball, and having some fun.

Those years were great. Another thing I remember from that time is that I enjoyed playing with batteries, wires, and LEDs. One of my most significant achievements was a circuit with a battery, a button, and an LED. Even if it was something straightforward and somehow naive, it blew my mind at that time. I was five.

Not a father, not a dad, but a stranger

Time passed, I started to do new things and extend my circle of activities, and I expected that my father would stand next to me. I thought of growing as a shared experience that involved him, too. The reality was different: another father played his role, the father of a friend.

I still remember the first time when I went fishing. It was an hour ride to the lake, but I felt so much joy that stuck to me over the years. I knew nothing about fishing, and I did not love the water (still valid today), but I was keen to embrace this adventure. I received a fishing rod, bits of advice from my friend’s father, and for a few hours, I was sitting there with my friend, waiting to catch something. No fish touched our rods in the first hours. However, my friend had some luck on the final lap and got a few while my basket stayed empty.

At the end of the trip, my friend’s father gave me a hand of fishes to bring home. He encouraged me to tell my mother that I was the one that caught them, which I did. The only problem was that the fishes were alive, and I didn’t let my mom kill them. She didn’t want to upset me, so she got a big bowl for me to play with them.

My dad was there all the time but didn’t ask me a thing or seemed happy for me. He was absent, as always. That night, I was comparing him with my friend’s father, and for the first time, I felt that I am having a dad and not a father.

My mom has been the only support, and when things got worse with money, she packed her things and went to work abroad, in Italy (unfortunately, that’s an entire phenomenon in Romania). From here, things just got worse with my dad. He was drinking more, spending all the money sent by my mom, and lied whenever someone faced him. He was an excellent deceiver, and at that moment, we used to believe him.

Things persisted for a few years in a row until my mother decided to send money to my brother instead. From that moment, my dad’s ego felt hurt, and life with him started to go from bad to worse. He talked loudly and embarrassed me many times by yelling at me in public places while being drunk.

The cracks got bigger and bigger

A strong wake-up call was the moment when he tried to hit me, but I dodged. I confronted him and told him I am ashamed of how he behaves, how he is talking, and how he presents himself to the world. I was 14 years old when it happened, and this particular event made me feel that something had changed permanently.

Years passed, and in a blink of an eye, I had to choose the faculty where I should study for the next few years. I passed the final exams with decent grades, being congratulated by everyone except my dad. He was not even curious about where I was going to study and why I chose that specific field.

My mother was still working in Italy in that period, supporting us with money, while my brother moved to the United Kingdom for work. They both helped me register for faculty and made sure that I had everything I needed.

Fast-forward four years, and with help from my mother, brother, and girlfriend, I finished my studies and got my degree. A few months later, my mom finally decided to hire a lawyer. Even though he was never there for me, I had mixed feelings the first time I heard the news about the divorce. The process didn’t happen smoothly because he disagreed with her choice, but they finally got separate lives after almost one year.

Acting in antithesis to my dad

While my dad should have been a father figure for me, he chose to be precisely the opposite (programmer slang: ! father-figure). Until this point in life, all my actions were focused around one goal: not being like my dad. I felt that my dad never did something right; never put a smile on someone’s face; he did not make something valuable or worth remembering. Until this day, I can’t find anything positive in him. Thus, I have decided that I will never be or act like him.

My mother could not count on him, so I had made all the efforts to help her count on me. Because he was not credible, I always gave my best to be responsible and worthy of trust. Because I saw him lying so many times, I’ve been refusing to tell a lie, even for a good cause. Because one day, someone told me that I am walking like him, I tried to change the position and the rhythm of my steps.

I was doing the reverse of what he was doing. Looking in the mirror and seeing the person I am becoming, I believe that I chose the right path. I know that some things may sound naive, and I should not try to change things just because of him, but this is what helped me cope and move forward.

I never turned to be aggressive, an alcoholic, or a drug addict. I finished a good faculty that I enjoyed, now I have a job that I love and fulfills me, and I like to believe that I will continue to keep working on becoming a better person.

I’m most proud of the fact that no one acknowledged what I’ve been through until now. I did not want to receive special treatment because of what life threw at me.

I’m aware my story sounds sad, but it is liberating to be here today and have the guts to share my story. Yes, growing up without a father was harsh and brought a lot of pain, that’s for sure. On the other side, I like to think of it as overcoming all kinds of shortcomings.

The irony is that even if I don’t like to admit, I think that my dad was the most important person in my life in some senses. In the end, all those challenges impacted my becoming and helped me land here today. At least, this is the truth that I decided to hold and repeat to myself over and over again because it gives me fuel to keep going.

We all need something to believe in, right?

Be a good father or mother,

Contributors of this story: Mădălin Gorbănescu wrote this story, Oana Filip edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all together, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development, George Mihăilă took the photo.

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