Father’s Day: A Good Man, A Bad Husband


Me and Pops

It took me a long time to realize that my father wasn’t a bad man, just a bad husband for my mother. That’s what happens when you’re a mama’s boy and your mother not-so-subtly drills that into your impressionable mind.

Yes, he was deceitful. Yes, he was hyper-critical. Yes, he was extremely moody. Yes, he could be distant. Not often to me but to my mother.

I internalized her pain and grief over their troubled marriage and made them my own.

As a result, my father and I spent a good many years alternating between uneasy peace and power struggle. I would begrudgingly obey his orders. I was openly contemptuous when he tried to impart lessons about morality or righteousness. I rarely, if ever, confided in him or trusted his judgment.

I was an ungrateful asshole.

In my rush to defend my mother, I never considered his sacrifices or grief or even his insufficiency for the nuclear family lifestyle. As he often told me, “he grew up without a father” as one of eight children in Hot Springs, Ark. His mother (my grandmother) died of a stroke when he was 17, he got married to a girl – not my mother – that he’d gotten pregnant the next year and then he was soon off to Vietnam.

He grew up fast and missed out on a lot. I had all of the security and luxuries that he never had, in part because of his promise to be the father that my grandfather never was. But I didn’t realize this until much later.

And once he was made to leave our family home, I decided that I had to show him I was ready to assume the role of man of the house.

Problem was I was ill-equipped to be any sort of a man let alone a man of the house. I didn’t even know how to remove the lint filter from the dryer.

By the time I had moved on to college, I fooled myself into believing I didn’t really need a father figure anymore. I was tired of hearing his incessant reminders to check the car’s tire pressure, schedule dentist appointments, and try whatever vitamins that he was taking himself. I thought I needed him to transition into more of a friend than a father.

This all flipped for me when I lost my first job. I had never worked for another company. So much of my identity was wrapped up in my profession, and it was all I had ever wanted to do. I contemplated life without meaning. I even contemplated not having a life.

What I remember most about walking out of that office in northwest Houston for the last time in July 2005 was seeing my father waiting on me at the foot of the steps. I had tried to hold it together, to be a stoic, to not let people see the pain that was welling inside of me. Then my father opened his arms, I fell into them and basically lost my shit in front of dozens of people.

It was around then that I realized this had been the tenor of our relationship for so long. He had always been there for me, even as he wasn’t there very much at all for my mother. That’s a hard thing to sort out as a kid – their relationship was theirs, and our relationship was ours.

This was the same man who taught me how to properly tie a tie. How to shave. To carry the football in the arm closest to the sideline. To let a police officer know where your hands are at all times. To properly make up a bed – hospital corners and all.

He suffered my childish resistance and never wavered, which couldn’t have been easy.

Today, it’s my turn to humble myself. I’m still learning from him.

He might not have been the best husband. But he was the best father.


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • That was amazing.

  • This essay is surely the best gift a dad could possibly get. I admire him for deserving it, and you for being man enough to write it.

    • das

      My sentiments exactly, Tedra.

  • Katie

    Beautiful. I’m at a loss for words.

  • Wardrussell

    Complicated stuff. Thanks for deconstructing it for u, your dad, me and, I suspect, at least a few others…

  • Pam

    Thanks for sharing this poignant Father’s reflection Day openly and honestly with the world. May God bless both you & your Dad. You two should consider speaking to young people and sharing what you’ve been through to help them on their journeys.

  • Cheresse Peyton

    This is how I feel about my ex husband. He has always been a wonderful father to our son but was not a great husband to me. And he knows it. Now after 5 years of being divorced we have the best relationship now for our son.

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  • Olivia

    Absolutely Wonderful! What a Blessing!

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  • Thanks for writing this. My relationship with my father was also better than his relationship with my mother. I was torn between my loyalty to my mother and loving my father. Very often his conflicts with her were an excuse for his absence from our home and that was very painful but we were able to discuss that before he died and that was helpful. I’m glad you were able to make peace with that internal conflict and find the freedom to love your father while he’s here. I think that as we come to terms with our own shortcomings we can better understand those of our parents. They are men and women first, with all that that entails. Blessings to you and yours.

  • Thaddeus

    good words brother. the truth shall set you free.

  • Thank you for sharing this! I am amazed at the similarities, which might not be so obvious since I’m a woman. But I’m also the oldest of three, and I was very much enmeshed wtih my mother. I automatically sided with her because she did most of the talking in our family. When my father got home from work, he wanted his Scotch on the rocks, his cigarettes and newspaper and total silence while the news was on. He spoke during dinner only when he wanted to make sure we fully understood what was going on in the world according to NBC Nightly News. Otherwise, it was orders to do something. (He was also a military man, 24 years in the Air Force.) And yes, he was a pretty lousy husband to my mother. But he was a good man, and a good father. Separating all that has been difficult, but at 55 years old, I finally understand. Thanks, Dad.

  • It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, after my first real heartbreak, that two things became clear to me. One, he was a great father but a lousy husband. And two, my parents relationship had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was theirs, the messiness, the heat, the passion, anger and resentment, all of it was theirs. I was just the by-product. Accepting that, life got a whole lot easier for me. No more guilt, no more feeling as if I was in the middle. Only then was I finally able to enjoy a mature, honest and happy relationship with them both.

  • Rita Glick

    That is absolutely beautiful…

  • mstompkins

    Amazing!!! This touched me on so many different levels! Thank you so much for sharing and being honest!!! It’s really hard to be honest when you know you “dropped the ball”