My First Experience with Loss
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my father, whose name is Austin Marion Roberts. My father was only in my life until I was five years old. When I was five, he left me and my mother to fend for ourselves, never to be seen or heard from again. The last memory that I have of my father was not a pleasant one; at 57 years of age, I remember what happened very vividly. I was sitting at the kitchen table of our home on South Street in Utica, New York methodically munching on a baloney sandwich, when my three uncles pinned my father against the wall and simply said: “If you do anything to hurt Sadie (my mother) again, we will kill you.” Needless to say, I was scared. I don’t remember any incidents of abuse directed towards my mother, or me but my mother did tell me when I was older that my father was abusive towards her. My mother chose not to remarry again and raised me as an only child. I remember growing up longing to have a father in my life again and being angry as hell with my mother because she didn’t remarry. My father’s abandonment and the subsequent pain throughout my childhood of not having a father were the first significant losses that I experienced in my life. I have always said that if you live long enough, you will experience loss. Apparently, five years was all I needed to take a walk on the dark side.
Grace Under Pressure
My mother, whose name is Sadie Bridgett Roberts, could have been bitter about the hand of cards that she was dealt, but instead chose to only tell me the good things about my father. She told me that he was brilliant and creative, but conflicted because he grew up in an environment that was chaotic because of a dysfunctional mother. He had five brothers, all fathered by different men. My mother acknowledged that he tried to be a traditional father and family man, but that he just couldn’t. She never allowed me to dwell in negativity about my father and she never undermined or criticized him in front of me. My mother always displayed grace under pressure, even with the challenges of raising me as a single parent. She died at the age of 77, on March 11, 1994 of a massive bacterial infection. She was also a wonderfully intuitive woman who touched the lives of all who crossed her path. I am grateful that she chose me to be her son. She remains a part of my life today.
My Father’s Death
My mother was determined to find out what became of my father. He was a veteran of the Korean War, so she enlisted the help of the Veterans Administration in her search. When I was a freshman in high school (1969), she picked me up in her white Buick Special and showed me a letter from the Veterans Administration. My father died six years after leaving us, in Philadelphia, as a result of a car accident. At least I knew what happened to him. Knowing what happened didn’t make up for the sadness of not having a father in my life.
Coming to Terms with My Past
My Two Dads
I have revisited my past on many occasions during my 57 years of life. It has only been recently though that I have looked at my past for the lessons that it has taught me and the gifts it has given me. I always lamented the fact that my mother never remarried again and was angry with her for a long time because of it. I saw her as depriving me of the opportunity to have a father my life. But in reality, she provided me with two father figures, her brother and my Uncle Dave and her brother-in-law, my Uncle Jim. Several months ago, I thanked them both in prayer for the gifts that they gave me after my father left. I still do today. I also thanked my mother for taking care of me.
Honoring my Father
On Father’s Day this year, I spent some time with my dad. I expressed my gratitude to him for loving me in his own way and for leaving. I believe that my father knew that my mother and I would not have thrived or even survived if he remained in the picture. I do believe that his letting go of us was the hardest thing that he ever did, and to me the greatest act of love. When my daughter Jeannine died in 2003, I had to learn to let go of the accepted ideas about life and death and change my perspective to fit a new reality. My father’s gift to me was teaching me the meaning of letting go.
Honor the past as your teacher, honor the present as your creation, and honor the future as your inspiration – Jamie Sams
Updated: September 30, 2015