Looking Back to 1959-Growing Up Without Our Dad

Although our Dad was gone, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all...

Father’s Day is coming up soon, and it’s one of those holidays I always hope will come and go quickly.  I haven’t seen my Dad since I was about 12, and that annual reminder in June always fills me with a certain quiet sadness.  

It began in 1959 when my parents got divorced.  I don’t remember much about that time, except suddenly Dad wasn’t around anymore.  Before he left, I remember hushed conversations behind locked doors, and my dad not being able to go to work.  But I didn’t know what it all meant back then. 

Only years later, did I find out that he had manic depression, an affliction that is discussed pretty openly now. But back then, the topic was relegated to whispers, visits to the hospital, rumor and speculation.

When you’re a kid and there’s no father in the house, suddenly you’re no longer a part of that Leave It to Beaver club. Your parents are DIVORCED. It's like some plague hit our family, and I remember the kids at Carpenter whispering about us like the situation was contagious.

Little did I know that in the 50's and 60's there were very few Leave it to Beaver families. Most had something going on, whether it was alcohol, infidelity, money issues, an illness, physical or sexual abuse or something else. We just didn’t talk about it. Back then, everything was swept under the carpet.

It was the Mad Men era, when women were supposed to wear their aprons proudly, and have a stiff drink waiting for hubby upon his return from the office. The kids rallied around the dining room table discussing homework, school crushes and other neat and nifty topics. I'll bet those families only existed on TV.

I miss my Dad. I miss his tussle of my hair, calling me Mayra, with his southern Mississippi drawl.  I miss his childish sense of humor, taking us out for ice cream at Thrifty's after church, and his prankish nature.

I'm sure some of my friends had fathers who were mean, abusive, and irresponsible. My father wasn’t one of those. He just got sick.  Maybe those of us who grew up without fathers were spared certain things that others had to endure.

I guess I’ll never know.  I just know that I loved my Dad, and I still do, even though he’s been gone since 1965.

Happy Father’s Day Dad…

Mary McGrath May 01, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Thank you Teresa for supplying all these great vintage photos. They mean so much...
teresa mcgrath May 01, 2012 at 03:14 PM
certainly, glad you were able to use the photos...thx too for the grave photo, that one is very special...a fine article about the seldom verbalize manic-depression disorder, now coined bipolar...little did we know that dad had ect treatments, shock treatments to rid one of bipolar disorder...dad was fun in his manic states playing football, drenching us with the hose, and his infamous eyelid massages...mom was basically supporting all 6 of us, and him, since he wasn't able to work...i recall lying to classmates that he went to "the office", when queried about his type of work....he wasn't working, but i couldn't admit that to my peers....our family home was already considered haunted, so that would have been too risky to divulge....we would eagerly await his letters once he moved to mississippi after the divorce...i miss dad too, but didn't know him very well...i hope bipolar becomes less of a stigma in the years to come...i know mom loved him very much, but had to divorce him to take care of the family....it was a tough call for her....
Mary McGrath May 01, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Yes, I know many families had to deal with mental illness, and so many people rely on medication nowadays to manage a variety of ailments. Back then though, it was shameful. Thanks for your wonderful feedback Teresa and the memories....
Andy Steiner May 02, 2012 at 08:13 AM
Try as I might not to, I still became my father. All the bad behaviors that I should not do, should not have done, as it related to my marriages I learned from him. Gee... thanks.
Mary McGrath May 02, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Glad you could relate to this Andy...And if truth be told, I think I became my mother in many respects.
Barbara Krause June 05, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Touching and tragic story. Luckily my parents were happily married but one day I asked mom what would happen if they ever got that thing called divorce...she said that if either of them broke up the marriage that person would have to raise my three younger sisters and me---I never worried again!
Mary McGrath June 05, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I'm glad your family stayed together Barbara. Thanks for sharing your memories...
Andy Steiner June 05, 2012 at 11:10 PM
As I think back on my youth, the overriding emotion that I had about my parents was embarrassment. My mother was sick too. She had multiple sclerosis and either used and cane or walker. My parents slept in different bedrooms. (I ended up doing the same thing with Michaelle. I snored and she slept diagonally across the bed leaving no room for me. In a king sized bed no less!) Sleeping apart and confining sex to the Roman Orgy Room really helped, but I digress... My father was most comfortable at home in nothing but a t-shirt. I was always worried about asking a friend over and scarring them for life. It seems that my memories don't at all jive with the memories of my friends. Dennis absolutely loved my mother, Daryl can't say anything but nice things about both of them, Hoover is ever so grateful for the month he lived with us when his parents needed to go back east. The worst part of it all, FOR ME, is that I can't remember those good times when my parents made my friends welcome, filled their tummies, taught them foreign words and so much more. I only remember my own embarrassment. <shaking head>
Mary McGrath June 06, 2012 at 01:22 AM
I so appreciate your honesty on this topic Andy. I'm sure many people have had troubles with their parents, but many just refuse to talk about it. Thank you.


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