Looking at the television screen confused, I asked myself out loud, “Fod-der. Foder? What’s a foder?” As a three-year old girl in a pink princess dress, on a hot summer afternoon in June, I excitedly ran to the living room to turn on the big television. The PBS channel showcased my favorite, incredibly popular show, “Sesame Street.” It’s the show I constantly watched where I learned everything about the outside world and educated myself. There was an unforgettable, particular episode. The characters in the show kept praising this male figure that I have never encountered or recognized. “Happy Father’s Day!” said one of the characters, who was a trash can monster. “Thank you to all the fathers out there!” a red monster named Elmo expressed.

“Fod-der. Foder? What’s a foder?” I asked out loud as I looked at the picture I drew on the fridge. The picture had my mom, my older brother and I, holding hands in a grassy field with butterflies. I didn’t see a “foder” in the picture, so I assumed “foders” only existed on T.V. A few hours later, I looked out my living room window and saw my mother’s car. She dropped off my eight-year old brother home from swim practice. She does this during her lunch break from work, and doesn’t have time to get out her car.  I didn’t get to see her, but my brother looked soaking wet and exhausted. His spikey, black hair dripped down his face.  I immediately followed him into his small bedroom, where toys filled up every inch of the floor. I asked him, “What’s a foder?” He laughed, “You mean father?” And I answered, “Yeah that!” He looked down at me suddenly with a sad, serious look on his face and says, “That’s our dad…a man that our mom fell in love with before, then had a wedding, and then created us.” I nodded and decided to ask someone older than he was to clarify. As I processed everything he said, which seemed like a bunch of math equations, I headed towards the kitchen where my grandma was making grilled cheese sandwiches for us. I tugged at her apron which was too big for her petite body and short height. Once I got her attention, I asked her, “Where’s my dad?” All she did was shake her head as if she was disappointed. She then tied her short, black hair up into a low ponytail to let me know that she was too busy to talk about it. I starred at her and realized she was a spitting image of my mom. I knew my mom would react the same way if I were to ask her. From that moment on, I realized I was going to be a child who had to learn how to grow up without a father.                                      

I thought not having a father was going to be easy, until I was constantly reminded about it each day in elementary school. The school felt like it contained more students than it can hold. The fathers of the children would come pick them up from school, volunteer for school related events, show up at award ceremonies, school concerts, and graduations. My mom was a single mother of two, which meant she worked a lot, but at least tried to attend as many things as she could for my brother and me. At recess, I’d hate it when my classmates would ask me questions like, “Where’s your dad?” “What does your dad look like, mine looks like me.” “What’s your dad’s name?” “What does your dad do?” “Is your dad strong like my dad?” It felt like the walls could cave in on me any second. When I would tell them that I simply didn’t know the answer, they would look at me as if I was a different species. I would hide in the girls’ restroom and cry my eyes out. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I knew I really had to try to learn how to be strong. I just didn’t have a strong father to teach me, unlike them.

In the second-grade, an argument evolved between two girls in the classroom. They were crying about what the other said about them. All that stood out to me was what our teacher said. She was very tall and needed to kneel down in order to look them in the eyes. The class sat silently still, feeling all the tension in the room. She told them, “People will never truly understand you, until they are in your shoes.” I looked at their feet and became confused, because they had different size feet. After class, I asked my teacher what she really meant. She explained, “It means that people don’t understand what it’s really like to experience what you’re experiencing, unless they’ve experienced it too.” I kept telling myself from that day on, “Ignore the other kids that look down on you for not having a father. They don’t know what it’s like.” The words my teacher said is what kept me strong throughout elementary school. I kept telling myself from that day on, “Ignore the other kids that look down on you for not having a father. They don’t know what it’s like. I guess I didn’t need a father to teach met that.”

As middle school and high school approached, I was doing well academically, but not socially. Being a teenager was harder than it should’ve been. The household was tearing apart. My older brother not having a dad, led to him to do ruthless things. It affected me since he was my only older, male figure. He ended up running away and that made my mother feel lonely which led to her having affairs here and there. I felt lost, alone, and desperately in need of anybody. It was like I was drowning in the middle of a deep ocean. Therefore, I became dependent on men. I always felt like I needed to always have a boyfriend. For the seven years straight, I was never single. They weren’t serious relationships at all, but at the time I thought each was. The “relationships” would last two weeks minimum, three months maximum. I was known as the school’s slut. Girls of many colors would always bully me, yelling “WHORE” in the hallways, punching me in the face, and cyber-bullying me. These girls had a father to tell them that they’re beautiful, that they’re smart, that they’re amazing and more. I didn’t. I fed off from all my boyfriends’ compliments, care and attention, and their need to be with me. It made me feel confident and whole.

One particular relationship, senior year, I stayed with a guy for a year and two months. It was the longest record of mine. Until one day, he decided to cheat on me with a coworker of his, and eventually chose her over me. He became yet another man who left me. I was desperate. I felt like I could’ve done literally anything to win him back. The night of the breakup, I sat up in my twin sized, all white bed. After many hours, which then turned into days, then weeks of thinking and reflecting on life, I realized it was his loss. I knew I was better and deserved better. I’ve never done anything for myself and for my own happiness. I realized I didn’t need a man to make me feel complete. I had to have someone cheat on me, after seven years of middle school and high school, in order to learn my self-worth. I learned all on my own.

Growing up without a father was not easy, but it shaped who I am. It had me figure out how to be strong and truly confident. My own battles, my own life, my experiences with people who encountered with me, led me to be an independent and strong person. I didn’t need a man, or a father, to define who I am and to care about me at all times.  Everything I choose to do in my life is beneficial for myself, and no one else. Thanks to “Sesame Street,” for introducing a figure to me that I never had, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.