Like many children in the world, I grew up without a father. I never met him. My mom said I met him when I was five, but I don’t remember. Funny, since I remember so many things at that age.

I was told he didn’t want me or love me and once I was born, he left. I wasn’t even shown a picture of him until I was about eight. My grandmother showed it to me like it was a top secret document stolen from the CIA.

All my life, when people asked, I would say, ” I have a mom but I don’t have a dad.”  Most everyone would reply, “Sorry!”

Recently, I said the above in front of a friend and he gave me such a huge gift. He said,       ” Just because you’ve never met your dad, doesn’t mean he wasn’t real.” Someone said it out loud, without any judgement, without any horror stories about him. I never had the opportunity to have the perspective my father was real; a real person, not a monster.  I mean I knew he existed and people told me he was my father, but I never felt I had the right to truly claim him as my dad. It always just felt like a word to me “dad.” Underneath, I felt I never had a father because I never knew him.

I felt like a whole person when my friend Kevin said that to me. Sure, I heard it before, but not without some bitterness attached to it. It sounded so different coming from a friend or maybe it was because it came from a man.Whatever it was, I heard it, really heard it, for the first time.  I had a mother AND a father. Whether he acknowledged me or not, a fact is a fact, and the fact is, I have a dad, just like everyone else. In that moment, I felt like nothing was missing in my life. I have a real dad and not even he could deny it (were he still alive). WOW. It was a nice feeling. It didn’t matter he died before I could ever reach out to introduce myself to him. The fact is he was real; not just a title or a word. He was my father.

For those of you who never met your dad or the father of your children is not around, remember what Kevin told me – for me, it was one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard.

Your children are always going to want to love both parents, good or bad. Let them. Support them. Validate them. Both parents are real, no matter what they’ve done.