June 17, 2011
I asked my dad what he wanted for Father’s Day, and like all dads who never abandoned their children he said, “Nothing.” I insisted he must want something and he said, “I would be content in an abyss” before adding, “if there was a chair there, that would be great. If there was a six-pack, that would be good too, but an abyss is fine.” It made me wish I had one of those loser dads who was never around. They always want something.
I’ve been fascinated by deadbeat dads since I first came across one at age ten. My best pal Dale was sitting on his bed crying. His father had promised to take him fishing but had to bail due to some complicated story about a sick friend. “What are you crying about, Dale?” I asked incredulously. “You don’t have to hang out with your dad. That’s awesome!”
I saw my dad way too often for my liking, but Dale got to see his dud of a dad once a year at best. One year, instead of sending himself, Dale’s dad delivered a beautiful oil painting of…Dale’s dad. The painting always disturbed me—not only because of the guy’s Danny DeVito demeanor but because he was wearing a cheap hockey jacket with the Montreal Canadiens logo on the side. What, you can’t dress up when you’re being immortalized?
This is the how deadbeat dads think. They don’t dress up. They don’t even show up. They’re perpetual children who love nothing but themselves and their favorite sports team. And they’re all the same. Comparing them is like catching up with identical twins separated at birth.
Sam is a teacher in Northern Ontario. His dad is now living in Japan after forsaking Sam and his mother twenty years ago. Sam is almost thirty and has a strange admiration for this directionless turd. “I’m going to Tokyo to help him,” he told me during a recent visit to New York. “His art is all over the place and he needs someone to help him archive it.” I’ve heard this sort of thing several times from fatherless children. I told Sam his time would be better spent archiving the family photos his mother took while holding down two jobs and making sure her two sons finished school—photos from which his father is conspicuously absent.
I work with a guy named Sebastian who didn’t see much of his dad after age four. His father is also an “artist,” but he buries his art. He does his sketches on paper plates and buries them in the backyard after they get too numerous to store. Like Sam, Sebastian reveres this nut and was recently at his home helping him get his hoarder lifestyle in order. Deadbeat dads rarely sell their creations. That would involve getting involved, and contributing to society is not what they’re all about. “Me” is what they’re all about.