Senior opens up about growing up without a father

Senior+Ligoriana+Dillon+%28left%29+kisses+her+mom%E2%80%99s+cheek+in+their+apartment.+Dillon+and+her+mom+were+just+returning+home+from+sightseeing+in+Downtown+Houston.

Photo provided by Ligoriana Dillon

Senior Ligoriana Dillon (left) kisses her mom’s cheek in their apartment. Dillon and her mom were just returning home from sightseeing in Downtown Houston.

By Malaika Suleman, Bellaire High School

After her father missed her sixth birthday, Ligoriana Dillon’s life changed forever.

A happy, normal little girl living with her mom and dad in their apartment, Dillon’s life took a turn when her father left her and her mother right before she turned 6. 

“In the beginning it was just the three of us in our small apartment and I remember my life being a blast,” Dillon said.

Now 17 years old and about to graduate high school, Dillon admits that growing up without a dad has made a difference in her life. 

Dillon remembers celebrating holidays and birthdays with her parents together. She always looked forward to going to different stores and shopping for presents, but the fun stopped after her fifth birthday, the last birthday Dillon would ever celebrate with both of her parents.

 “He used to spend birthdays with me up until I was six, so I was kind of used to that, and then it just stopped,” Dillon said. “It was just an up-and-go type situation.”

Dillon knows her father went to go live in San Antonio, but she doesn’t know the exact reason for his abrupt departure or lengthy absence. She suspects that he was not ready to raise a child, but her thoughts could only satisfy her questions for so long.

“I really don’t have an idea why he left,” Dillon said. “I wish I knew.”

Even with so many unanswered questions, Dillon still has her father’s phone number saved in her contacts, but they seldom communicate.  Dillon reads through them at random times. Although she sometimes texts him and questions his motive for leaving, it’s normal for her to not get a response. 

“I have his phone number, but I don’t know if it’s still the same number,” Dillon said.

With no framed pictures of her dad in her apartment or in photo albums, the mobile conversations are the only reminder she has of a paternal connection.

When Dillon turned 14, she no longer wished to reunite with her dad. 

In school, often received assignments to draw and label family trees, but without knowledge or pictures of her dad’s side of the family, her completed tree would always be one-sided. 

“I don’t have pictures of them. I barely talk to him, so it’s just kind of hard to explain what happened to my teachers because I don’t even have the answers on why he’s not here,” Dillon said. “But sometimes that would affect my grades and my teachers would tell me to go back and make stuff up, so i would have to go do that.”

Her dad missed out dance performances and talent shows from elementary to high school. Dillon still received support from her mom, but she really wanted her dad to see her dance. When she performed, she didn’t think about her dad. All she focused on was getting through her performance without skipping a beat. But with graduation in a couple of months, Dillon said she feels the dread of her dad not being in attendance for a huge milestone.

“I’m his oldest daughter, and the first one to go to college, so that hits really hard that he’s not going to show up,” Dillon said. 

Socially, Dillon considers herself an introvert. With only three friends, she admits socializing with boys was always awkward.

“I would not know what to say, what to do, what not to do, and my dad wasn’t there to teach me what boys do and don’t do,” Dillon said. “I had to learn all of that from other people.”

Dillon said she thinks her dad would have stayed in her life if she was a boy.

“Every father wants to have a son at some point, and since I’m the first kid and I came out a girl, I feel like he got disappointed,” Dillon said. 

Between her mother and father, Dillon is an only child, but on her dad’s side, she has three little half-sisters, ages 8, 10, and 14 years old. Each one of them have different mothers and all live in cities, in different states. They used to all live in Texas, but they separated. Dillon’s two youngest siblings vaguely remember their dad, but the oldest one doesn’t know him.

Dillon is very protective of her sisters and makes sure to check up on them often. She mainly reaches out first but sometimes they send a text first.

Dillon never brings up the subject of their dad when they rarely meet each other in person because there isn’t a lot to talk about and she fears the topic is too emotional for her younger sisters.

“Talking about him makes me cry and I don’t want my little sisters to see me cry, and I don’t want them crying,” Dillon said.

From personal experience, Dillon said kids growing up without dads affects girls more than boys. 

“I feel like boys can use the fact that their dad isn’t with them as fuel to keep pushing forward and become successful,” Dillon said. “But with girls, we’re more inclined with our emotions, and there’s certain things that we need from our fathers.” 

Moments Dillon sees of fathers walking with their daughters in the park and going out to eat always make her emotional because she always wished to cherish times like those with her dad. 

“Those are bonding moments,” Dillon said. “That’s something special.” 

Unable to physically live out those moments, Dillon creates fake scenarios in her head: Goofy arguments about who was the better ninja turtle and other silly things that she would have playfully debated about if her dad still lived with her. 

With it just being Dillon and her mom living in their small apartment, Dillon jokes about her father’s absence in front of her mom and other people as a coping mechanism.

“My mom doesn’t mind because she knows I’m just trying to make myself laugh and not be sad about it,” Dillon said.

As a coping mechanism, Dillon writes. On her personal computer, Dillon types out her problems. She titles her pages, “My Thoughts for Today” and adding the date, usually typing 3-4 pages on Google Docs about everything.

“Problems with him, school, about collegeeverything,” Dillon said. “I’ve written about 14 Docs so far. I started my freshman year.”

Dillon doesn’t hold any resentment toward her mom for her dad not having a relationship with her. She blames her dad for the mess he has caused her family and her half-sisters’ families.

“My mom was always there to encourage me, to make sure everything was okay. And when my dad left she was always there,” Dillon said. “I don’t think she did anything to make him leave. I think he left because he wasn’t ready.”

Dillon does resent her father, not necessarily what he did to her, but what he did to her sisters.

“I could forgive him for being absent in my life, but I wouldn’t be able to forgive him for not being there with my little sisters,” Dillon said. “If I was standing in front of him I would thank him, but I would also tell him what he did was messed up because if he wasn’t ready to be a father, he shouldn’t have had kids because the same thing he did to me, he did to my little sisters. A father is a title that you give a man when he takes the responsibility of having children,” Dillon said.

But even though Dillon’s and her half-sisters’ father has not fulfilled his role as a parent, Dillon recognizes the importance of calling him ‘Dad’.

“I don’t want to set a bad example for my sisters and I make sure they call him ‘Dad’,” Dillon said. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t even be here today.” 

Even with all of the pain Dillon’s father has caused her, she said she feels him not being here is for the better.

“I have thought about it because it just made me realize that sometimes, even though it’s hard to let people go, you have to,” Dillon said. 

This story was originally published on Three Penny Press on May 10, 2021.