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Ghost Dad: Lessons Learned About Fatherlessness During Halloween

Growing up in a divorced home taught me what a real dad looks like.

“Hurry up! It’s getting late!”

The yelling came from downstairs, while my brother and I brimmed with excitement. We rushed to find our favorite masks from the many years of collecting them each October. Halloween was our favorite holiday after all, and the orange sky was slowly turning dark purple as the wind lightly brushed our window. The atmosphere matched the haunting mood of the holiday.

“Are you going to carry the knife with fake blood on it, or should I?”

I would be the one to take it this year. After finding my weapon of choice, my brother and I grabbed the scariest masks we could find in the collection, dressed in black robes, and ran downstairs to meet our trick-or-treat partner.

My dad stood waiting at the bottom of the stairs, towering over both of us and dressed in coveralls and black boots. On his head, he wore one of the most iconic masks of all time — Michael Myers — from the movie, Halloween. The mask was pale white and clung tightly to his face as he held a plastic butcher knife in his right hand. He really looked the part.

“Are you guys ready to go?”

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kids trick or treating

My dad had been waiting for some time based on the hurriedness in his voice. Giddier than we were, he was the first to burst out the front door into the cool October air.

Covered in fall foliage, the winding road we followed into the nearest neighborhood was one only true monsters would walk down. It was a night where every house was haunted, skeletons and monsters walked the streets, ghouls sat on the porches giving out candy, and werewolves howled at the full moon. Laughter could be heard everywhere as kids in costumes roamed the streets from all directions. Most kids our age roamed in big groups who were all similar in age, but my group consisted of the special tribe of three — Michael Myers, a zombie, and a gargoyle. That night remains enchanted in my mind and each time I revisit it, I can picture us walking the dimly lit streets. My dad, brother, and I all together.

But we weren’t always together.

My parents divorced early, so I grew up knowing a split home for the entirety of my childhood. Growing up, I burned to be with my dad. There was something wired deep within me, that screamed I needed a male figure in my life. One that I could connect to, one that would mentor me, one that would watch me grow. My mom never really understood, but sometimes, boys just need a dad.

It was the times when I was with my mom, that my father felt almost like a ghost.

There were plenty of days full of anger and resentment because I couldn’t have both parents. I felt powerless and all I knew of the situation was to tell people “it sucked.” I saw my dad every other weekend (depending on work schedules), and in between, I just missed him.

divorce illustration

I think a lot of young boys, and even men my age, feel the same way. We live in what’s been dubbed a “fatherless generation,” with many young boys caught in the crossfire. Divorce will rip through a family, and dad, more often than not, leaves mom with the kids. Then just like a ghost, they vanish, never to be heard from again. Statistics tell us that 24 million — or 1 in 3 —children live without their father in the home. It is a crippling phenomenon that leads to behavioral problems, a decline in academics, and substance abuse in young boys. We all desire compassion, wisdom, and courage from a male figure that’s supposed to provide for us and be there when we stumble. In my situation, I felt living a good distance away from my dad doomed me to the similar circumstances with an absentee father.

Fathers then begin to feel like figments of our imaginations, like ghosts or vampires. Author Donald Miller wrote in his book Father Fiction:

For me, a father was nothing more than a character in a fairy tale. I know fathers are not like dragons because fathers actually exist. I have seen them on television and sliding their arms around their wives in grocery stores, and I have seen them in the malls and in the coffee shops, but these were characters in other people’s stories. The sad thing is, as a kid, I wondered why I couldn’t have a dragon, but I never wondered why I didn’t have a father.

I was lucky enough to have a dad who did what he could. I didn’t get to spend every day with him, and I missed him a lot, but he was there when I needed him. The little time we got, he would take my brother and I wherever he could, and when he couldn’t, he would figure out a creative way to turn our house into an arena fit for our imagination. We would build forts in the living room, ride bikes outside, and he even turned our garage into a war zone by equipping us with those little guns that shoot plastic discs. One time he even had me skip school to ride four-wheelers in Oklahoma for a day. He was a single, divorced dad but he made it work.

The experiences we had together always helped make up for a lack of time, but Halloween always reminds me that I lucked out enough to have a dad who wasn’t truly a ghost in my life. It’s also taught me a lot about how quantity doesn’t translate into quality. I know of homes where friends have fathers that live there, but they’re just as emotionally vacant as a ghost dad.

Father figures aren’t just the people who live under the same roof as you. It’s the person who shows active participation in your life and the desire to actually be there with you.

Time spent actively engaged with another male is what actually bonds men together.

father and daughter trick or treating

Even though my dad wasn’t always around, watching him become a big kid on Halloween while he carted us around all night making sure we had fun was one of the many moments I knew he cared. For other kids or college students, it could be a friend who drags you home for Christmas to treat you like family. Or in a moment when you’re depressed, they take you out to eat or to a movie to cheer you up.

True connectedness is what makes a father a father, regardless of whether or not they’re your biological father. If your dad is a ghost, try and find that mentor or father figure that can be there to comfort you, mentor you, or be involved in your life. Surround yourself with people who will show up to trick-or-treat, so to say.

Find the person that’s only dressed up like a ghost on Halloween, and isn’t actually a real one.

This article was originally posted on Heart Support.