In 2001, Regina R. Robertson hated her day job, so she was very thankful, and relieved, when she was ultimately fired. She also felt free to pursue a new path, as a writer. Having begun her career in the music industry, she contacted some of her former colleagues for help. She started out by writing artist bios and press releases. Within a year, she was meeting with magazine editors, including one who told her to “write what you know.”
Robertson’s first national assignment led her to interview three friends, whose names she changed, and write a piece about their experiences of growing up without a father. After the story, titled “Where’s Daddy?”, ran in the October 2002 issue of Honey magazine, she received calls from other friends who asked why she hadn’t thought to include them in the article. At that point, Robertson had the first thought to write a book on the topic.
Over the last 15 years, and while enduring rejection from agents and publishers, Robertson spoke with many women who had stories to share. She decided to focus her book on three areas of father absence: divorce, death and distance.
“Throughout the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but writing these kinds of personal stories was quite different from writing celebrity profiles or entertainment features,” says Robertson, who has served as West Coast editor of Essence magazine since 2006. “When I spoke with friends about the project, some suggested that I try reaching out to women like fitness expert, Gabrielle Reece, and MSNBC host, Joy-Ann Reid, both of whom had grown up without their fathers. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I thought I’d have to cut through layers and layers of the red tape to reach them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.”
Robertson not only got through to those women, but they, and others, were very excited to share their stories.
Her new book is called, He Never Came Home: Interviews, Stories, and Essays from Daughters on Life Without Their Fathers (Agate Bolden).
“I can’t believe it,” Robertson says. “This project has been such a labor of love and so far, the response has been phenomenal.”
“One young woman, Nisa Rashid, shares her story of growing up while her father was in prison. Television writer, Jenny Lee, writes about her father’s suicide, when she was 20. Simone I. Smith, a jewelry designer, talks about her relationship with her late father – a loving, though troubled, man who battled addiction. Reid, who shared her story on Facebook after her father passed away, signed on to write foreword.”
For Emmy-winning actress, Regina King, witnessing her parents’ divorce was very painful, as was her father’s eventual estrangement. Years later, after enduring her own divorce, she realized that she and her ex-husband were not connecting as co-parents. Eventually, the pair agreed that being divided wasn’t healthy for their son. As a result, they began to take the necessary steps to work together and redefine their family.
Sarah Tomlinson, author of Good Girl, also contributes to the book. She gives a raw account of her lifelong quest for a relationship with her father and her own self-destructive behavior. Tomlinson titled her essay, “The Girl at the Window,” which references the place she sat and waited, for hours, on the days he promised to visit.
Robertson even shares her own story about never knowing her father.
“Usually, when I sit down to write, I agonize over every detail. When I wrote the introduction to the book, I was surprised by how quickly the words came to me: My mother raised me on her own, from day one. She’s the only parent I’ve ever had. My father was never in the picture – not for one second, minute or hour. I never met him. There were times when I wondered how a man could leave his family, his kid, and not look back, but I didn’t obsess over my father’s absence. I definitely thought about it, though.”
Robertson is happy and surprised by the way He Never Came Home has already touched people. She hopes her book will help others know they are not alone.
“I hope I’ve written and edited the book that I wished I’d had as a teen,” Robertson shares. “This collection of essays is for all of the fatherless girls and women who’ve ever thought, as I once did, that a piece of them was missing. Life has taught me that no matter the circumstances you’re born into, you are responsible for steering your ship. If I can do it, you can, too . . . and you will. It just takes time.”
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 16, 2017.