Those around us when we’re youngest and most impressionable leave quite the impression. For some, it’s the person who has always been there. For others, it’s the absence we remember most. But as Gordie, a late-thirtysomething from Los Angeles and New Orleans, shows us through his own story, some boys have to go from missing their father to filling his shoes much earlier than we might expect.

 I am the oldest of eight children and I grew up in Los Angeles, California and New Orleans, Louisiana. I was raised in a single parent home. As far as my racial background goes, my mother is black and in her family there is Native American. But because they weren’t very involved in their history, they don’t know what tribe. My father is black.

Growing up, my father was around in the earliest part of my childhood, but any memory of him was very troubling because he was a disruptive force. For example, my first memory is of the fight that prompted my brother’s premature birth when I was two years old.

Because my father was in the military, we relocated to California. But when we got there, he left us on our own. As a result, my mother struggled to provide for two children. When he would show up, he was more of a playful big brother and it was usually when our mother was on her feet and taking care of us.

My first memory [of my father] is of the fight that prompted my brother’s premature birth when I was two years old.

But he was irresponsible in the worst way; he was on drugs and a financial burden because he would steal money. For example, one Christmas he pawned most of our presents, which was devastating for my mother who could only provide one special gift for each of us. That’s when I realized he was a detriment, not a benefit.

I was about eight years old when we moved to a smaller town. That was when I realized I’d rather have him out of our lives for good and I started seeing myself as a helper. My friends tease me about it, but I have always been the “little daddy.” It created troubling times with my siblings because I didn’t know how to be their brother since I was the disciplinarian, making sure they did homework, went to ballet, or basketball games.

To a degree, I think different facets of my mother’s personality have been passed on through her children. In my case, it was sexuality and the type of men she chose. For example, I get my skin tone from my mom, and she’s always dated darker men. They were either drug dealers or police officers. She always wanted someone in control but couldn’t find someone that was about business and being in the moment.My experience mirrors that.

I have vivid memories of the men my mother was with when I was younger. For example, one guy was very sexual. He had a boom-boom room, which had a mattress, VCR with porn, and music. Then there was the drug dealer who was always well put together, charming and giving gifts, but could never make a commitment. There was also my stepdad, who was in the military, but couldn’t connect on an emotional level. I’ve gone through a version of each of those types of men in my own romantic life.