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Frank Bello and the Powerful Invisibility of Abandonment

Anthrax bassist shares how he felt "unplugged" after his father left.

Key points

  • When a child is abandoned by a parent, it can cause extreme emotional pain and confusion.
  • Frank Bello of Anthrax shares the story of his father’s abandonment of their family when he was 11 and the damage it did to Bello emotionally.
  • After being blindsided by his father's abandonment, Bello felt lost and blamed himself for his father's actions.

As social creatures, so much of who we are and what we do in our lives can be understood in the context of our interpersonal connections. Family members, neighbors, friends, romantic partners, and business relationships all become vital in helping us not only feel safe and protected, but also capable of attaining our hopes and dreams. One of the most fundamental and pivotal relationships we have is with our parents or primary caregivers. As infants and children, we are almost entirely dependent on our parental figures for food, shelter, and protection, as well as how we understand ourselves and the world around us. Thus, these early and ongoing parental interactions can have a continuing influence on our core sense of self.

Jimmy Hubbard, used with permission
Source: Jimmy Hubbard, used with permission

Because relationships are so important to our development and identity, the loss of any important relationship can be devastating. And throughout our lives, we will lose relationships for a variety of reasons such as change in life circumstances, conflict, sickness and death. And losing a relationship for any reason can leave us questioning our lives—who we are, the choices we made, and what we do moving forward. But losing a parental relationship through abandonment can be particularly damaging to those left behind. When a child experiences an abandonment, they lose everything that the relationship provided, and often have no explanation or justification for the loss. And while the child may not necessarily have bruises or scars as they would from physical abuse, the resulting emotional state is often extremely painful, overwhelming, and confusing.

In his new autobiographical book Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surviving Anguish, Abandonment, and Anthrax, Frank Bello, bassist of the heavy metal band Anthrax, shares the story of his father’s abandonment of their family and the damage it did to Bello emotionally. I recently spoke with Bello and during our conversation he explained how he continues to cope with this loss and how his abandonment fuels his music career. And Bello’s hope is that others who have experienced similar abandonment and loss will be encouraged by his book and believe that they too can survive and even thrive following such a horrible and difficult experience.

Early in his life, when Bello lived with his mother, father, and four siblings, the family had a comfortable home and lifestyle with enough money for food and necessities. But when Bello was eleven years old, his father abandoned the family, leaving them without financial support and requiring them to move to a less safe neighborhood. Bello was besieged both inside and out—having to cope with difficult emotions as well as with getting beaten up by kids at his new school. Overall, Bello felt lost and blamed himself for his father’s actions. “I didn't understand why,” Bello told me. “Is it my fault? Did I do this? Did I bring this on? That’s the first thing you think of ... Why am I stuck here without a father figure? Why do we have to go on welfare now? Why is there not enough food in the cupboard now? Why are we losing the house? … It was going so f*cking well and all of a sudden, the rug is pulled out … There's no answers from anyone.”

And it was not just Bello who felt blindsided and bewildered. He watched as his mother was also left without clarity or answers. “The poor woman doesn't even have a job. She doesn't have a license. She was a happy homemaker and all of a sudden this thing's pulled from underneath her too...,” Bello recalled. “I can see the kitchen—that my mother was cooking the one box of Rice a Roni that was only left in that cupboard. That was the only thing we had … There was no check that came from my dad … There was no money … I knew that’s not going to be enough for all of us ... And I'm looking at my mother trying to hold back the tears because she knows the same thing as I'm talking about. That is abandonment. That is the face of abandonment … I can feel the rage in me coming out.”

Despite Bello feeling that no one outwardly judged him for his family’s situation, he felt embarrassment. He had previously felt “in step” with the people around him, but now felt different and alienated. “I'll never forget this—when the neighbors found out that we were losing the house …it’s also the embarrassment … because all I knew is the other people around me weren't going through this,” he described. “All of a sudden, where everybody around me, we were all the same for a while … and all of a sudden, I wasn't in that club anymore … I had no answers.”

Overall, Bello felt that he was gutted. And the pain was not apparent to others. He suffered in silence with his “invisible” pain that left him bewildered and unsure of what to do. “It's invisible. Abandonment is invisible and it swoops up and takes your whole lifestyle away and all that you know. Abandonment takes all that you know away. All that you've grown up with from birth. It takes all that away and say, ‘This is your new life. F*ck you. And it really is F*ck you ..,’” Bello explained. “It takes the drive away from you … it unplugs you... and it feels like all the energy is drained out of your life.”

How did Bello cope? First and foremost, he determined that he would keep moving—keep going. And what fueled that energy to keep moving was an unnamed “fire” that drove him. “I have to keep striving to that next point to get wherever that is. I don't even know what that is … But all I know is I have to do it...,” Bello said. “That fire continues to burn. And it's still the pit. I don't think the pit is ever gonna leave … All the therapy and all the cathartic stuff I've been through - thankfully success, all that good stuff, but that pit is still there. And it's a reminder … You can't rest man. You got to move on.”

Second, unsure of who to turn to for guidance in the absence of his father, Bello turned to music. He was particularly drawn to larger-than-life bands such as Kiss. “I started looking for those heroes and father figures that came in the form of music,” he recalled. “I just wanted to learn how to function. How do you function without a father figure? … When you feel that hollowness, and that emptiness, all you want to do is look for ways to make you feel something good. And music did that for me.”

And Bello wanted to take the next step. He didn’t want to just listen to music, he wanted to make music and to do so on the scale of his heroes. And eventually, Anthrax became one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time—one of the “Big Four” immortal bands of thrash metal along with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth. And what Bello found was that enjoying music both as a musician and a fan became a source of stability—a “friend” that he could count on. “I said, ‘I want to do that … because they make people feel good’ … And I think I still carry that to this day... I think that's why I wanted to be a musician … It meant everything to me. It's like, that's my way out...,” he explained. “Music has always been my stable friend. Especially coming from this life—the abandoned life. I'm looking for stability. We're looking for something to hold on to and that could be real and it's constant. It's a constant friend.”

Ultimately, Bello feels that he will never really get “over” the abandonment he faced. He recognizes that the emptiness and pain will be with him forever to some degree. “It's about security, about that filling of that hole with security … But by that hole being created … I know I'll never be able to fill it. I know it. But that's part of the game here. I guess ...,” Bello described. “It doesn't leave us.”

And just as Bello has found ways to cope, he is hoping that his book will encourage people to not give up and cope day to day as he has. “I don't want people to feel bad anymore,” Bello said. “People that are in this position, maybe reading this book could get you out of that mode … You can brush yourself off and know that that's not the world you're stuck in.”