Sunday, 17 June 2012


At risk of sounding like a precious tissue paper like little flower who gets totally overcome by Hallmark holidays, I always find Father's Day unsettling.

I have no relationship with my father these days. We live in different cities in different countries and never speak to each other. The only link we have is my brother and even that is not enough to make sense of the broken links between us. Our relationship is shattered beyond repair and a total absence of contact, although constantly painful, is the best of the bad options.

I haven't lived with him since I was 18 and every day since then has faded the supposed unconditional bond between parent and child to the point where I find it hard to remember I ever had a dad at all. So much time has passed without him being there to turn to that the idea wouldn't even enter my head these days. He hasn't reached out to me and included me in his life for a very long time and I've learned to do the same, partly out of practicality and partly out of self preservation. His absence from my life is total. I have no photographs of him, no items from him or that remind me of him. There's simply a void as if he excused himself from my life and never came back.

For a long time, I expected he would. Now I know he won't. He's gone and too much has happened to be able to start again. We have nothing that connects us now beyond DNA and I can't imagine how we could have any kind of conversation to recreate the intimacy and knowledge of the minutiae of life that is the the glue of genuine relationships. He knows nothing of my life, couldn't name a single friend of mine, find my house on a map, tell you how I take my tea or how I spend my time. And I don't know much more about him really. The fragments of what makes him a person rather than just a father are cloudy and from another life before I was an adult. They are disjointed and distorted and don't fit in, just occasionally popping up as life goes on.

He's been absent for my entire adult life, essentially washing his hands of me and my family just three months after my 18th birthday, and I've never felt that he's regretted that   or that it was difficult decision to make. He just went with barely a backward glance and absolutely no fight. From the first time he left, he's prioritised his choice in partners and seemed as any continuation of our relationship was going through the motions. Even around the time we got on best since then, when I'd just moved to England, it felt fleeting and transitory and as if he was waiting for something better than me to come along, and when he met his now wife a few weeks later, I was put back on the shelf like a toy he'd tired of and our relationship went back to being fraught.

Since the day just before Christmas 1996 that I discovered he'd been having an affair and lying to everyone for months on end, there's been no security in my relationship with him. I have never known that it will be the same from day to day. It was always unpredictable and exhausting in its uncertainty. I found it hard to reconcile the dad of my happy childhood with a barefaced liar who had dropped his wife and children as if an irritant to him and I gave him a hard time, pushing him and wanting to needle an emotional response from a man who insisted on being blank and impossible to read. I often got those emotional responses, but never the ones I wanted, just ones that further corroded my sense of self and the emotions that tied us together.

For a long time in my late teens and early twenties, I had ceased to like my dad very much and he seemed to have ceased to like me at all. It ran deeper than the exhaustion of parenting when your child has demanded your attention for nearly two decades and worn your facade of enthusiasm thin. It felt like he genuinely resented me and felt it was inappropriate that I was furious for his behaviour toward everyone in our family, but especialy me, my brother and my mum. He seemed to think that as my father my acceptance of him and his actions should be unconditional. I didn't. And this was compounded by the fact he couldn't offer me the same unconditionality as I struggled to come to terms with the serious ill health that had derailed my life at the same time. There was little understanding, bugger all flexibility between us, but I certainly still loved him all the same.

These days, I'm not sure I even feel that. The only emotions I have round my dad are failure, frustration and disappointment. Thinking about him and how much he dislikes me and how little effort he's made for 15 years, but especially the last 8, just casts a dark shadow over everything that makes me feel I can't do anything because I can't even get the man who created me to give the tiniest of two shits about me. I no longer feel the pull that I want to sort things and know more about him, just the sense that everything is ruined. I gave him an ultimatum in our relationship and without so much as a peep, he walked away. Knowing you should never give ultimatums you don't mean, I was prepared to end the relationship, but not for him to go without a question or a fight. I often wonder whether I made a sensible decision or sabotaged the last shreds of our once close connection.

More than once I've sat down and written an email saying I shouldn't have turned my back on him and to forgive me and start again and then something reminds me of the deeper betrayals and fissures in our relationship that I ultimately know I can't get past no matter how I hard I try. There's the inappropriateness of him taking up a young woman barely a year or two older than me. Or the time, he told me he wished my mother hadn't bothered having me. Or the time he had cancer and wouldn't let me tell a soul about it, telling me it would be my fault if he died. Or the hours long fight the Christmas after my two rapes where he informed me he could understand why men wanted to hurt me. Or the fact that the whole time I was homeless he never once offered me a place to stay even for a night.   And that's even before he refused to acknowledge any of my nervous breakdowns or mental health issues, constantly (and unfavourably) comparing me to his new wife and informing me directly and indirectly that I had no central role in his life and that I didn't measure up. And I remember why I cut off all contact. It was for my own good.

While things will never go back to being comfortable or easy with him, I'd like to get to a stage where I can look back on childhood memories, both those that involved him and that didn't, and not see them tainted by his later rejection of that time as soon as he possibly could. I might even be able to open my mind up to allowing myself to think of him and the influence he had on me in so many ways without irrational rejections and reactions. I feel like if I could start to look at him more positively, I might be able to see myself more positively too. I sense it's going to be a long path and I'll need the guide of a good therapist, but I hope I'll be able to think about the word daddy in future without immediately adding 'issues' afterwards. It'd be great not to be such a cliche...

1 comment:

  1. Great post. But mostly, incredibly sad. I'm sat here weeping. I'm not sure if it is possible to forgive someone who's hurt you so deeply. But like you say - maybe you can open your mind to it. I hope to one day be able to do this when thinking about my dad as well.
    I think that today lots and lots of people will be feeling unsettled by memories of their dads, and a bit frustrated at the whole 'holiday'. So thanks for writing this.