I’ve never written about my father in any complete & cohesive way. I don’t think I’ve even written about him in my diaries growing up, well, maybe a little bit but not really.
Anyway, I want to write about him now because I feel like I’ve made peace with our relationship or lack thereof. This isn’t a happy story and I’m writing it not just to document it for once and for all but for other people to understand and maybe learn something.
I wasn’t a planned baby. I was a surprise. My mom was dating my father at a time in her life when she thought she couldn’t have another baby. But I came along seven years after my sister. My sister and I have different fathers but we’re sisters nevertheless, not “half,” just sisters. But I digress, that’s a post for another day!
While I wasn’t expected, I was deeply loved from the moment my mom saw me floating around in her stomach on a little TV screen. My mom wasn’t with my father when I was born and so there was no rush to get hitched or anything like that. Which was cool because why force a relationship when it’s not necessary and it wouldn’t have been the natural next step in the relationship anyway had I not come into the picture.
But my father said he’d be there for me. My mom asked him point blank, “Are you going to be there for her?” and he said he would and then he wasn’t. He was at the beginning. When it was easy and I was a baby. But as I got older the visits became less frequent and I can only remember two times that I visited him and the new family he’d created with a woman he’d married in a city a couple hours away.
I remember very vividly driving with him up to his house and him asking me what my birthday was. I was, like, 9 or 10 at the time and even THEN I remember thinking “How can you not know my birthday???? I’m YOUR DAUGHTER!” That might have been the same trip that caused me to come home and tell my mom that I never wanted to visit him again. It wasn’t for frivolous, childish reasons. We never spent time alone together. Quality time. He never asked me about me. He never asked what I was doing in school, what my favorite subjects were, what were my friends like, what I wanted to be when I grew up. All the stuff that I now ask my niece and nephews every time I see them.
Even though I didn’t want to visit him anymore I think I still held out hope that he’d be the father that I’d wanted. One that was interested in me and who I was as a person. I’d still brag that my dad was 6’11” and handsome. But between the time that I stopped visiting him, say the end of Elementary school, until I left high school I would see him only three separate times. Oh and there were no birthday cards, birthday calls, Christmas presents or notes. And it wasn’t about money — let’s not even get into the fact that he never paid child support — it was about the thought. Be thoughtful. Make an effort.
While he wasn’t someone I thought about most of the time, I was very aware of what his absence could mean to me in my life. I didn’t want to be one of those girls with “daddy issues” and I didn’t want his lack of influence to negatively impact my life. But as much as I was aware and as much as I didn’t want it to it did have some affect on the types of guys I chose — emotionally unavailable, physically unavailable, Peter Pans that never wanted to grow up. As a result, I’ve made a concerted effort to evaluate those choices, to look back at them and try to understand the motivation behind them.
It wasn’t until I had major surgery in 2005 that I ended all communications with him. Which up until that point had been nothing. I had gastric bypass surgery for weight loss (yet another post for another day!). An event that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s not an easy decision to make and it’s not an easy process to go through. It’s so not easy that it necessitated seeing a therapist to get through it. It was at that time that my father sent me an email and an attempt to see me. The subject line read “want to see my daughter” or something to that effect. He said he knew he’d messed up but wanted to see me, blah, blah, blah. I told him that I didn’t want to, especially since I was going to have this surgery and I was already emotional from dealing with that. In his follow-up email he made a criticism that left me incensed and caused me to tell him to never contact me ever again. How can you criticize a person that you have no relationship with, the very person with which you WANT to have a relationship?
Here’s the deal, I’ve been criticized by members of his family for not being open to him. They’ve insinuated that I made it hard for him. Which is, in a word, RIDICULOUS. I am naturally a quiet & shy person. I have to warm up to people, and when I was a kid this was even MORE true. I was so quiet, so shy and not an extrovert. I was called my mom’s “shadow” for a reason! I didn’t start conversations with people easily. And if I didn’t have a good experience with someone and knew nothing about them, I’m not exactly going to run up to them, hug them and say “daddy, I love you!!” Not gonna happen.
My father has the complete inability to put himself in my shoes. He can’t empathize. He doesn’t get it. Children aren’t property, children are a privilege. I wasn’t a doll he could choose to play with when he felt like it and then put away when he was tired. He was the adult. As an adult, as the parent, it’s YOUR responsibly to build your relationship with your child. It is not the child’s responsibility to work on their relationship with you. Do you really expect your 8-year-old daughter to call you and say “Hey, we need to get together for lunch! How’s next week?” That’s not how it’s supposed to go.
I know that I’m an adult now and I can forge that relationship with him but I don’t want to. That ship has sailed and he’s had enough chances to figure out how to talk to me. He’s had 32 years of opportunities. I don’t forgive him and I don’t hold on to anger towards him. I’m not worried about him. I don’t have to give him a break. I’d probably feel differently if at any point in my life he’d made an actual effort, but it never happened.
It’s funny, in writing this I just realized something else. When I was single and looking for a great guy to date the one thing I always wanted was someone who would want to be with me because it’s ME, because they liked who I was and wanted to know who I was — my likes, my dislikes, what my favorite drink at Starbucks is (so important!) — and I’m realizing that this probably stems from the fact that my father knows none of those things about me. He never had to send me money or buy me stuff. He just had to care enough to want to get to know me. He would always say that he loved me, but he never actually showed what that meant. That’s all I ever wanted.