When I was little, my father would come to pick me up every Sunday at 10 AM. He would pull up to my grandparents' big house in a black Cadillac and his brown leather jacket. We would go to a big pond in the middle of town to feed ducks before walking through the old revolutionary war cemetery behind it. We would spend hours winding through the headstones and he would teach me history. Our history is important. Hours would pass and we would cautiously wind down the hill by the old red farmhouse to get back to the car. When we got home, I would scurry up the big hill in front of my grandmother's house while my father waited on the sidewalk below. I would bend my knees and spring, fluttering downward toward his arms and he would catch me. After a few jumps, he would say he had to go. I didn't want him to. I'd have to stall.
"One more time and last more time!" I'd say. Climb, jump, catch. Climb, jump, catch. And then I would kiss my father on the cheek and go inside.
I am 21 now and I haven't spoken to my father in three years. This was my choice.
Growing up is hard because you begin to see things with adult eyes. I began to see a father who didn't pay my child support despite the fact my mother and I were poor and living with my grandmother to avoid being homeless, who constantly insulted my mother in an attempt to turn me against her, who was selfish, who was emotionally frigid, who did unexplainably perverse things around a young daughter, who forgot my birthday, who was bigoted and close-minded. I began to see a man who helped create my life but was someone I no longer wanted in it. As I grew older, I avoided him. I made excuses for our visits to be shorter and more infrequent. I couldn't wait until the day came, inevitably, when I would have the courage to sever our ties.
The catalyst was an incident I've talked about before but will recap: his reaction to my boyfriend. My boyfriend is biracial, half Black and half White. I had a feeling that when I told my father, who claims to be very progressive but isn't, that our relationship would go from bad to worse. I was right.
"He's half Jamaican," I said.
"Does he look like a Negro?" he asked. I think he thought this was funny. I didn't.
Weeks later, my mother let slip that my father had said he didn't approve of me dating a Black person. I flew into a rage. I rarely initiated phone calls, but this time I did. I told him I knew what he said. I demanded that he be a man and defend it to me personally.
"I'm enough of an adult to have a relationship, so I'm enough of an adult for you to talk to me about it," I said.
He claimed that, yes, he said it, but he was okay with me dating someone of a different race but not marrying someone like that. He said he didn't like the idea of "cultures" mixing. He said that the whole issue should be dropped because my mother shouldn't have said anything. That didn't matter, I said, because I already knew and that trying to keep it from me was hugely disrespectful. He always used to say, even when I was quite young, that his favorite thing about me was how I was more of an adult than a child and that he could always speak to me as such. Apparently I wasn't an adult this time.
That was the beginning of the end. This incident was the very last straw, but not my main motivation for becoming estranged. I didn't need his negativity and lack of support-- emotionally and finanically-- in my life. I stopped taking calls. When my mother told me he was pestering her about it, I told her I refused to speak to him. Tell him to stop calling, I said. He didn't. He called and called and called until one day he sent a letter.
The letter said he believed the sole reason I wasn't speaking to him was his comments about interracial relationships. He wasn't racist, he claimed-- he just wanted his daughter to marry someone of her own culture. He had plenty of Black friends, he said, but he wouldn't want them to date his White daughter. But he wasn't racist, of course. My Jewish grandmother didn't want my mother to date him because he was Italian-- that wasn't racist, was it? He ended the letter saying that my mother was a disrespectful bitch for not keeping what he said between them as parents. He then said, ironically, that if I wanted he could tell me bad things that she had said about my boyfriend. "Tell me if you want to know," he said.
I wrote him back that he didn't get it. I told him I didn't want him to be a hypocrite and tell me what my mom had said (I had a hunch I knew what it was anyway). I told him that not only did his letter actually make me feel as if he was more racist than I did before (and, yes, my grandmother's actions were racist-- a culture's customs can be racist), but it told me that he totally missed the point. I told him I've been to therapy for my anxiety. I told him that the lack of a supportive, loving father in my life-- a dad-- had created a huge hole in my self-esteem and disfunctions in the way I'd related to men in the past. He was a father, not a dad. I told him that I hated him for not even helping my mother pay for my college. "I know you don't have the money," I said, "but neither do we and we're doing it anyway." I told him I hated him for not participating in my life after those days feeding ducks when I was very small. I told him everything. I spilled my heart-- and it was difficult. As much as I hated him, it hurt. But I told him everything. Everything. Including "I don't want you in my life anymore."
He wrote me back. I hoped, briefly, as I opened the letter that it would show remorse. I hoped he would say he understood now and didn't want to lose me and that he would try to fix it and that he was sorry.
He told me I was wrong. According to him, all these hurt feelings were my own hypersensitive delusions. He said it wasn't his fault, that he'd done nothing wrong. He said he didn't know how I could feel that way. Obviously he loved me. Obviously. He said that he was a dad, not just a father. I was being stupid. The only thing he admitted to was not helping us financially. Enclosed was a check for $1000. He said he'd give it to me if it mattered so much.
The letter I sent back was written hastily on a Post-It note.
"Thanks for the money-- I appreciate it. But your letter just shows you just don't get it and you never will. Do not call. Do not write. I'm done."
That was the last time I corresponded with him. He hasn't called or written since.
This has been like a break-up that was a long time coming. It was painful for sure, but inevitable. And in the end, it's left me open to direct my love and energy to better things. To me, that is invaluable.
I am content, truly, with being estranged. I needed it, wanted it. I write this post not to justify it to myself but to assure anyone else who has been through this or would want to sever ties with a family member that it's not a crime-- it's okay. It doesn't make you bad. I sleep better at night without his negativity in my life. I know a choice like mine isn't for everyone. I get questions about it when I finally have to explain the situation to my friends.
People often say to me "oh, you'll come around. You won't want this forever."
While I believe in forgiveness, I believe you can forgive while still admitting to yourself that someone isn't healthy to have in your life, even if that person is a parent. If the same person were an abusive, neglectful ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, no one would tell you you need to have them back in your life. I don't believe in keeping toxic relationships just because that person is supposed to be important to you. He is important because I am here. He is important because our past, as deeply as it has wounded me, has shaped me into an incredibly strong, independent woman. I don't know if I would have turned out better if he had known how to be a dad. Maybe. But all I know is I am proud of who I am today. Our relationship has made me strong.
I told my boyfriend recently that when my father dies someday, I think that I'll be sad, but not for the reasons most people would be.
"I won't be sad for him," I said. "I'll be sad for me." I don't miss him now. I won't miss him then. What I'll miss-- what I'll always miss and have been missing-- is the idea of him, of him being the kind of dad he was when I was very small. I'll miss the fact that my father was never my dad and that his passing will be final death-knell of a relationship that never really was. I've never had a dad, because a dad is more than what my father was to me. Sometimes I think I won't be sad at all because I've already had time to mourn a dad; I've had 21 years to cope with not having one already.
When I was little, I jumped off the big hill out front and into my father's arms. I didn't imagine I would ever feel like this about him. "One more time and last more time," I would beg, hoping he would never leave me. I am 21 now and I have left him. And it is one of the best things I've ever done.