It’s Father’s Day in the UK today.
So, once more it’s time for the perfunctory buying of cards, searching for one that doesn’t include: “You’re the greatest”, “Number one Dad”, or “I love you”. Because, I am many things, but I am not fake or false. I often wonder if he knows; if he realises that I do things like this out of duty, rather than love.
My dad’s not a bad person, not at all. But, not an easy one to like, either. Part of me feels sorry for him: his mum died when he was 13, and he had a tough adolescence, leaving home to join the army when he was 17. He very recently revealed that he had been on anti-depressants for nearly ten years, over 20 years ago. I remember him drinking a lot in those days, and he shared with me that he was in a bad place back then. He was horrible during those times. We would sit in dread waiting for him to come home from the pub; cringe as his loud voice permeated through the walls as he ranted and raved, hurling horribly abusive words at my mum. I remember standing on the other side of the wall with hands balled so tightly, anger cursing through my impotent 14 year old self, as he swore and raged. During those years, I would ask my mum repeatedly in exasperation why she didn’t just leave him, why she stayed with someone who had a tongue so viciously cruel (both under the influence and sober), yet she never had an answer.
I wasn’t allowed to have friends home. If, by some chance, they were there when he turned up, he had the ability to cause a scene without saying a word. He would enter the room, his face contorted with fury, snatch up the newspaper with dramatic force, and slam the door for good measure. There was never any need for words, for his hostility stabbed deeper than anything he could say. It embarrassed and humiliated me; made my insides shrivel to the size of a pea. Life with him was like teetering on egg-shells.
Some days, he was happy. He would sing, grab us in an arm-lock, or give us “stubble-burn”. I loved those brief moments, when we’d laugh as a family, just for a second. But he was unpredictable; his euphoric mood could be wiped out in seconds, often by something inconsequential or irrelevant we’d say, or do. The memory of laughter fading as quickly as it came.
For a long time, I blamed my dad for everything that was wrong with me. If only he’d told me he loved me, I wouldn’t have needed to wade through a ton of selfish, useless boyfriends, begging to be loved. If he’d told me I was beautiful, perhaps I might believe it was true, instead of having a fragile, easily shattered self-esteem. Had he not been so critical, then maybe I would go a little easier on myself, be happy with my achievements, rather than always feeling inadequate. With age has come the realisation that it is not his fault, not really. My lack of self-esteem might have been boosted by an empathic, observant parent, but not necessarily so. My dad is the product of his own upbringing. He is a man simply trying to deal with the cards he has been dealt. He is clueless. I feel no anger towards him now; there’s no wallowing in the past. I think it unfair to apportion blame; how can you hold someone accountable when they are totally unaware of their actions? And he is blissfully unaware of the effect he had on me.
There’s power in letting go. There’s also power in accepting everything that has happened, and laying it quietly away in a box. It’s a choice, simple as that. I could have chosen to be bitter and hateful about him for the rest of my life, or I could take the mistakes he made, and ensure that they are never repeated with my children. Because of him, I will never underestimate the crushing power of the spoken word, or how easily a sensitive soul can be trampled into the dirt by a casually flung criticism. Because of him, I am so aware of the influence I have as parent, and how to hold that gift of authority in my hand, like a fragile butterfly.
Despite that, I am aware of the envy I have for people with parents who are everything to them; jealous of the close, protective bond between father and daughter. If I am honest, I could simply cut all ties, without feeling any regret or remorse. I once read that if someone doesn’t enhance or contribute to your life in any way at all, you should cut them free. My dad doesn’t bring anything into my life, other than a feeling of inadequacy. Only I can’t do that; I can’t just eject him from my life. He would be confused and sad; and despite everything, I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings, even though he’d trampled on mine over and over again. And, because I know he loves me; I just don’t love him the same way.
So, I continue to act out the dutiful daughter routine; to keep up the illusion that our relationship isn’t strained, that it wasn’t permanently damaged all those years ago. Some would undoubtedly say that it’s not too late, to make amends now, before it is too late. But the stark truth is that I don’t want to. Will I one day live to regret it? Possibly. I just think some things deteriorate so far that there isn’t any way back; and for me, I don’t even need there to be a way back.
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