D is for Dad

The fall out between me and my dad can pretty much be isolated to Christmas 1998.

D is for Dad

Growing up, I was always “daddy’s little girl”, and I thought my dad could walk on water. I honestly thought he was the best thing since sliced bread.

Looking back now, I realise that this was probably because my mum always had to be the task-master and the disciplinarian. In comparison, my father was away on business a lot and when he was around, he never asked me to clean my room, or punished me for punching my brother for no good reason… so he probably seemed like peaches and cream to a 5 year old!

When I was 12 years old, my parents separated and I chose to live with my father. My brother chose to live with my mum. Shortly after the separation, my dad lost his job. He struggled to find more work, so when a job came up that required an hour and a half commute each way, he decided to take it anyway.

Initially he did the commute each day, but three hours of travel every day started to take it’s toll on him. At this stage, I was 15 years of age. Many a parent in the same situation would have looked for alternative work closer to home. But my dad chose to rent a house closer to his work, with the view to staying every second night there. Every second night quickly became a case of leaving me on Monday morning and not returning til Friday night. So at 15 years old, I was basically living on my own.

Interestingly, even at this age, I still thought my dad was pretty fantastic (as most unsupervised teenagers would) and I never really questioned his decisions in these matters.

The fall out between me and my dad can pretty much be isolated to Christmas 1998. This Christmas was particularly memorable because it was about 15 days before I was due to leave the country with a one-way ticket to London in hand and my bags packed for a travel adventure in Europe for up to two years.

Growing up, Christmas was always a magical time with the 5.30am wake up, jumping on parent’s beds to wake them up, opening of gifts, pancakes for breakfast, eating Christmas lunch together… the usual! But this Christmas, my father had his new wife and so despite waking at 5.30am as I have done since I was a girl, I lay patiently in bed waiting for them to get up (as fun as it might have been to jump on my step-mother, I resisted the urges).

I heard some movement in the kitchen and went downstairs to wish them a Merry Christmas and was greeted with a very lack-lustre reception. They were each fixing their own breakfast, and didn’t offer me anything. I gave them each their gifts and well thought through cards which thanked them for allowing me to live with them in the three months leading up to my departure (to save money). They each opened their cards and gifts and without barely looking up, thanked me and turned back to their breakfast. Seemed that sitting around the tree was not going to happen this year.

I waited patiently most of the morning, wondering when my father might offer me a Christmas card, but instead I watched on as they seemed to be getting showered and dressed to go out…

I asked where we were going, should I be getting ready too?

My father replied, “Oh we are going to B & M’s, but you’re not invited”.

Taking a sharp breath and sucking back tears that felt like they were at boiling temperature and might actually sear my eyes if I didn’t let them stream soon, I casually enquired whether he had a card or a gift for me.

“Oh we’re going to give you some money for your trip. You don’t need a card do you?”

Amazingly, I managed to calmly walk outside to sit with my dog until they left the house. I then promptly burst into tears and rang my mum, who lived 5 hours away and sat helpless on the other end of the phone wondering why it was taking humankind so long to invent the teleport machine.

A gorgeous friend of mine took me in with her family that day. But my relationship with my father never really recovered from it. There were many many more incidents that contributed to the dissolution of our relationship from that point onwards, but I won’t go into them.

Almost 10 years on, I’ve reached a level of understanding of him that allows me to just accept him for who he is and what he can offer - which isn’t much. For too many years I held on to a lot of anger, disappointment and (weirdly) hope that he might ‘wake up’ one day and realise what a terrible and absent father he’d been. But he is who he is and I have to just accept that he will never be any more than that or I will tear myself apart with the weight of “expectations”.

Now that I am a parent, I have also realised that parents make mistakes. They are human. But the lesson I have learned from my own childhood is that parents should also be able to say ’sorry’ and recognise that the impact of certain actions on their child can often be more long-lasting than they realise. A simple “I’m sorry” can go such a long way with a child.

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