Letter to My Father

Funny how a single article can elicit tears by the time I’ve finished reading it.

Some will read it and cry because of the bond shared with their fathers but, for me, the tears are over the man I wish my father had been. I hasten to mention that what [my relationship with my father] lacked, [my relationship with my mother] made up for a gazillion-fold and, for that, I’m eternally grateful.

My father passed away nearly 17 years ago ~ lung cancer. We weren’t close, no thanks to the alcoholism that started affecting our daily lives, just before I started high school. He had always been emotionally unavailable and, growing up, I felt aware of constant, palpable household tension, all caused by him. He was emotionally, psychologically abusive, when sober, and verbally abusive, when he was buzzing from the booze. He treated my mother like dirt most of the time and I can remember wishing ~ willing! ~ her to leave him because I always thought she deserved better. I have relatives who would be shocked to read this because my father always put on his best face for everyone outside of the house. He treated complete strangers better than he treated his family and, once he was within the safety of his home, he complained and criticized about the very people he charmed. Nobody was immune to his attacks. Nobody.

For the two years before he passed, I lived abroad and felt quite relieved to be away from the dysfunction, despite being terribly homesick for my mom and friends. As he reached the end of his battle with cancer, my mom told me that she thought it was best that I return home so that I could say good-bye to my father. What follows is our final conversation, which took place on Father’s Day, 1998:

Me (on the phone, in the UK, after wishing him a Happy Father’s Day): “I’m making plans to come back home and see you, Daddy. I’m looking forward to it.”

My father (ignoring my sentiment): “Are you bringing [my grandson] with you?”

Me: “Of course I am.”

My father: “Well good. Because if you don’t, then don’t YOU even bother coming home.”

Me: …

Little did I know that it would be the last thing he ever said to me. The last thing I remember, anyway, because I don’t remember anything after that. He may have said “Good-bye” before handing the phone back to my mom. He might even have said, “I love you” (doubtful), but even if he had, how could I attach any real meaning to his declaration of love for me after that bomb of a statement? He didn’t want to see ME, if he couldn’t see his grandson? WTF?! Thanks, Father (I refuse to call him “Dad” or “Daddy” anymore).

Given what I have observed of the experiences that I, my children and several of my friends have had with my/their fathers, I feel sorry that these men ever became fathers. There are so many awesome dad-friends in my life and there are also child-less friends of mine who would make awesome dads. And, no doubt, there are hundreds of thousands of men out there who, with their wives/partners, desperately want to be dads but can’t for whatever reason. I wrote an entry about what it takes to be a Dad because I think that “Dad” is an earned title, not an automatic one.

As mentioned before, my father has been gone for nearly 17 years. If he were alive today, he would not be part of my life. Having experienced abuse at the hands of my ex, I have a clearer picture of what my mother experienced for 49 years of marriage. What he did to me, growing up, was bad enough but what he put my mother through was inexcusable. Many have suggested that I write a letter to my father to have closure so that I can move on. I’m pretty sure that early drafts of the letter would be on the harsh side, but being harsh is not my style. As long as I convey my thoughts and feelings, I’m good. What would I say in such a letter? Probably something like this:

“Of all the people you have had in your life, I tried my best to understand your past, where you came from, your reasons for being who you were. I made allowances for your past, but that’s as far as it goes. You married a good woman who, despite the negative impact you made on her daily life, stood by you and took care of you when you were sick. If you had simply allowed her to, she could have changed your life, your way of thinking, your attitude with her endless positivity. You might have actually experienced a bit of happiness and, if you had treated her properly, you would have gotten it back a thousand-fold.

Your alcoholism tore us apart. You saw the pain it caused; we told you. Daily. You blamed us for feeling hurt and not accepting your empty apologies. YOU were the one who acted badly. What did you expect to happen as a result? That we would smile and tell you it was okay to verbally rip us to shreds every day of our lives? Hardly. We did nothing wrong and we still cared about your feelings, even if you didn’t care about ours.

The abuse affected every aspect of our existence ~ from feeling compelled to get out of the house at every opportunity (to escape the tense environment), to my inability to have more than just two of my friends over (because I trusted them enough to understand what I was going through; I had to distance myself from most of the other girls at school because of the shame I felt and the lack of confidence, due to the constant verbal abuse), to my feeling the need to lock my bedroom door after mom left for work (because I was afraid of dealing with your abuse alone), to being stranded at school and, later on, work (because you were at home, passed out, and didn’t pick me up), to the smell of beer STILL making me sick (because it reminds me of how you smelled after you went on one of your binges), to all the holidays and special occasions that you always tried to ruin (because you felt so averse to anyone laughing and having a good time), to the undue stress you caused my mother when she tried to enjoy herself, take courses to learn new things, do arts and crafts to keep her mind agile, etc. (because you couldn’t stop yourself criticizing her in trying to sabotage what she was doing for HER).

We deserved none of that. What right did you have to act in such a destructive, self-serving way for the sole purpose of making your family miserable? The needs of your family outweighed the needs of the one but you got it backwards because it was always your needs that came first, not anyone else’s. You took everything we had and exploited it for your own purposes.

I know that I am worthy of a father who always had my back and loved me unconditionally. No, there’s nothing I can do to change who you were or what happened in the past. All I can do is apply the lessons [my experiences have taught me] to the rest of my life.

  • I get to choose what I do, say, think, feel, without the need for your ~ or anyone else’s ~ approval. I am enough.
  • What happened in our house was not my fault. Ever. You chose to create the dynamic, but had no say in how we reacted to what you said or did. We have the right to feel the way we do and talk about what happened, regardless of who’s listening. If it means shattering the illusions for others who knew you, so be it. 
  • I vowed to myself and my children that I would never allow alcohol to take over our lives the way you did and I have you to thank for that. My experiences led me to break the cycle, which is a very good thing.
  • Because of you, I refuse to be mean-spirited to anyone, even in jest. Your empty apologies (when you hurt me) and “just joking” responses [after saying what you really wanted to say] taught me that I never want anyone to feel guarded around me. I never want to be responsible for intentionally hurting someone’s heart or spirit. I never want to see someone’s expression become sad because of something I purposely did or said. 

Lessons are lessons, I suppose, regardless of how they’re taught; I endured a lot of pain and many years of healing to learn about the sort of person I didn’t want to become. I have spent far too many years, wishing for the father I deserved. No more wishing.

Because, you see, I turned out okay…

…and I did it without you.


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