For most of my life, I’ve been an orphan whose parents were still very much alive. I had to provide for myself, starting work when I was ten, bounced around and was even homeless because I was too young to sign a lease even if I had the money for rent (I did not get the paperwork for my independence finished until right before I became of age – ironic I know).
My mom was terribly abusive – physically, verbally, emotionally – she tried her best to break me and perhaps she did in some ways, but I’m resilient as fuck and came out the other side. My dad was different. He was a crappy dad. When I was strangled and dumped by my mother, my sides black and blue, and finger marks on my neck, he told me “you have a way of bringing out the violence in others” and would blame me. He told me I pushed buttons and shouldn’t make her angry. He also told me over and over how difficult I was to love.
I’ll be honest my mother may have screwed me up (in ways I have since overcome, I feel) but I feel like my dad actually affected me more. My dad was high functioning and a wonderful father to my three siblings. He wasn’t abusive himself besides these comments, he was more neglectful and abandoning than abusive. And that’s why his words meant more. His absence, not wanting me, telling me I deserved what I got, that I was unworthy of love or human affection. My mom was crazy. I may have been her punching bag, but she was miserable and did not play well with others – period. Her entire life was a lie that few people bought because she couldn’t keep up with everything. But I couldn’t say that about my dad.
But people grow, change, evolve. I forgave my dad… I don’t even know when, but several years ago. I realized that I couldn’t hold onto any grievance, justified or not, and be happy. It was a block to joy, personal growth, and good health. (I forgave my mother at the same time, for the same reason.) He was back in my life, but not really. He was there but there was no communication. Then when I got married, in invited him to the wedding. This was a process because honestly, even though I had forgiven him, I didn’t know if I wanted him to be a part of that day, but ultimately I decided if I didn’t invite him I would be sending the message that he was unwelcome in my life, which was not true.
After the wedding, I told him that I needed him to acknowledge what he had done. I didn’t need a laundry list or even an apology. It was more like clearing the air. I didn’t feel comfortable pursuing a real relationship with him unless he could acknowledge what he had done. I needed to know he had given it thought, and realized his own hurtful actions/words so that he would not repeat them. But until that time, when he was ready, I still sent him cards and said “Happy Birthday” and all that. We just really didn’t visit and didn’t really communicate unless I was reaching out for some sort of holiday.
Then in 2015, he came out to visit (for the first time, we moved here in 2011) and he did exactly what I had asked. It caught me by surprise because he didn’t give me any indication he was thinking about things or even remembered what I had said I needed years earlier. But it opened the door for us.
Since that time, we have continued to get closer. It’s weird and good and awkward and the greatest gift/second chance I could have asked for. While our relationship has steadily albeit slowly become stronger, better, more solid – this past year it has seemed to reach new heights. My dad visited again last summer and we have visited several times since then. A few months ago, he reached out to me, he was wanting to do a one-on-one trip with each of his sons, and asked me where I wanted to go. I told him it sounded like fun, but I had no idea when and where (it was in the middle of me having a lot going on, everything I had going on then, is still going on so…).
Then before we visited over July 4th it was my turn to reach out to him. I had been debating on doing it for awhile. I thought about the relationship he had with his parents as an adult and it was something I really wanted to have. My mom is out of my life (forgiveness does not mean keeping a toxic, harmful person in your life; not having her in my life is not an act of spite, but one of self-love) and that just leaves my dad. My dad who did the work, as hard and scary and uncomfortable as it must have been, who told me his regrets, showed me he wanted me in his life and to have a healthy, positive relationship. It was then I realized I hadn’t been living up to my end of the bargain. I said, “Hey Dad, I need you to do this so we can have a close, loving relationship” and he did and I just kept visiting, sending cards, doing the basics. Sure I felt more comfortable and was receptive to any efforts he made, but that isn’t good enough, or fair. I realized our relationship had still been one-sided but we switched sides, he was reaching out and I was responding but not reciprocating. That needed to change. So I asked if he wanted to grab a bite to eat sometime during our trip, just the two of us. He did and we did.
On the way to dinner, the first thing he told me was that he was surprised I reached out. I was honest with him – that I realized I always made individual time for my siblings, my grandmother, but never him. “It didn’t sit right with me,” I said.
We had dinner, and it was better than anything I could have possibly imagined. It was easy, which is weird because asking to have dinner was incredibly uncomfortable and difficult. We talked about everything: our daily lives, marriages, work, vacations, memories, politics, religion, medical stuff, regrets and dreams – all of it. It’s a conversation I’ll cherish forever and it wasn’t the last one we had before we came back home, and I know it will be the first of many more to come.
When my dad first had that discussion with me years ago, I didn’t know what that relationship would look like. I was used to not having parents and now I’m in my thirties. What is that relationship like, when it doesn’t have the positive memories or natural progression attached to it that people who have always had relationships with their parents have? I couldn’t quite figure it out then and perhaps that kept me from reaching out (though no excuse). I know I never could have guessed this is where we would end up. It’s not the best-case but somewhere beyond. Something I didn’t even know was possible.
I look forward to keep getting to know my dad, and be a part of each other’s lives. I like that we can talk about anything as adults, as two people who have led very full, long lives (he has the years, and I have the experience of dying multiple times and surviving a lot of medical stuff, abuse and an assault – I’m an old soul). It’s difficult for me to articulate just how much this means to me, and while I wish I had done this sooner, and realize I didn’t hold up my end for nearly two years, I don’t even dwell on it. I’m just too happy. It worked out, and I can finally begin to experience what it means to have a real parent in my life.
Better late than never has never been truer than it is right now.