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I want to preface this post by saying I know it’s a departure from our usual vibe, but it’s something I want to share because it is important to me. And it colours a lot of my attitude to life in some way. So as I load this post I have to admit to being nervous, and kind of wanting to vomit a little bit. Here goes…
Family means different things to different people but for all of us it means a sense of belonging, right? Of having a soft place to fall and people you can expose your soft pink underbelly to without fear of being sucker-punched. I was brought up by an incredibly independent, stoic, whip-smart and loving single mum who did everything herself. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have her as my mum. Even now, in the year I have turned 40, I know she’s got my back and she’s there with whatever I need. I owe her money, and a whole lot more besides.
My father, on the other hand, has been a more complex story. My parents separated when I was five or six. I have vague recollections of him living in our house – I remember him as a stern and imposing figure that I was always mildly afraid of. Beyond that, he was someone we visited on Sundays, then every second Sunday, then more sporadically until he sort of petered out of my life. Over the years he would reappear for a while, then things would get awkward or difficult, and so he would disappear again. He had another family and seemed to get on just fine without me.
I, on the other hand, grew up and processed this in all the typical ways girls with ‘daddy issues’ do. I spent my time and affections on the wrong men – men who were emotionally distant or who treated me badly. I allowed all this to happen as a way of working through these feelings and perhaps punishing myself for not being enough. If I was enough, he would have stayed, right?
Of course not! But youth and self-flagellation go hand-in-hand.
When I had my first baby nearly 10 years ago, my father seemed suddenly motivated by his new grandad status and we had a good time there for a couple of years. He adored my daughter and she felt the same about him. Then the wheels fell off. I am still not sure exactly what happened, but things got tense and I am not one to say nothing, so I asked if we could get together and talk about it. Tumbleweeds. Then I received a letter one Friday afternoon a few weeks later.
It was a Dear John letter. From my dad.
The letter was three pages long. It outlined what he perceived to be my greatest character flaws, and listed all the gifts he has given me over the years – and then wished me and my daughter good luck for the future. The end.
And all I could think of was a newspaper article I had read some time before where a dad was explaining why he kept letting his drug-addicted son – who had stolen everything of value the dad had – back into his home. “He’s my son,” he said, because that explained all you needed to know.
Was I more difficult than that? I never stole anything. I never hurt anyone intentionally. To this day, I’m still not sure exactly what I did wrong.
A few months later, I went to my older brother’s birthday party and my father was there. He walked straight past me without acknowledgement, which I expected. But he also walked straight past my then three year old daughter, who excitedly shouted, “Hi grandad!” He didn’t even smile or wave or look at her.
That’s the moment it ended for me.
It has taken me six years to process all of this. I still don’t have all the answers, but I think I have all that I am going to get from it, so any more time or effort spent would be wasted. What I have learned is that my three children could do anything – and I mean seriously fucked up shit – and I would still love them. I would still fight twenty grizzly bears with nothing but a teaspoon to have them in my home and in my life. I don’t care where they go or what they do – my children will never be able to shake me, ever. Now I understand what it feels like to be a parent.
And I finally realise that’s not what he was.
I know I am not a bad person.
It wasn’t me. It was him.
So I hold this important lesson close to my heart because I have learned the value of family. Those who love me are treasured and enthusiastically embraced with all I have. Those who don’t have made their choice and that is for them to understand and to live with. I hold no grudge or ill feeling – and I am grateful for the lesson – despite (or perhaps because of) the time and tears it took to learn.
And I keep the letter in my desk drawer, just in case I ever need a reminder.
Have you had any hard-learned lessons about family?