The day my father broke up with me: lessons about family

140430 father daughter dance hero
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Carolyn is the managing editor of Champagne Cartel. She is a freelance writer, blogger and social media strategist for businesses. In her spare time she is an obsessive runner and amateur wine and dark chocolate taster.

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.

Me, Little Red and my fab mum, Barb

Me, Little Red and my fab mum, Barb

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.

Sayonara.

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.

140430 not me you

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?

 

Carolyn is the managing editor of Champagne Cartel. She is a freelance writer, blogger and social media strategist for businesses. In her spare time she is an obsessive runner and amateur wine and dark chocolate taster.

92 Comments

  • Reply April 29, 2014

    Mrs BC

    I think some people go their whole lives without learning this lesson. Well done you for figuring it out, and for protecting your own precious child. You are a great mum, and I hope your dad knows what he is missing out on.
    xx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    mummywifeme

    What a powerful post, Carolyn. I am in tears. Thank you for sharing this with us all. I admire your courage and strength. Wish I could say more, but the words aren’t coming. Here’s a hug instead o.

    • Thanks Renee, that means so much. It was a challenge, for sure, but it felt like the right thing to do. The beautiful response has confirmed that hunch. xxx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Champagne Tara

    I have no words, my amazing, insightful and talented friend. Screw him. He’ll die miserable and you, my sweet, will be surrounded by the love, life, and laughter that you have inspired in those around you. Family is definitely a soft place to fall and you know better than most that it’s only coincidental when it intersects with biology. Sending you a lot of love xxxx

    • I love your academic assessment – so Tara! I wish him no misery, of course, because that feels toxic to my insides. I’m not sure he is the happiest of people anyway, and I don’t want to dirty my hands. I hope he finds some kind of peace in the life he has chosen. Beyond that, the people I love take up all of my feelings. Thank you for your beautiful words – they made me go a bit gooshy and sooky. In a good way. Move back to Brisbane soon please. xxx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Bec | Mumma Tells

    I know non-present fathers. Fortunately for me, I met my Dad when I was eight. He married my Mum and took me under his wing like I was his own. The fatherless biz seemed to matter less then.
    I can.not.fathom how a person – a loving, feeling human being – could shut out a three year old without any hesitation. I have no words.
    Your Mum is worth her weight in gold. And then more. X

    • She sure is (she actually read this comment and was chuffed – said she is going to stop trying to lose weight now – ha!). Your dad sounds like a top bloke. I love a guy who chooses to take on the parenting and excels. There’s some gold right there too. xx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Champagne Stalking Cow

    I am so proud of you. speechless.

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Deb

    In tears on the train – thanks! Unbelievable that he would walk away (again) from the amazing woman you are and the incredible children you are raising. Thanks so much for sharing, clarifies what being a parent really means. Xx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Mel B

    Very powerful! Should come with a warning to read with tissues! think a lot of people can relate to parts xx

    • Ha ha, thanks Mel. Yes, these wonderful comments have shown me just how many people can relate – which makes me sad. But life goes on and we all move forward with a better understanding about what is important to us. xx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Karina

    I remember my shock at the time, and have just re-lived the shock again – awful (and walking past S – hateful action). I know as much as you are against navel gazing, I’m so pleased that on reflection you have taken away a fierce protection of family from this. We all love you here and miss you terribly – I’d give an awful lot to have you around (bar moving to Qld – sorry!!). xo

    • I miss you so much KB! Life gets busy and we are both a bit sporadic in our communiques but you are constantly in my thoughts. Queensland really is a lovely place, you know… Actually, I sometimes fantasise about moving back to Melbourne but it’s never going to happen – too much family and roots here now. But a visit this year is in order, I think. xxx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Zanni Louise

    Oh my gosh Carolyn. This is so intense. I really feel for you, and can imagine how confusing that must have been. Parents should love their kids – whatever they are. xx

  • Totally his loss Carolyn. Seriously what an arse. And a true reflection on what type of person he is. xoxo

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Jane D

    Your father sounds like a classic narcissist. They often leave one family and cut all ties while starting another. Narcissists only have time for young children or anyone who idolises them. Narcissist need a constant supply of validation and cannot cope with the slightest criticism. They make everything your fault so it can never be theirs – that’s how they roll.

    If you haven’t already, Google “Narcissistic personality disorder” and learn as much as you can. You have pretty much worked it out for yourself that he is incapable of love and that it’s not your fault, but it helps to understand who he is and why you need to stay as far away as possible – forever!

    • Reply May 1, 2014

      Irish Mummy

      Spot on Jane D, you have said exactly what I was thinking. Also, this site will tell you loads about NPD – http://www.melanietoniaevans.com/

    • Thanks Jane, I’ll have a look. It’s weird because my father still has a relationship with my older brother, but I couldn’t presume to know what their relationship is like. I keep well out of it! But the rest sounds spot on. I’ve never considered it before, so will definitely check it out. xx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    The Plumbette

    Carolyn this was such a moving and beautifully written post. I can’t comprehend how you would feel. I am so close to my dad and was in fact closer to my dad than my mum as I grew up. I have a family rift on one side of my family where certain members have nothing to do with others and it’s really really sad. Your dad is missing out on a great relationship. X

    • Thanks Bec – family rifts are always sad, aren’t they. Such a disparate bunch of personalities thrown together by genetics sometimes, but when families work well, they are the greatest thing in the world. xx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    belinda

    uuggh, bloody fathers like that, so sorry to hear that happened to you and Spencer {the other kids may have been spared!}. was thinking npd too: remorselessness {have first hand experience with that type!!}. i’ve recently had a final split from my dad who allowed his wife to rip through me about what kind of person i am in front of my kids {six days after major surgery} and then welcomed the ‘npd’ ex into his home for a week, over the last holidays with my kids! it’s so exhausting trying to wrap your head around why/how they could ever treat their own kids that way ~ maybe there is no other answer than ‘mental illness’! still painful . . . xx

    • WHAT?? Far out, B, that sucks for so many reasons. You have been through so much over the past few years but you have come out this strong, incredible artist (and, no doubt, well-rounded woman). I have loved watching your work gaining more and more attention and was chuffed for you when you got to travel to Sweden. We shall have the last laugh, my friend, because we are succeeding at what we love. xxx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Champagne Mia

    Ay yayayayayay… sub-par Dads are the pits. I have tears and hugs and love for you. This took guts to share – thanks – it’s a fabulous reminder of what family should and does mean.

  • He has problems and don’t you EVER forget it! You are priceless and if he can’t adore his own daughter then that is a reflection on him and not you. What a brave post. Thank you so much for sharing. X

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    Emily

    Wow. This post has knocked me for six. Usual vibe or not, thanks for sharing it. I’m sorry that you’ve had this experience, but your feelings about your own family are beautiful. This line is my favourite: ‘I would still fight twenty grizzly bears with nothing but a teaspoon to have them in my home and in my life’. x

  • So powerful and beautifully written Carolyn. You are such a strong, brave and beautiful lady for sharing your story with us all. Having been fortunate enough to meet you in person, all I can say is it is his loss, however being in a similar situation to yourself (I have a letter in my beside drawer too) I know these words don’t erase memories or take away the pain. Hopefully I can give you a bit hug in person some day soon (and I don’t mean that in a stalkerish way either!) xxx

    • Stalk away, lovely Lauren! Sounds like you have quite a story to tell too, which makes me sad. From what I know of your life so far, you have been through some incredibly tough times – and you are still so lovely and positive and just a beautiful, gentle person to be around. Great strength of character at play, clearly. xxx

  • Reply April 30, 2014

    markewest

    Very powerful post and wonderfully written.

  • Reply May 1, 2014

    Rebecca

    This is an amazing post. Such honesty. I agree, you let someone hurt you over and over, but that moment they do the same to your child.. that’s it. Shame really that we don’t defend ourselves as we do our children x

    • True, Rebecca! I think when you are used to it happening from a young age, it’s not quite so obvious. But, like you say, when someone crosses your child, watch the mama lion come out! xx

  • How heartbreaking for you but I see you are doing well despite all of this. You are working through it and have learnt a valuable lesson of what not to do when it comes to your own family. Really well written post x

    • Thanks so much, Deb! Yeah, you have to make the choice some time in your life to either wallow or move on, don’t you. Wallowing would make a sucky kind of life. :) xx

  • Excuse the French, but what a fucker. Sorry he decided to be a moron and it’s effected you like this. Forever leaving a mark. Says a lot about his character and it’s precisely this type of character you don’t need in your life or your daughters. You’re strong. Amazing x

    • Thanks Vicki – what beautiful words! This whole experience of sharing that story has been very life affirming and responses such as yours have made it totally worth it. I think it’s also given me the chance to step back from it a little bit and see it from a bit of a wider angle. It doesn’t look so bad from here. :) xx

  • Reply May 2, 2014

    Denise

    Ahh Carolyn I’ve got tears in my eyes reading this. What a truly awful experience. I’m glad you worked out it was him and not you, the only way is up from here. *hugs* xxx

  • I have gone through similar thoughts because my father committed suicide when I was only 10 (when he and my mum were going through a divorce). I’ve had depression on and off since, but now that I’m a parent I have no idea how he could’ve chosen to never see us again ever. How could a parent decide themselves to never have the opportunity to see their own children again? Its so permanent, maybe he didn’t grasp that before he did it, but I know I could never ever do that to my own child.

    • Wow, Toni, I’m so sorry to hear that. That must have been incredibly tough – especially at that age. It’s so hard to know what goes on in someone’s head when they get to the stage of doing something so extreme and irreversible but I can only assume they aren’t really thinking straight at all. Hugs to you and thanks for sharing that incredibly sad story. I’m glad you can take out of it a really strong perspective about what is important to you as you parent your own kids. xxx

  • Reply May 2, 2014

    blahblahmagazine

    Go you good thing! I think acknowledging who our parents really are is one of the most important things we can do as adults and parents. It clears the space to be better partners and parents. great post and how gorgeous is your mum!

  • I’ve had this post marked down to read for days and I’m so glad I finally found the time.

    You have a beautiful way with words and I feel privileged that you choose to share this stuff with us.

  • Reply May 2, 2014

    peopledonteatenoughfudge

    I experienced something similar and very sadly went on to repeat the mistake by marrying someone who also had no idea how to be a father. It’s so hard to truly believe that it’s not in some way your fault even though you know deep down it isn’t. Saying you are better off without him in your life is completely true but always remember that his life is lacking something by not having you in it.

    • Such beautiful words – and sorry you had to work it out the hard way! Still, the main thing is that we have learned and moved on. xx

  • Oh. My. God. This resonates so strongly with me. I haven’t spoken to my family (dad, mum, sister) for a few years now. They hurt me so many times and I forgave every time, then they hurt my (now) husband so badly I had to say enough was enough. And then they tried to make me feel like everything was my fault. So not surprisingly that was the end. And they were totally fine with that. Amazing, huh?

    • Wow, Sonia, that’s awful! It takes such strength to stand up to people you have loved all your life when they are not acting in your best interests. Good on you for being that strong, brilliant lady (who we are all getting to know now – lucky us!). It can only be onwards and upwards from here. xxx

  • I can’t imagine the emotions that you have gone through experiencing this and now putting it out there. Blood doesn’t always make for the best family. Surrounding ourselves with those who respect and love us is what’s important, blood or not, the rest don’t deserve us. Stay strong. And thank you for sharing such a private thing x

  • Reply May 2, 2014

    Rory

    I agree with you. Nothing will break the bond I have with my two girls. I find it quite unbelievable that a father would not want to know his daughter. All of my joy channels through them. He is missing out! Good on you for sharing this Carolyn!

  • Yes I totally agree with you – it is not you, it’s him and he is the one missing out. I hear you on this topic as I haven’t spoken to my father in 17 years (well more correctly he hasn’t spoken to me), so thanks for sharing.

    • Wow, Shelley, sorry to hear that! It is amazing how common this is – I have been learning that. I hope you have found some peace with it too. xxx

  • He does not deserve to call himself a father. How sad, to ignore a 3-year-old? Disgusting. I’m so proud of you that you have not taken it on board and know it’s not you that it’s him. I want to go and punch him. Strength, love and a big hug for all those times when you were young and thought it was you xxx

  • Reply May 3, 2014

    Lila

    As someone with many daddy issues my heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry he took his issues out on you and yours.he most certainly isn’t good enough for you or your lovely family.

    • Thanks Lila, that’s the thing, isn’t it. We all have our issues – it’s how we deal with them that counts. xx

  • Reply May 3, 2014

    Alicia

    Oh I am so sorry your father was such a dickhead, and your poor daughter, how disappointing. Good on your mum for being such a rock for you. xx

  • Yeah, any man who could ignore his three year old granddaughter is not worth any time, effort or life. What a dick. xxx

  • Oh Sweetheart – I so want to hug you hard right now. What an awful thing to go through and how anyone (especially a Grandad) could ignore a 3 year old child. I am not here to judge someone I dont know though. I just want you to know that I think both you and your Mum are completely awesome. xx

    • Thanks beautiful! Life is never black and white and there is no good and evil, of course. We must be content to live in shades of grey and that’s cool. Feel free to hug me hard in August after you’ve bought me a vodka. ;)

  • Just reading this makes me angry how he could do that to you. You have done amazing soul searching to be at the point you are to hold no grudges and acknowledging it as a lesson. Very admirable. A beautiful and heart wrenching post. thank you for bravely sharing your story !

  • Reply May 5, 2014

    yinyangmother

    What a powerful and painful post for you to write Carolyn. Not only is your father wrong but also very cruel – who snubs a 3 year old! Hopefully writing this now will be your final piece of processing of all the reasons why it is about him, not you and why you and your kids are better off without him. I know that experiencing such a complete family split is very traumatic, but you have the right attitude to keep getting you through.

  • Reply May 6, 2014

    writenote1

    What a heartfelt post. I really feel for you – it’s a mixture of indignation, anger, empathy, sadness but also admiration that you can share this and decide that there is a lesson, albeit a hard one, to be learned.

  • Reply June 27, 2014

    bigwords

    Families can be amazing or f*cked up or simply non-existent. Your story makes me so sad that someone could do that to you. I loved meeting you recently – your soul was vidid, your smile huge, your heart open. You have an awesome Mum and a beautiful family of your own.

    I do not know my Dad. I do not know who he is at all. But you know what? I am still a good person as too are you xxxxxx

    • Yeah, we’re all right, hey Bianca! Thank you for those beautiful words – I’m so touched. This blogging caper has brought me some of the most wonderful friends that I would never have otherwise met and I remind myself regularly just how lucky this makes me. You were exactly as I expected you to be from our interactions on social media and your gorgeous blog. Loved meeting you and look forward to many chats to come. xxx

  • Reply July 1, 2014

    Maxabella

    My god some people seem to want to live the worst possible existence they can. I can’t even imagine your father’s inner reasoning over his life-long behaviour but it scares me witless to think that anyone would be able to justify these kind of choices. No, no, no, it’s not you. x

    • Thanks Bron – you’re lovely! I think the key to happiness is to stop trying to work out how other people think. You can send yourself mad when you start at the assumption they are wired the same as the rest of us.

  • […] host of reasons that don’t matter now: I’d just had my heart broken for the first time, I had huge daddy issues, I craved affection and approval from the world, I was adrift after finishing school without any […]

  • Reply July 31, 2014

    Brooke

    I just read this post for the first time this morning. I’m in tears. So so sorry he was such a shit. Love your head off.

  • Reply September 12, 2014

    Kimberley

    Oh wow, what a post. That SUCKS. I can’t imagine not being in my kids’ life, are you serious? I would lay down in front of a freaking truck if it meant they were safe. I just don’t get it. And I’m sorry you had to suffer from someone so clearly lacking in judgement, empathy and compassion. Kx

    • Reply September 13, 2014

      Carolyn @ Champagne Cartel

      Thanks Kimberley – yeah, I spent a long time trying to figure it out and then realised I erroneously based all assumptions on the idea that we are all alike on the inside. Now I figure that isn’t the case – and some people work differently to me. I’ll never understand them, and that just has to be okay. Thanks for taking the time to comment – much appreciated. xx

  • Reply September 13, 2014

    jess

    Wow, just stumbled upon this blog (thanks mrs woog!). This is the first post I read and I am in tears. I have a similar experience with my relationship with my father and as much as I know logically that it is not my fault it still cuts me deep to think that this man has no desire to be a part of mine or my children’s lives. Sadly I don’t have a great relationship with my mother either so I actually don’t feel like anyone really ‘has my back’. Dont get me wrong though, I am no sad sack feeling sorry for myself. Now excuse me while I lose myself in this blog!

    • Reply September 13, 2014

      Carolyn @ Champagne Cartel

      Oh Jess, what a beautiful comment – thank you (and thanks Mrs Woog!). That’s quite an intro to the blog – we also like to talk about shoes and other frivolous stuff too. :)

      It’s confusing, don’t you think, to try to understand what goes on in someone’s mind like that – especially when you have kids of your own. I’m sorry you don’t have that security of at least one close parent, but from your comment I assume you have found your family elsewhere – and that’s just as powerful a connection.

      I hope you enjoy hanging out here – you’re very welcome. xxx

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