This Man I Call Dad
It was just the three of us for as long as I can remember. The memories I have of a loving caring father are pieced together only from what my aunt has told me. Devoted in the first year of my twin sister and my life, the only year of my life that my parents were married, my Dad would hold us, feed us and play with us. But these fabricated memories are like pictures of me looking on at a man holding babies in his giant loving arms. But I have never felt that.
There have been many conversations over the past few years. My aunt and I have discussed my Dad’s lack of interest or action with no sense of peace at the end. He is a mystery to us.
I am a 27 year-old woman. I am married, have a master’s degree and I have gotten myself through college. For the childhood that I had, I am fairly well-adjusted and compared to most, I have taken care of myself for a long time. When I think about my accomplishments and where I came from, I feel a sense of pride and strength. I am not saying this to brag. I am really not. I am saying this to show the contrast of how I feel about this stranger. This man I call Dad. In his presence I am 8 years old again. I feel nervous and scared. I do not know how to act or what to say. My heart beats quickly and I fake feeling at ease. I have gotten good at that.
The Day Dad Left…Again
I had to. My father remarried soon after my parents’ divorce. I cannot remember much about their divorce, but I do remember speaking to a friend of mine who was going through a similar experience at the time. When her parents got divorced it seemed so straightforward. Her parents had used a team of Los Angeles prenup attorneys to draw up a prenuptial agreement before they got married and so their actual divorce was able to take place really quickly. My friend got on really well with both her parents and despite the fact that they were divorced, they still got on and apparently their prenuptial agreement saved a lot of arguments.
As for my step mom I had thought she was a nice woman, but apparently she was different behind closed doors. My Dad had gotten partial custody and got to see us every other weekend. But even from the beginning of that arrangement I could feel his disinterest. When we went there, my Dad would put us in front of the TV or have us sit quietly and play with a toy. Instead of a bedroom, my sister and I would bring sleeping bags and sleep on his living room floor. I am not sure when the yelling and verbal abuse started but even now, all I feel when I think about those times is fear.
We were lectured about how badly we made him feel when we did not come to visit. He would tell us bad things about our mother and by the end of each stay we would feel knots in our stomachs. We were always in trouble but we never knew why. The visits became less frequent and then when I was 7 years-old, Dad moved to Florida with my stepmother and step brothers.
I still remember the day he left. The only way we knew was my mother called his landline and got a disconnected tone. She was thrilled, I thought I was too. We celebrated with an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen. As we drove through the dark summer night licking our cones, I remember feeling relieved but also recognized that it probably was not how one should feel when their father left.
Virtually Uninterested Parent
From then on we got cards on our birthdays, sometimes. We would talk on the phone only if we were with our grandmother or aunt and they passed us the phone. I still remember the dread of waiting for my turn. He was thousands of miles away but something about our relationship made me feel wrong. Relief would hit when I hung up.
As I got older, the wave of panic I felt when having to talk to Dad changed from a child’s fear of a scary man to the fear of talking to someone who had no interest. At the time I did not know why I felt what I did. It is only looking back that I see how reaffirming the rejection was each time I talked on the phone. Correcting my age, or the grade I was in, or even what day my birthday was. By that time I had learned the concept of father but knew that mine was completely different. I felt uninteresting and unlovable.
At Christmas parties, my sister and I would watch the phone pass from one person to another. Each one having a long chat with our dad. He was interested in them. Shame washed over me as I pretended to enjoy talking to my Dad. As I pretended to miss him. I prayed that no one would see through the hollowness. That no one would see how little he cared. I was terrified that if they saw how uninterested he was in me, that they would instantly find me uninteresting and unlovable too.
Can I Fill The Dad Hole?
I wish I could say that as I grew older, I was able to accept it and let go. That I could understand that it was him and not me. But I did not and still struggle with it now. I remember times through my childhood when my sister and I would lay on the living room floor staring at the ceiling. We felt empty.
We thought about him probably much more than he has ever thought about us. We longed for him to change his mind and come back to form a relationship with us. But even now, after he moved back to my home town, he does not call. I only see him when my aunt invites him to meet with us.
My aunt and I have speculated reasons, perhaps some psychological issues that may be the source of his apathy or unwillingness to try. I would not say that I know what is causing it. Perhaps he truly can not engage. But I have come to find that regardless of the reason, valid or not, he left me empty and all I can do is accept the hole.
I know this article is a bit depressing. I wish I had a more encouraging ending. All I can say is that I am working on it. And if I can leave you with anything, it is the idea to keep trying to accept and let go. No matter what you face, or what is causing your emptiness, keep looking for healing. You will find that there are a lot of things in life that can fill you up.
There is a popular quote that goes something like this – “When the student is ready, the Master will appear.” It is unclear who is the student and who is the master here but what is certain is that the reader’s request for us to discuss the issue of “Emptiness,” has rich teachings and opportunities to learn for all of us. As was the case with the first Contributor in this emptiness series, Alexis Ali has shown a most vulnerable side of herself in this post. Alexis lives in New York and hold a Master’s degree in Linguistics. She is a freelance writer, sings and has a love for photography. Alexi is our main short-story series writing and have done two series for us to date: “The Unfortunate Life of An Interesting Woman,” and “Adele’s Pattern: A Journey to Redemption.” This, however, is her most intimate – responding to your request for openness on a feeling that many try to fill – successfully or not.
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