Parents and Estrangement

This is not going to be a fun post to write. It is also going to be a novel, but it needs to be said. But I think more people should talk about this, and it’s been weighing on me, so here it goes. Today I read this article: Life Without My Mother is a Joy. It was posted today and it specifically references mothers, but it definitely can be applicable to either parental figure. It brought up some painful memories.

After my tumultuous “moving-out” experience, both of my parents had plenty of opportunities to be a part of my life. My mom pushed past the hurt that I’d caused her and actively sought to have a relationship with me. And I know it wasn’t easy. There was sometimes where I hung up the phone on her, the first year I didn’t see her on Mother’s Day, the young adult choices I was making that she didn’t necessarily approve of, but she still kept trying. She apologized (and still does) for the actions she was a part of that hurt me growing up. So she and I have a good relationship now – actually much better than it had ever been.

The flip side of the coin, and the real reason for this post is because of my father. Growing up, I’d always considered my papa to be my favorite parent. We bonded over our shared spirituality, my tom-boyishness, etc. In fact, when I went of my first date with my then boyfriend, now fiance, he almost didn’t continue seeing me because of how over-the-moon, “I have the best dad ever”. I had been living on my own for 4 years, trying to figure out how life works, working a soul-draining full-time job and managing to go to school full-time and was about to finish my undergraduate degree.

During the first year of dating my boyfriend, I watched him carefully with his children. That year was personally very difficult for my partner, due to a variety of reasons, but he never ever gave up on his kids. No matter what they went through, or how distant they acted towards him, he was always there, always reaching out to them, refusing to ever let that relationship go. He was respectful of them when they were mad at him, he apologized to them when he was wrong, he sought out fun opportunities to bond with them. That spoke volumes to me. Seeing him be a real father made me realize that I actually didn’t have the utterly fantastic dad I thought I did.

Honestly, I realized that I had barricaded off processing my relationship with my dad because I was just trying to survive myself in the real world. When I thought about my own relationship with my father, I realized he actually had been essentially non-existent for the first five years of me living on my own. He called me once six months after I moved out – only because my mom forced him to. He stopped by my apartment once – I have a hunch it was because I had finally gotten my “own” place and wasn’t rooming with anyone else. But for the vast majority of the time, years in fact, he never reached out. No phone calls, no texts, no even “likes” on my facebook or twitter feeds.

A little over a year after my boyfriend and I had been dating, I came to the conclusion that my relationship with my father needed to be addressed. I was done acting like everything was okay between us. I wrote a five-page letter to my dad explaining what I loved about him growing up as well as my hurt and frustrations with how he was acting towards me. This letter was the first time I’d ever stood up to my dad. The first time I found my voice and told him how I felt. Here’s a small portion of my letter:

So it boils down to the fact that I feel our relationship has been ruined and you haven’t tried to do anything to apologize for the way it is and how you treated me five years ago, and continue to treat me even now. Your recent text seemed to illustrate it to me: “I have never closed the door on you. You chose to go out on your own, but I’m here if you want me. I’ve never “pretended” things are ok. I love you very much even though you chose to leave us.” That text came across to me like this: So “you never closed the door” but you don’t welcome me either… you’re “here if I want you” but only on your terms. Since I haven’t “repented and come home” you’re trying to do the barest minimum. You’ve “neverpretended’ things are okay” – but you’re willing to let them stay like this for the last 5 years until who knows how long? I “chose to leave you” – since when is moving out and becoming an adult a bad thing?

My father’s response to this was basically “You seem to be angry about this, we should talk in person.” No apology, no expression of desire to improve. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to sit down and talk about it with him. It wasn’t my responsibility.

So I set boundaries.

I told him that he had my cell number and my email address, he could call when he wanted. But he couldn’t call on my birthday or Christmas if he didn’t call me on any of the other 363 days of the year. I unfriended him from Facebook, because it hurt me every time he commented on my siblings posts, but never on mine. Every time I saw he had sent my sister a care-package while she was away in college, but never to me. I needed to protect myself and allow myself to live my own life without feeling like a dagger was plunged into me any time he acknowledged someone else but not me, his oldest daughter.

He still hasn’t changed.

Last year in September, about four years after I wrote that letter to him, I planned a small family reunion. I invited my mom, my siblings, my grandparents, and my partner’s children. I did  not invite my father. I didn’t even tell him it was happening. He heard about it at the dinner table a month or so before. “What’s this about this trip?” My siblings told him what we were doing and who was going. He never asked about it after that. Never said “I wonder why she didn’t invite me?” or even seemed to think that it was atypical that a daughter would invite her entire family – minus her dad.

He won’t change.

Last December, I became engaged. A question I’ve had in my mind the last six months is “Do I invite my father?” I’ll be the first to be married, I’m his first-born. This is a memorable event for me, it should be one for him as well.

I had quite a few concerns about inviting him, I can’t list them, but suffice it to say, the real reason is because he hasn’t shown he wants to be in my life.

Being estranged from my father is one of the hardest things. I feel the hard emotional pull when I least expect it. I cried last night watching Survivor and seeing a close father-daughter relationship. It’s toward the end of the season and the contestants had the chance to win precious time with their loved ones. The daughter was crying in her father’s arms – overwhelmed that her dad was there, and he said “I am her strength.” My father isn’t my strength and he doesn’t want to be a part of my life.

I think I know the reason he does this, but in my opinion, there is no valid reason on the face of the planet for why a father should not want to be a part of his daughter’s life. So this estrangement – is actually put in place by him, but I set up the boundaries. The fence-line is put up for my own emotional sanity. And I have the right to do that.

But at the end of the day, what I really want out of this is for people to feel free to talk about this. I don’t know if I’ll ever reconcile with my dad. But I do feel happier in my life. I don’t have to deal with his judgment of my choices, I don’t have to tip-toe around his ideology. Maybe most crucially, I don’t have to listen to him praising our current terror of a president. I am glad that I’ve become a person vastly different from who he wanted me to be. I’m a strong, independent, feminist, liberal, woman who cares about other people, no matter their sexuality, gender, religion, race, or anything else that society tends to judge others by. I have a wonderful man by my side and a puppy at my feet and I am at peace in my own corner of the world.

For my readers:

It’s okay if you and your parents are estranged. No matter who put the walls up. Your reasons are valid. It’s okay to find happiness and joy outside of your parents. Please do. And also please know that I am open to talking about it if you ever need a listening ear.

 

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2 thoughts on “Parents and Estrangement

  1. What a great post. I have been estranged from my mother on & off since I left home at 17. She also trying to use guilt, “you left me, so I’ll just back away” – which kept me in the guilt-bind for years. It was so much easier to cease contact & not think about her. Mother’s Day has always been a struggle, because she was a terrible mother and I couldn’t force myself to honor her when she wasn’t being honorable. A few years ago I entered therapy for childhood sexual abuse. During that time my therapist helped me come to terms with my relationship with my mother. The word she used specifically was ‘acceptance’. She told me I had to stop wishing for the mother I never had (or will ever have) and accept her for who she is. She said my expectations for us to magically develop this magical mother/daughter relationship were keeping me stuck in anger & bitterness. That is what finally freed me. I finally accepted who my mother was AND who she wasn’t, and then the burden lifted. I wasn’t a bad daughter; I didn’t ‘leave her’ – I just grew up and she couldn’t handle not having control over me anymore. I would like to say that everything is peachy between us, but it’s not. I’ve learned to tolerate her childish behavior and realize it’s not about me, it’s about her own wounds. We see each other 2-3 times a year and that might be the best it ever gets. I’m ok with it. I’ve come to terms with our relationship. I’ve come to terms with the fact that she has limitations as a mother and as a person. I so feel for you and completely understand.

    • Thank you for commenting and sharing your story. I totally get this. Part of me wants to go back to that great relationship I thought I had with my dad, but I also realize that that “great relationship” was a mirage. I’ve never had a good relationship with him. Looking back, I can see that I tried to be what he wanted me to be, but it wasn’t actually me. I’m proud of the person that I’ve become, I’ve had to work through a complete worldview change, and what I believe and how I think is something that’s very personal to me, and not because anyone else told me I should think this way. And you’re right – it’s tough to accept that it’s not going to happen. We as humans long for relationships, it’s a central part of who we are. But to be healthy enough to say “This relationship isn’t good for me” and cut it off – is very tough.

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