Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Finding my sometimes father

I haven't seen my father in more than 16 years.

If you've known me for at least that amount of time, that wouldn’t surprise you. My dad has always had a sometimes there, sometimes not presence in my life. When I was very young, he worked a difficult job with wacky hours, and didn’t always make it home. Sometimes, perhaps he wasn’t working, and he didn’t make it home.

He and my mother had at best a strained marriage for all sorts of reasons. They got married young, had kids quickly and struggled to pay the bills. They separated when I was in junior high, and divorced several years later. He remarried, and his new wife often pressured him about his commitments – financial and emotional – to his former life. There were periods of time when my siblings and I didn’t hear from him even then.

We stopped talking the last time, this one by more of a general agreement, right after I got married. We had a falling out about his new girlfriend and his family, and their involvement in my tiny wedding ceremony.

At least, that’s how I remember it. He may have a very different and certainly valid recollection. There's all sorts of blame to go around when it comes to what went wrong in our family.

My dad does, however, acknowledge the general framework of our past – he and I began talking again intermittently about two years ago – but I haven’t asked him to confirm details or asked him to explain why any of it happened. I don’t think either of us is ready for that.

But when he called me, he did admit to this: He said that he wrongly put other relationships in his life ahead of his relationship with his children.

I think that’s part of it. I also think he doesn’t much know how to relate to his children. He has always wanted a very traditional, family-ties kind of relationship, but we have never had a run-of-the-mill family. And I think it would have been difficult to deal with three tweens/teens even if there isn’t a divorce involved.

All of that is to say this: In the end, I know my dad’s a pretty good guy. He means well, even if he doesn’t always do good. (I sadly report that he currently isn’t returning my calls.) I don’t always like him, but I can say that I don’t want to regret not having tried to rebuild a relationship with him. I want to give him and my children the opportunity to know each other. And I think that, should I peel away all the years of armor I built up to keep from getting hurt, I probably would say I love him.

Maybe it won’t take another 16 years for me to be able to tell him that.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a father, I think it is very difficult for us to admit our mistakes in life. We manytimes have the best intentions but poor communication skills get us into more trouble than we can control. I do use that word control because as most individuals who attempt to please others or keep up the persona of a strong person, do us that control word in the wrong way. The most important thing in any mans life should be his family. The sacrifices of personal things to maintain those ties is very important. It is not about self but about those that you hold dearly in your heart. That is why you find men in thier latter life still have a picture of there children when they were still small. That is when men feel that they are the most protective of thier children and when they were at thier most importance to those children. Relationships are a work in progress. I take from Jimmy V when he said "Don't give up, Don't ever give up". Family is too important to give up on. I hope you are able to work it out. I know if I lost my children it would be the most unbearable thing that I would ever experience.

Anonymous said...

Wow - thank you for posting this. I can totally relate, this is so close to my experience and "relationship" with my father, I could've written this. My prayer is that we'll both have improved relationships with our fathers.

Anonymous said...

Can somebody put this blog out of its misery?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Alisha. I know this is a painful topic for you, as it is for me. What helped me in my adulthood was to understand my father's alcoholism and emotional damage that occured in his childhood, for his own very disfunctional upbringing. I love my father and he loves me. Sadly, he never learned the parenting skills he needed to be a committed father. He was also quite selfish. I think he missed out (as did I) and he regrets it in his old age. Just remember, there is no reason why your true family has to be the one you were born into. And do not take your father's rejection personally.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, but I have to tell you what a blessing it is to have an all the time father in my life. Some men don't realize that their influence shapes their daughters as much as it shapes their sons.

Anonymous said...

This sounds too much like my brother. He dearly loved his children and was so proud of them, but it got very old being in the middle sometimes, reporting to him about my niece and nephew, and back to them about his life. He eventually made contact with them at a very dark point in his life. He also allowed other relationships to come between him and his children, as well as resentment and anger towards their mother. I hope things work out for you as they eventually worked out for my family, he made contact with everyone and was attempting to mend fences when he met a very tragic and abrupt end in an accident. His children, my son, mother and I are grateful that an honest connection was made before hand. I wish the same for you.

Anonymous said...

Please realize that (as a separated father) spending some time away from your children is sometimes the best strategy. The power struggles that accompany the aftermath of family separation is generally not the best situation to carry-on a relationship with your children. Often times, it takes time for one or both to curtail the power struggle in favor of garnering a sound relationship with both parents.
I have more, but I'll save it for my book. LOL

MsLesa said...

I sent this earlier in an email prior to reading the other postings:
I so very much enjoy reading the column. You've no idea just how closely this last one in regards to the 'Sometimes Father' has hit. My 17 yr old daughter has this kind of relationship with her own father. His willingness to put EVERYTHING else ahead of his responsiblities to her has truly made their relationship non-existant. He does not spend any time with her, refuses to pay his court ordered child support, nor does he even offer any explanation for not doing so. He's been jailed for his non-compliance & in the last 15 years has given us only $150 towards back support. My daughter graduates from high school in the Spring & doesn't want him or his family (his mother & sister) to attend the ceremony, as they have made disparaging remarks about me & my family, who have been there constantly & consistantly, heralding her every achievement & supporting her both emotionally & literally throughout her life. I can truly say that my own father (Felton), 2 of our uncles (Jack, Buck), 5 of our male cousins (Corey, Graham, Garmon, Myron, Joey), her god-father (Luther), her Sunday School teacher (Alex), & a host of other strong male figures in her life show a commitment to her beyond belief. Even though they have families of their own, they are ALWAYS willing to listen, spend time with, support & encourage her in whatever she endeavors to do. I truly feel completely blessed to have them share the journey of her successes with me.

I don't know your reasons for writing this, but I thank you for doing so. I will encourage my daughter, Auzree' to read this, not to make her sad, but to celebrate the MEN in her life who have pledged their love, support & time to her & her well-being.

Anonymous said...

My father was abusive and on drugs when I was little, so my mother divorced him and would not let me see him. I thank her very much for doing that because although he still wanted to be in my life, it was for the better that he was not. He finally got himself together when I was 15 and we got to know each other a little before he was killed by a drunk driver. He will never know how much I missed having a loving father growing up.

Flying Scotsman said...

Anonymous said ... "Can somebody put this blog out of its misery?"
===================================
Can *you* go take a hike???????????

Don't like it? Then don't read it ............

Anonymous said...

Posting this type of thing on the internet is probably not going to help your relationship with your father. Maybe you have some insensitivity of your own that you should own up to. You might consider getting therapy to deal with this situation. But at the least you might analyze why you would take a difficult, obviously complicated and strained family situation, and make it a lot worse by putting it on the internet. I can't imagine that your statements here will encourage your dad to return your calls anytime soon. You give us all a glimpse here into why perhaps he does not want a relationship with you. Maybe your expectations are just way too high. Most families are often far less than perfect in many ways. If you only want a relationship with your dad on your own terms, likely it won't happen. Stop criticizing him in public, at the very least. Unless your dad sexually abused you, you owe him a huge apology for doing this. Get some therapy and learn to accept him the way he is instead of getting frustrated about how he is not meeting your needs.

Anonymous said...

It's Christmas time and the celebration of the birthday of the only perfect(human)man, Jesus Christ I know! There are no perfect men or fathers except the way I see God and His Son! The way I see it we can all 'rag' on our parents or forgive them and usually when we become parents we finally hopefully will do that! as we make mistakes and try again with our own children over and over again or we are better parents spending more and more time with our own children and learning from our parents who did not do this with us.
I am praying for your father to read this or someone he knows to read it and show it to him; and hoping he will contact you and enjoy and spend time once again with you and your family!
I know of some people who pass their father on the street and he does not acknowledge them and their mother who they did not speak to for years and then one day she showed up and they just continued like the days of not connecting did not ever happen.
Some fathers are present physically yet not present, I can not judge as I also know a father who longs for his sons and yet after a divorce they chose to be with their mother and away from him. We never know the rhyme or reason sometimes, yet another person I said to them as they said to me, "my father and I are not speaking" and I said back at them, "so you are both stubborn". Later, they told me my words stopped them from being stubborn and they called them and they are mended and speaking again. Other's I know became so angry with a child of their's and stopped talking, I said I will pray for you to be close again. They thanked me yet did not believe it would happen. They are close again and closer even and say to one another "this can not happen again" as they are enjoying the grandchildren and one another once more.
Praying and prayers for all concerned!

Anonymous said...

If you love your dad, why not tell him now, instead of hoping it won't take another sixteen years to tell him? It's obvious you have father-daughter relationship issues, but why not be a better person and tell him you love him? He won't be around forever, and if you don't tell him, you'll regret it for the rest of your life.

Anonymous said...

I found your story interesting but difficult to relate to because I came from a traditional home life. I would say this...

I hope you don't put too much time and energy into trying to re-energize a relationship with someone who is unwilling or unable to do the same. I imagine there are others in your life who are eager to benefit from your time and energy. Time and energy are finite resources which, when are expended are gone forever. Genetics don't make a family.

Anonymous said...

I loved your blog Alicia because I can definitely relate to it myself. After years of a strained relationship with my dad, I finally had an epiphany one day when I was struggling to understand how my father could just be so in and out of my life as he pleased (and I do realize my epiphany isn't for everyone) but I realized that I needed to take the "Dad" label off of him because that honestly wasn't what he could be to me (despite what he said) so although I haven't told him this I started thinking of him more as an older brother and it has helped IMMENSELY!!! It's because now I no longer have the same expectation of him nor do I depend on him as much as I had tried to in the past. I just had to accept who he was instead of who I wanted him to be. And he's never going to be the Bill Cosby Show dad or the Leave It To Beaver dad in my life and that does sting me a little, but as long as someone is willing to meet you at least halfway, I think it's worth it to pray for that person and try to be a positive influence in their lives. Sometimes the truth is that our parents need us to be the 'grown ups' sometimes much more than we need them to be. Thanks again for sharing and I hope things will get better!

Anonymous said...

I can understand you are hurt and the holidays are probably not helping the estrangement you currently have with your father - however, all this article is apt to achieve is more hurt. Men do not take confrontation well. You need to check into some counceling and apologize to your family for airing a personal conflict in a public manner.

Anonymous said...

This was really well-written, really poignant to me because I could have written it... however, I DID let my 3 children get to know my dad and his 4th wife, and eventually he hurt them too, badly, and they are old enough to know and suffer at ages 11, 10 and 6... and now I just wish I'd let him go before he could damage yet another generation.....

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the wig come down a few notches... what happened to the rogaine poster child

mom_knows said...

What I found interesting in reading "Finding my sometimes father" is how some of the same feelings and choices in this relationship are found in your earlier post "The one you don't forget." I suspect that, because this one is personal instead of "it happened to a friend," that it seems more tender, touching and compassionate; where the earlier one seemed more judgemental and condescending.

"It's different when it happens to you," my mom used to say.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this-I have a very similar relationship with my father and after much disappointment and hurt (and quite a few years of therapy, which hopefully will please some of the earlier posters, who apparantly thought this was something you need to "get over")am still struggling with this relationship, wondering if I should try to reach out yet again, or if I should just let him go and focus my energy and strength on relationships in my life with people who are interested and want to be a constant part of my life. This blog (and a few of the posts written in response) were very comforting.

Lynne Stevenson said...

My father died in 2004 from complications of Alzheimer's. He and my mother divorced after 25 years of marriage and he lived with me and my family for more than 16 years until he went into a nursing home the last year of his life.
There were only two times in his life when he told me that he loved me and was proud to have me as his daughter. One was the day my son was born. The other was the day I found him in a local hotel after my mother kicked him out and told him that I would make sure he had a place to live and would be taken care of the best way I could.
I would have traded everything to have had a "normal" father who made me feel loved and not merely a burden to feed and clothe when I was growing up. My father came along during The Great Depression and emotions were frowned upon. He was emotionally cold and had his own ways of keeping people at arm's length.
You are lucky that your father is still alive. Just don't give him the emotional power to continually hurt you like he has in the past. Forgive him for whatever he has (or has not) done in the past and move on. One day you won't have the choice anymore to let it go voluntarily. It will all become permanent once his remains are laid to rest after his death.