I was 10 when my world fell apart. After dinner one night, you and Mum sat down with us and explained that you didn’t love each other anymore, and that you’d be separating. It didnt have anything to do with us. You assured us of your love for us. There was no yelling. Not even any tears as far as I can remember.
Before that, there wasn’t much you could do to get me offside. You used to go bush walking for days and days; I thought you were an adventurer and an explorer. You inspired me. You made me an ice cream cake for my 9th birthday and when I went to the bathroom during the party, you showed it to all my friends. I always hated you for that. We would pull up the carrots from the back garden together, pick mulberries together, go camping together. I loved you.
You moved out. We visited you in your new apartment, but it wasn’t my home. You bought me clothes and a toothbrush to keep there but they didn’t feel like mine. I never felt comfortable there. I don’t think you intended it, but the distance grew.
You moved in with Jan what felt like pretty soon after you split with Mum. It’s hard for a child to navigate the step-parent situation. You expected a lot of us. The whole thing was made a lot easier by the fact that Jan never tried to be our mother. She was always adamant that that role was already taken. I’ll always be thankful for that.
That place didn’t feel like home either. You had another life, one that I didn’t fit in to. I felt like I needed to be a grown up. So I grew up. I could only think about this in terms of invisibility. If I wasn’t taking up space, or making a mess, or making noise, then I’d be welcome. I learnt to walk on eggshells. I tried to act like an adult cause that’s who I thought I needed to be to be part of your life. I was 11.
I would see you every second weekend and we’d try and talk on the phone during the week. I was never very good at ringing you, but when Mum reminded me, I would call and you would chastise me for not calling more, saying things like, ‘I was beginning to wonder if you were still alive’. I think you thought it was a joke. I didn’t hear it like that. It made me feel like a failure as a daughter.
On my 12th birthday you sent me a card that said, ‘welcome to being a teenager’. You didn’t know how old I was. That hurt. The distance grew.
I started high school. You weren’t there. You came to Presentation Day, and maybe the music recitals, but I don’t think you ever went to a parent-teacher night.
I needed you to tell me I was beautiful. You didn’t.
I needed you to show me that you loved me (not just say the words), just as I was. You didn’t.
I needed you to listen to me tell you about my friends, my taste in music, the boys I liked, the girls who were mean to me, the train I caught to school, and a zillion other useless things. You didn’t. You took every opportunity to tell me about your interests, and hijacked my stories to tell your own. I learnt to not give you information because I thought you didn’t really want to know. I learnt to ask and not talk.
I stopped trusting you. I stopped wanting to see you. I stopped believing you would do anything for me. I stopped looking forward to our visits (were they not court-ordered, I might have stopped going). I think I probably stopped believing you loved me.
I lived with you and Jan for a couple of years when I was 19 and those are some of my most precious memories. It felt like a family again. I came back from overseas and you guys sat me down one night and told me you were splitting up. It was too much to bear. There was yelling this time. Jan made you tell me why. You had had an affair. I was so angry. You had betrayed my trust. Again. And broken up the closest thing I’d had to a family in 10 years. I hated you for that. For the second time in my life, I watched you move out of my home. I stayed with Jan. I trusted her. I seriously entertained the idea of cutting you out of my life.
I’m glad I didn’t. But it took me a long time to forgive you for that affair. The wounds still bleed when I poke them. As I write this, I am weeping. Even though I didn’t cut you out, I decided that I wouldn’t be vulnerable with you. Given our history, it seemed too risky. I couldn’t put myself in that position once more.
We have spent a bit more time together in the last few years. I have been glad for that. I feel like I know you a bit better. Still, I’m hesitant to share anything of value with you. There’s too much water under the bridge.
And the problem is still that I want you to be different.
I want you to want to spend time with me. I want you to want it enough that you’ll make the effort. A few years ago we made a plan to have breakfast before my class started. It was early. Maybe 7.30am. I waited on the corner. At 7.40 I rang you. No answer. At 7.45am my phone rang. You were still in bed. I felt like I didn’t matter to you. Like I wasn’t worth the effort.
Since then I have watched you date several women. I feel like I come second in your life. Or third. But definitely not first. That place is reserved for the woman you are currently seeing. When you are single, you call regularly and find time to see me. When you’re dating someone, it’s like I don’t exist. I don’t want to compete with her. I don’t think I should have to. So I don’t. But when I do speak to you, you make the same old comment, ‘I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you’. It will never be funny Dad.
Every time we speak, the conversation always ends with you saying ‘I love you’. I struggle to believe this. Love is more than a word Dad. Saying it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not accompanied by actions.
I do love you Dad. That’s my choice. I want to love you because even though there’s been so much rubbish in our relationship, there are lots of things that I like about you, and my life would be poorer without you.