Recently, I got a call from my brother. I wasn’t expecting to hear from him and figured, when I answered the phone, that he and his wife probably needed a babysitter for the weekend. However, it took me by surprise when he told me our father was coming to town the next day. “I guess we’re going to meet up for lunch or something. You don’t have to come, but you’re welcome to,” he said. I smiled. No lurch of anxiety or anger came over me. “Nah, I think I’m okay,” I let him know. “I don’t think I’d be very nice.”I was 15 years old when my parents divorced after 23 years of marriage and I haven’t spoken to my father since. Click To Tweet
A little bit of background here: I was 15 years old when my parents divorced after 23 years of marriage and I haven’t spoken to my father since. There were a few phone calls and cards here and there, the spotty occurrence of which has long since stopped altogether. There have been a few chance run-ins (less than I would have expected given how long we lived in the same fairly small town together), but for all intents and purposes, I have not had a relationship with my father for 16 years. Want to know the totally crazy part about that? I do not feel even a little bad about this.
I’m not terribly incensed over my dad leaving the family. People get divorced all the time. What can you do about it? So, the divorcing is not so much a big deal as the way he went about it. Sorry, but I’m not going to get into all the gory details here (you’re welcome, father). Suffice it to say, I think his guilt over what he’d done caused him to behave in an even more monstrous way – he was not the man I’d known as my father. And watching him treat my mother in the way that he did was brutal and disgusting.
Rather than having an ounce of contrition, he acted obstinate and proud. Rather than trying to soften the blow of deciding to leave his marriage, he went about it in a way that could only be described as cruel, vicious, and abusive. His half-hearted attempts (and that’s an overstatement) at staying in his kids’ lives were, in all honesty, pretty pathetic and transparently reluctant. And it was pretty clear from the get-go that he wasn’t prepared to deal with either my brother’s or my anger about his decision to leave or the way he was conducting himself throughout the process. I’m not saying that I was never angry with him, I’m just saying I’m not angry with him anymore. It’s not a thought that dominates my life. In fact, he rarely comes to mind.
And I’m okay with that.
Ten years ago, if you’d asked me why my father and I were still estranged, I would have told you that I couldn’t have anyone in my life who would treat anyone the way I’d watched him treat my mother during their divorce. If you asked me today, at the almost 17-year-mark, I would tell you it was because he is a stranger to me. He’s been out of my life longer than he was in it. I’m in every single way a different person now than I was then. And I’ve got to tell you – I just do not care that I don’t have a relationship with him.And I’ve got to tell you – I just do not care that I don’t have a relationship with him. Click To Tweet
And I think that was the part that disturbed me the most about hearing he was coming to town: how I so casually declined the opportunity to meet with him. I wasn’t angry. I didn’t feel afraid. Didn’t even break a sweat. I spent a couple of hours wondering if I’ve got something wrong with me – because that’s what we’ve been told, right? If a parent abandons you, you’re ruined for life. Your entire life from that time forward will be overshadowed and filtered through that experience. The rest of your life will be informed by a longing to reconcile, a feeling of unworthiness if you cannot do so. Why don’t I care to reunite? Catch up and tell him how I’m doing? Why doesn’t it matter to me? AM I A ROBOT??But I’m not here to be cruel either. Click To Tweet
While there is no denying that it was a catastrophic event in my life story, it is categorically untrue that my life is permanently damaged from being abandoned by one of my parents. It is simply part of my story. Admittedly, though I at one point would claim that this is not the case, the event of a parent’s abandonment affected my life both directly and indirectly in long-lasting ways. But I want us to look at our tendency to paint individuals who’ve been abandoned by a parent with the same, broad stroke as universally, irreparably damaged. Sure, there were a few years that were affected by it. Sure, there was some shit I had to work through. But if I’m going to be truthful about it, I know that I would have had some troubles anyway – it’s just that they would have looked different had my parents stayed together or had my father stayed in my life.Sure, there was some shit I had to work through. Click To Tweet
Now look, I’m not saying that people should go abandoning their children willy-nilly just because ultimately, they’ll probably be okay. Whether a child can move on to be alright after abandonment or not, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances (which there sometimes are) abandoning your offspring as part and parcel of dissolving the union that led to their existence is objectively a dick move. And I know lots of people who were abandoned by a parent – and guess what? They have moved on to become healthy, secure, and happy adults.
There are definitely people who will find the cataclysm of being left by someone who is supposed to care for, nurture, and support you above and beyond all others a hurdle more difficult to overcome than I did. Maybe an impossible one. But I want us to all say this together: we are not irreparably broken. No one gets to define how I handle, and grow from, my experiences but me. Certainly not someone who did such a fantastically shitty thing.
Why should he get that power? No. No, thank you.I don’t see in any way how reconnecting with him would enrich my life or add to my fire. Click To Tweet
And so, while I am fine and actually quite happy with my life – dad doesn’t get a pardon for what a tremendous asshole he was. It’s not that I’m holding onto a grudge – it’s just that reconciling would be work for me, work that I don’t want to do. I’m already shouldering a lot and I don’t feel like overextending myself even farther so that he can maybe sleep better at night now that he’s finally coming around. Not my fucking problem, dude. I know, so weird, right? Because we’re all supposed to be just waiting around for our dads (or moms) to come back, right? Like, oh how will I ever be whole without the shitty parent I can barely remember anymore except for the fact that they dipped out of my life? If I needed him, really needed him, I’d have been dead a long time ago.It’s not that I’m holding onto a grudge – it’s just that reconciling would be work for me. Click To Tweet
Guess what? Rocks to that. Because I am slaying. My life is no greater nor any lesser for the absence of a parent. I don’t see in any way how reconnecting with him would enrich my life or add to my fire. I am not here to do his emotional work for him and I am fine with that. My energy gets reserved for myself, my daughter, and the other people of consequence in my life. And so, when I heard that he’d cried when he met up with my brother, I was even more assured that I had made the right decision. I’m not sure that I could have extended sympathy or compassion to him, broken though he may be. In fact, I am certain that I would have been unmoved by his weeping beyond a cold and implacable reception of his tears. But I’m not here to be cruel either.
This is for all the kids who got dropped by their parents. You don’t need them. You can survive – and you will. You can still be amazing. You can still love and you are still worthy of love. You don’t need to worry that your whole world will flip – one day that fear may leave you, and I truly hope it does. Your worth is beyond measure. The flaw and the fault is with them.