My father has never understood me.
For as long as I can remember, his presence in my life has been a series of sporadic pop-ups and inevitable letdowns. My memory of him is spotty. Most of what I do remember sits packed tight in the back of my head so as not to let out all the chaos. It’s just how things are when one of your parents values themselves over you at all times.
This doesn’t mean I wasn’t taken care of though; my mom was more than enough in the parent department, and because we had such a strong sense of family and culture, I never felt the absence.
What I did feel, however, was the run-off from his toxic behavior.
As early as when I was three, he could be found intentionally exacerbating my anxiety and shaming me during panic attacks. This was commonplace in his family – a group of white southerners with a penchant for bigotry. Mental illness, sexuality, and race were the common targets of their jeering. It’s really no surprise that as a queer, biracial person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it took me most of my early twenties to wrap my head around my own identity.
How could I when I’d spent an entire childhood feeling shame for simply existing?
The answer was shockingly simple: cut them off.
It was a slow process, cutting ties with an entire half of my family. But the moment that I first began weeding out the most toxic of them, life immediately felt simpler. I no longer found myself in constant social media arguments or brimming with anger over some disgusting remark. I was no longer stuck in an endless cycle of reminding myself to pick my battles and then ending up exhausting myself over their ignorance again.
It wasn’t my responsibility to change them, and finally seeing that changed me.
But it was never so easy when it came to my father.
Ever the boundary-crosser, he would insert himself into my life and pass judgment on my newfound independence. Now that I was an adult who didn’t need caring for, he wanted to make amends. Truly, there were times when I believed that if he really wanted it, he could change things. I never wanted to have a bad relationship with my father, and while I never felt an emptiness from his absence, I wasn’t against finding positivity there.
But after every heartfelt talk, there was more manipulation, until I finally hit my breaking point.
In the end, he wound up using his ill wife to keep me near.
I often think back to how, had it not been for her circumstances, I would have stopped speaking to him years ago. But I couldn’t – not at the time. His manipulation, in the same way, that it bled onto my mother and our family, also bled onto his wife.
It’s been a few months now since she passed away, and in her absence, I feel the emptiness I always thought I should have felt for him.
I feel as though I’ve lost a parent.
And despite the fact that I’ve been able to pull away from my father since this loss, I still feel the tethered cord of his making. I feel it when he texts me on Christmas. Again I feel it when he goes out for lunch with my brother. I feel it often.
But each day, the feeling lessens. I’m holding on the hope that one day, it won’t be there at all.