My relationship with my father could only ever be described as absent. From the day I was born to the day I left home, not a day passed that I felt like I actually had a father. As a child I was often the subject of ridicule and the target of his bullying, with my siblings being spared. I can count myself lucky for sure that I was never physically abused, and for that I am grateful. However, growing up with a father that actively showed his dislike for me did have some pretty damaging effects. The one time I dared call him “daddy” was met with a sharp “don’t call me that” reply. The one time I tried to show affection and place my head on his shoulder was met with him shrugging me off, and the one time I had the courage enough to ask him why he didn’t like me was met with “I don’t know, it was just something when you were born.” I learned to keep my distance emotionally to avoid getting hurt, and eventually as a teen, I learned to just stop caring. That was when I discovered the secret to forgiving and forgetting- don’t care.
When I was 12 years old my parents had officially, and finally, divorced. I took my opportunity to go live with my salvation, my mother. When I made this decision, my father responded by not speaking to me for half of the year, as well as going on a “family vacation” that did not include me. For that time period, I would try and see him, try and speak to him, only to be ignored, like I no longer existed. At some point I decided I would stop caring what he thought, or why he didn’t like me, and stop asking what was wrong with me. I had my mom, I was smart, I had friends, things wouldn’t always be this way. By letting myself be so hurt by his actions, or inaction, I was giving him more power over my life and happiness than I should. So I stopped.
Now, overcoming my need for his love and affection, or even tolerance of me, did not happen overnight. It was more a series of mantras; “He’s wrong”, “what does it matter?”, “That’s not true”, and “I don’t care”, after every argument, every lecture, every time he tried to shrink me down. After a while it worked, I stopped caring what he thought about me, and only cared what I thought about me. I was happier, I had more confidence, and I figured out who I was through my own eyes and NOT my fathers. I graduated high school, got through college, met my future husband, and became a strong, independent woman who refuses to be treated any less than I deserve. I know now that I would not have become the woman, and mother, I am today if I had not had the relationship I did with my father.
The funny thing that happened later into my teen years was, I began to forgive. I saw my dad for who he really was: a stressed out man in an unhappy marriage with two jobs, going to school, suffering from depression, and no sense of self. While he was treating me how he was, he didn’t realize the damage he was causing. I have never once excused his behavior, but I understand it, and I forgive it. He is a changed man now, a happier and healthier man thanks to therapy and finding what makes him happy in his life. I am glad for him. Somehow, through the years, I forgave and forgot. By not holding onto anger and resentment, by not blaming or shaming him, I myself became a happier person.
It is never easy to say you have a bad relationship with your father, no one should have to. But no one person is perfect, even fathers. Living your life holding onto that bad relationship and not fixing the damage it’s caused-that’s a slow poison eating away at your life. Forgive, forget, love yourself for who YOU know you are, and be happy.