This isn’t fiction. It isn’t a short story. It’s part of that honesty thing a few commendable people do on the internet. I know it’s my 3rd post today, but I’m getting more and more views and I’m feeling a sense of community in this strange, modern blogosphere universe. I have my own community in the third dimension–I have fabulous family and friends, but they don’t understand. Maybe one of you strangers out there on your laptops and tablets will. I think it’s one of those situations you can’t understand unless you’re stuck living it…
When I was twelve and my father dramatically exited my life, my mother recommended I write him letters. Sure, he would never read them. I had no address, even if I did get up the courage. But maybe that was point—to write freely without any repercussions. I could say exactly what I needed to and wanted to, for me and only me. I got myself some of that elusive ‘closure’ through one-sided conversations with the keyboard of my desktop computer. And I grew up. And my life changed. And I got my own problems. And he wasn’t really one of them anymore. I stopped caring enough to write him letters years ago.
And now, for whatever reason, he’s back. It’s not letters I’m writing anymore. It’s emails. And it’s not a keyboard I’m chatting with. It’s him—the real him. And the irony is that after all these years of practically writing dissertations on his flawed character, I don’t know a thing about him. And I don’t really want to.
So, this is the email to my father I won’t send. This is the email I want to send. Soon I’ll post the email I do send. After I send it. If I send it. If you can relate to this, please comment. I’ve never shared real feelings about my father before. I haven’t wanted to in years. Blogging seems like a good way to do this. Strangers in the mist, coming together under topic headings: humor, creative writing, news, estranged fathers, etc. If I can’t send it to him, at least someone will understand. And even if no one reads it, I’ll sleep better knowing I did something. Anything.
Dear [I still don’t know what to call him],
I’m sorry I haven’t emailed you back in a month. My life has been complicated recently. My dog died and my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. My boyfriend and I also broke up, but I wasn’t bent out of shape or anything. I miss his car more than I miss him.
But those are just excuses, so I feel that I owe you a real explanation. Or, I guess, I want to give you a real explanation. My friends say I don’t owe you anything, but I don’t buy that. You’re not a bad person. It’s taken me ten years to acknowledge it, but I always knew. Most fathers who abandon their kids aren’t. Not really. You never set out to be that guy. I know that. Just a bunch of unforeseeable circumstances and situations that amount to a bunch of unforgiveable excuses. But your motivations don’t change anything. You aren’t a bad person, but you were bad to me. And that should mean something.
When we first talked, I told you I was open to this. And I meant it. I’ve tried to explain my emotions to friends to no success. It’s been some ten years since we stopped talking and I was very young at the time. Sure, it changed me. I grew up a little faster. I cried a lot more. I went from having two families to one and not a day has gone by that I didn’t miss my sisters, who were never ‘half’ or ‘step’ as much as ‘mine.’
But still. Ten years is a long time, even longer for a teenager. I dedicated a lot of time to obsessing over it all. Trying to figure why everyone did what they did. How it all happened. I know you have your opinions and I’m sure you’d love to justify yourself. Don’t bother. It’s irrelevant now.
Part of my obsession was imaging how I’d react if I ever saw you again. I knew every scenario. Planned for everything you would say. Sometimes I would publically shame you. Sometimes we’d end up best friends, you walking me down the aisle at my wedding. Sometimes I would act aloof, show you just how much I overcame the obstacles you put in my childhood. And then, one day, I came to the realization I might never see you again. I might have these conversations with your gravestone. And after more time, I was okay with that. Even more time passed. I grew up. And I stopped thinking about you at all.
The day my grandparents called me was very emotional. I was still in high school and immature. I didn’t know why your parents, who had stopped speaking to me on your request, were trying to revive such a painful relationship. But my mother convinced me it was the right thing to do. They seemed like they were dying, anyhow. I felt obligated. That sounds harsh, but it’s true.
Five years into a copy and paste relationship with them, they handed me a cell phone with you on the other end. The unexpected moment came and an unexpected emotion came with it—apathy. I felt nothing. No anger. No fear. No pain. You were a stranger. Disconnected from whatever residual emotions I feel for my adolescent experience.
I never understood the inclination for an abandoned child not to speak with a relative later in life. Not really. I know people like this. Estranged parents call, half siblings send messages on facebook, a grandparents shows up at the door. I know people who have sent their relatives packing and I thought I understood it. I thought it was like the Lifetime movies: all sappy emotion and soggy tears. I felt superior to those people. Of course I could handle my father reentering my life. I’d give him shit, obviously, but I made my own closure. No sappy emotion or soggy tears here.
But I was wrong. It’s not a Lifetime movie at all. The orchestra doesn’t swell and the rain doesn’t pour. I did make my own closure. I made it years ago through telling myself over and over again I could do it without. And then I did do it without you. And it stopped being that I did it without you. It was just that I did it.
I also always said I’d let you back in my life in the hopes of seeing my sisters again. That was always the goal. They were the true innocents in it all, too young to even know that I wasn’t at Hogwarts. I’m sure one day they grew old enough to ask what really happened to me. I’m unsure if I want to know what you told them.
Is that my goal now? Maybe. But they’ve grown up too. They have lives, too. And what should I tell them when they ask why I haven’t been in their lives? I don’t want them to hate you. I really don’t. I spent too much of my life hating you and it’s exhausting, unsustainable. But how do I explain that their father cut their sister out of their lives because their mother believed their sister inherited the evil eye from their sister’s mother? And that she was trying to blow them up with her voodoo magic? That’s too macabre for most adults, let alone teenagers. How do they reconcile loving you and loving me? If it’s a choice between the two, I honestly wish them their parents’ love first. I don’t want them to have ‘daddy issues.’ Daddy issues suck.
So, now. I’ve made my closure. I would love to see my sisters, but not at the expense of their overall familial stability. And you—you’re a stranger. A ghost from a haunted past I don’t revisit often, except to smile and acknowledge as ‘conquered.’ And you want to resurrect that ghost. To meld the images in my mind with a solid person who lives and breathes and responds to my emails. My life is complicated. I’m happy my life is complicated. I want my own problems. I want to cry because the boy I like didn’t text me back. I’m trying to make my own life, separate from the problems imposed on me by a failed parent. I’m not angry with you. I’m not hurt by you. I just don’t want anything from you. At all. Truly.
This isn’t how I want to feel. Maybe the coping mechanisms I developed were forms of detachment and I’m going about this all wrong. If I could make myself care, I would. I’m sure it would be nice to have a father. I remember when we were close. You were great. I look at my twenty-something year old friends’ relationships with their fathers and I think, that looks awesome! I wouldn’t mind having that. But realistically we wouldn’t have that. It will always be a little strained. You’ll always be tiptoeing around me, making up for lost time. I’ll always feel detached, even if I become fond of you. And I don’t want more obligatory relationships in my life. I want meaningful ones. As harsh as it is, you don’t mean enough to me anymore. In any capacity.
I could be convinced otherwise. I’m a chronic flip-flopper. If you send me reasons to keep this up, I will. Call me pessimistic, but I think you’ll come up short. This isn’t a Lifetime movie. This is life. This is me, your little girl grown up. I’ve done damn well for myself, but I’m not a great person. I’m just normal. And considering everything I dealt with, that’s one hell of a triumph. I’m sorry if I’m not what you expected. I’m not what I expected either. All this still seems as unreal as it was when I was twelve years old wondering why it happened to me. Self-pity. Dangerous stuff. I try to avoid it.
Write me back. Don’t write me back. I guess it doesn’t matter in the long run. I want to be honest. I want to tell you what I really think and feel, although I’m not really sure myself. Take it or leave it, but the fact is that you’re going to have to convince me that you’re worth the trouble. Good luck and, if you feel so inclined, give my sisters a secret kiss for me? At least I could console myself with that.
your daughter, all grown up