Things that baffle me (an agnostic American) about my boyfriend (a Pakistani Muslim)

 

“It’s just a cultural difference,”

he says.

 

Ah, ‘cultural differences’. One of those bland rhetorical tonics for every disagreement that may temporarily (or permanently) obstruct forward progress of an otherwise cohesive interreligious relationship. And the conclusion to many a disagreement in the apartment I share with my Pakistani Muslim boyfriend and his childhood friend, also a Pakistani Muslim.

I occasionally express some incredulity when we use this little ‘get out of the dog house free’ card. My boyfriend, while the kind of Pakistani who says ‘w’ for ‘v’ (head out on the highway, looking for adWenture), is also the kind who likes a cold beer, bad pop music and, well… We live together. Take that how you will. He grew up partly in the UK, and our roommate partly in the US, each carrying dual citizenship and patriotism. They feel native in both their respective mother countries, speaking a dialect amongst themselves that I’ve dubbed Urdish (Urdu + English).

So, when my boyfriend and I end a discussion with, “Well, you know, we come from different cultures, so we have some different values and we have to compromise,” I am often baffled. Because, to a large extent, we do share culture, and sometimes the ‘cultural difference’ catchall just doesn’t feel justified.

But in any case, there are repeat discussions that wheel in and out like a merry go round of cultural differences’ greatest hits. These are the ones that circle back most often in our happy home and continue to baffle me.

 

 

  1. Biryani

    Chicken-Biryani_3464
    Photo credit and bf approved authentic recipe

    I’ll kick the list off with a big one. I. Do. Not. Get. It. I apologize to all Desi food lovers of the world. I’m sure you’re slapping your foreheads and wondering what in the White-West-I-Hail-From is wrong with me. I’ve heard it before. But, come on. It’s chicken and rice – I’m aware there are other meat/meatless options, but this is the common variation in our house. Why does it take sooo long to make? It’s chicken and rice, people. My boyfriend and our roommate will spend over twenty minutes discussing whether a biryani is good or not, swirling it around in their mouths like professional sommeliers tasting a fine wine, considering every spice, every chicken chunk, even the texture of the rice. And they usually conclude it’s just ‘alright’ before devouring it with a speed that the Flash would envy. In all our time together, my boyfriend has only once given a biryani the official stamp of ‘it’s good’, at which point I excitedly tried a bite to see what all the fuss is about. And you know what? It tasted like all the other biryani bites I’ve had. Chicken and rice.

    It troubles my boyfriend that I fail to grasp the rare culinary majesty that is biryani. And it baffles me that he craves this dish every few days, returning to shops he’s declared subpar just to see if they can get it right this time. “Cultural difference,” he says, and we compromise. He gets Biryani. I eat something else. We sit and stare at each other over our plates in pure disbelief.

  2. Cricket

    p cricket
    Let’s take baseball and make it not fun. So said the creators of cricket, a game that lasts days (DAYS, dear readers, DAYS) and features guys standing around waiting to run back and forth between two sticks. Full disclosure – I’ve dated a cricket player before. I knew the risks of such a union. I’ve been dragged to games. I’ve even attended practices, being the dutiful and supportive gal I am. My boyfriend doesn’t play often, much to my relief. But, he watches. And so, we watch, because of all that stuff I said about me being supportive. “Cultural difference,” we agree, and compromise. I kind of watch, but actually read my book. He doesn’t try to explain the rules to me because they don’t make any sense.

  3. Friends

    central perk jpg
    Not, not the people you call to see a movie or go dancing with on Friday night. That kind we agree on – they’re good to have around and we share them comfortably. Nope, I mean the TV show. You know the one. Rachel. Ross. Smelly cat. Etc. Now, I like Friends as much as the next person. But not as much as Pakistanis. No one loves Friends as much as Pakistanis. This, I did not know until recently. It’s a thing. They have a Central Perk in Lahore. It’s popular. In 2016 (this year!). I can put on any episode, picked at random, and my boyfriend will know every single line. There are 10 seasons comprised of 236 episodes. He’s seen every episode enough to have the lines memorized. And this, to me, is baffling. Because, while Friends heavily influenced my childhood – I, like many others, believed I too could afford a Manhattan apartment in my twenties – I’m not about to memorize all of Chandler’s quips as a vehicle to that dream. My boyfriend idealizes NYC largely because of the show, believing we could move there tomorrow and afford to get coffee every day at a Manhattan coffee shop. No matter how many sobering financial realities I throw at him, his Friends dream is unshaken. And this boggles the mind. “Cultural difference,” we say, and compromise. When he moves to NYC someday, he’ll find out for himself. And I don’t shut him down even if the temptation to roll my eyes sneaks up from time to time.

  4. Social Media silence.
    face

    My boyfriend does not post often on Facebook, and rarely about me. Yes, he is ‘friends’ with some colleagues and wisely chooses to keep Facebook PG and professional. But occasionally, I like to post about what we’re doing or the fun we’re having. And he does not. At all. And it baffles me. Because, while I hate the ‘look all our kissing selfies’ couples as much as any rational adult, I think it’s nice to occasionally express gratitude for a gift or show a positive aspect of our relationship publically. To me, that’s a way to declare our appreciation, so long as it’s done tastefully in extreme moderation. But to him, posting ‘look at our happy life’ entries on social media is a form of belittling the relationship and arrogance. He’s explained it to me like this: Our relationship is between us and displaying gratitude is something we do between ourselves, and he doesn’t want to denigrate that by perpetuating the idea that we need external validation. Plus, he thinks that I’m wonderful and beautiful and everyone will think that he’s just bragging about being in a relationship with me etc etc butter me up. While I understand his perspective and respect it, it still baffles me. Because I never see a tasteful of a couple I respect doing things together and think – DAMN those jerks are bragging! Rather, I think – oh cool, they’re doing that together and it looks fun. Good for them. “Cultural difference,” he says, and we compromise. He very occasionally posts a photo of us when I request it, and I can tag him in a post occasionally. I gained his approval before making this post.

And that’s the greatest hits list. All said and done.

I bet you were expecting a different kind of list. Or maybe hoping for one? You were thinking there’d be mention of mosques, or hijabs, or dietary restrictions. Or maybe you were expecting disrespectful language, demeaning attitudes towards women, sympathy with extremists, or conflicting moral judgments.

 

Sorry to disappoint. I come up short on those points.

 

Truth is, religion doesn’t come up often. My boyfriend is a secular Muslim, and he grew up in a developed, peaceful environment with access to excellent education and positive role models. He goes to the mosque for Friday prayers and leads what I consider to be a moral, ethical and kindhearted life. And he doesn’t talk about his religion unless he’s asked, same as I do.

 

So, to answer what I’m sure you’re wondering – When do real cultural differences affect our life together?

 

Often.

 

But not in ways that baffle me.

 

One of the positive role models in his life was his grandmother. She told him that he could gamble and have fun, of course, as fun is a necessary part of a happy life. But never keep winnings, because that’s where addiction starts. And a future should be decided by merit and work ethic, not chance. So, he and I go to the casino. We play blackjack. Sometimes he loses. Sometimes he breaks even. But he never wins. And he only plays with money he earns working, disposable income he’s okay with losing entirely because it’s a fun night out, not a way to change your life with one hand. I respect that, because while it’s different from how my family plays the lottery, there’s something I can learn from it. I’m not baffled. I’m enriched.

His father, a man who’s taught him humility and empathy, said that you should always be charitable, even in small ways. Never waste food. That doesn’t mean eat everything on your plate when you’re full, because in Karachi, there was always someone hungry outside delighted to receive leftovers. We currently live in a developing country, where likewise there are always hungry mothers and children on the street. He never lets the waiter dispose of leftovers. He has them packed nicely with plastic utensils and napkins. Then he walks the streets until he finds someone who is hungry. I never thought to do this before being with him, but I damn well respect it and I’ve changed my behavior to do the same, even when I go home to America. In American cities, there are also hungry people on the street. And I walk for blocks sometimes to find them. I’m not baffled. I’m bettered.

He is respectful. And I want to emphasize this one, because Muslim men get a lot of smack from some certain corners of the world for being disrespectful toward women these days. I’m not saying all Muslim men are or aren’t. I’m saying this one is, and it’s a cornerstone of his character and our relationship. He respects me, my career goals, my personal choices, my interests and my beliefs. He doesn’t patronize me. He actively listens to my concerns, enthusiastically celebrates in my triumphs and encourages me to pursue my interests. Even if they conflict with his own. Because our cultural differences have nothing to do with our human feelings. And our cultural differences don’t intrude on that genuine sense of wanting the best for each other.

At the end of the day, I have to shrug when people ask me when real cultural differences affect our life together.

Sorry to disappoint, but really the biggest one is Biryani.

 

 

A long time later (3 years), on a computer far, far away

Hey blogosphere!

It’s been 3 years and honestly, I forgot about this blog. It helped me sort through some issues when I was in university regarding family and angst thereabout, serving as an anonymous medium to send my thoughts out into the ether. For a little while, it served excellently and I was happy as can be. But then, my mother got a hold of the blog (she was as supportive as I was embarrassed, which is to say extremely), and I was Freshly Pressed and suddenly we had some major traffic. Which was wicked cool! Don’t get me wrong – I was encouraged and it was all very exciting. But then, an acquaintance (in real life, mind you) asked if I had written that crazy piece on Freshly Pressed about deeply personal issues no one would want an acquaintance to know because it sounded like me? Ya. I dropped this blog like a hot sack of potatoes, went on with life and promptly forgot allllll about it. The things you leave behind, right?

And then, time went by… I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with some really fantastic organizations. I work internationally, primarily with INGOs and NFPs (development sector). I’m about to embark on a new job in a new country, about which I’m utterly thrilled and anxious (another new language to learn, oh my).

Which brings us to today

 

I was sorting through some personal emails when I clicked on ‘spam’ for the first time in a while and low and behold – WORDPRESS COMMENTS. From just last week. I could not believe this site still has traffic, and people are responding to my words. It was like a time capsule opened and had grown this dynamic ecosystem in years of isolation. I was shocked.

Well, I needed to approve the two I saw for sure. Both were emotional. One empathized with a post. The other sharply condemned a post. But both posters shared opinions and stories that I felt deserved to be visible on the page. They were important perspectives, and I wanted to sign on and approve them.

I didn’t even have my password anymore. I had to get a new one and go through the admin troubles. Finally, I signed on and found the page with comments and WOAH. I signed in to find a backlog of comments needing approval spanning 3 years and lots of stories. Obviously, a few of my posts touched some nerves.

I’m not going to respond to each one individually – that would take serious time. There were primarily two categories of comments, so I will respond in bulk to each type of poster.

On the one hand, there were people who stumbled on the blog and related to posts about me writing to my father in deeply personal ways, and were generous enough to share their own stories. To you, I say thank you. It’s been 3 years of reconciliation and I will post a follow up, as many of you asked for it. But even now, very much at peace with my situation, I was deeply moved by your words of compassion, empathy and encouragement. Thank you, and I hope you are all doing well now. Keep writing. Keep sharing. It is therapeutic.

And then the other hand. As I reread one post, three years older (and hopefully wiser), I will admit to some cringing. I remember writing it late at night, feeling upset and confused, and quite confident very few people would ever read it. Please keep in mind, I HAVE NOT and WILL NOT share all the details about my family situation. There are a lot of complications that still greatly upset me and I can’t write down. So, picture me in a dormroom with a lot of mixed emotions and full confidence it could never come back to bite me (youthful folly), writing this. And it got Freshly Pressed. So, lots of people read it. And while some people responded empathetically, many didn’t. You can read the comments to get an idea (I’ve approved them all, except obvious spam). To those who commented critically, I say thank you for sharing and putting the situation in a different perspective. I could try and explain by saying it was hyperbole, or that I didn’t mean it literally, or that I unintentionally used offensive examples in explaining a fair feeling, or that my feelings were real but not fair, or that they were real and fair… the list could go on. In truth, looking back, I don’t think it’s as simple as any one of those explanations. It was a mix.  Nothing is simple right? There’s a grain of truth in everything, and I think that grain was present when I wrote that post. Looking back three years later, I understand why it upset people. And I’m sorry to have misrepresented or belittled any experiences. That was not my intention, and I am grateful you responded to call out what needed calling.

In any case, I’m back online. And maybe not for too long. Maybe not regularly. But, maybe here and there I’ll put up a post or two. No promises. But, I will continue approving comments. Because a lot of people put a lot of themselves into these comments, and they deserve visibility.

Thanks for following.

 

p.s. Probably won’t do pictures anymore… Too much effort.

 

I got freshly pressed! A retrospective on my blogging experience thus far.

fresh press

 

Hi blogosphere, new followers and old!

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s been visiting and interacting on my site. I gotta admit–I never expected too much out of blogging. I kind of did it for the hell of it, you know? An everybody-else-has-one-and-I-should-too kind of attitude. I originally intended to just to post some writing pieces, sprinkle in some poetry, maybe the humorous anecdote or two to add some variety. A sideshow type deal. 

But I was really surprise by the quality of bloggers I met through messages and comments and posts. I was more than surprised–I was inspired. Y’all are pretty awesome, in a very real honest way. Obviously, there’s bad apples in every bunch. But all you have to do is click ‘unfollow’ and they’re rooted out, in a sense. It’s an pretty cool system and I got comfortable.

This happened to coincide with a time in my life that my father showed up after ten years of absence and a lot of heartache. I’m living abroad and I’m a bit disconnected from home. Although I have friends, coworkers, flatmates, etc here, I felt uncomfortable dumping that on them. No one wants to be the girl who starts talking about Daddy issues at the pub a month in…

So, I wrote a little letter to my father. And, in the middle of the night, I posted it on here to see what people would say. And I was blown away by how encouraging and kind the comments back were. I mean, really awesome stuff. And, even more incredible, I actually felt better. The words typed on computers half way around the world, by fingers of complete strangers I will never meet and can only recognise by gravatar handles–those words helped me. I felt a little less alone in it. Even if my friends didn’t know that I was struggling to wrap my brain around my–ugh!–family problems, the people belonging to those gravatars did! That’s so awesome. That’s so special. Modern technology is wicked cool.

So, I’ve recently been freshly pressed. I’m pretty pumped about it–I am a writing student, after all, so to my vanity I do love recognition of my writing. But, more importantly, I just want to thank everyone who’s read what I’ve written. Everyone typing on their laptops, desktops, tablets, smart phones, etch a sketches–whatever you’ve got. You really have helped me figure this stuff out, if only because I knew someone was reading. If only because I know I wasn’t alone out here.

Thanks. 

Blog on, blogosphere. Keep typin’.

Happy Mother’s Day

My first Mother’s Day not spent with my mother–and goodness is it strange! Scotland’s ‘Mothering Day’ occurred way aways back in March, so the festive nature of the holiday isn’t really felt about Edinburgh today. And while I love my city and I have a million and a half chores to do (eg shopping…), I would give anything to be back in New Hampshire with the crew of women who raised me.

But on the bright side, one of my chores is scouring Ryanair flights for a weekend trip to Paris in July to meet my dear old mum for the weekend and to pretend that watching the Tour de France is entertainment. We’ll see how the latter goes…

In any case, happy American Mother’s Day from a girl sending love to all the moms who done right by their kids. Congratulations!

A Brief Thanks to Moms

I’m very close with my mother. As some of you are aware, it’s been a rocky road with my father. But my mother’s that special type of parent who would kill for me–no questions asked aside from, “Where do you want to bury the body?”

 

Because of my dad, I’m only too aware of how lucky I am to have a great mother to advise me, love me and show me how to be a good parent. I have limitless respect for mothers, single, married, remarried–what have you. So to all you mom’s out there (especially mine) thanks for doing the job! Even when we yell at you for making us clean our rooms or being a bit pushy on real estate advice (I didn’t make it to the open house, mims… I think they’re giving the flat to someone else), just know we push because we’re comfortable with you. That’s probably not fair, but you’re the person we trust the most if you’ve done your job right. Sometimes that makes us bratty. But like our explanation for why the dog attacks the mailman, it’s because she loves ya 🙂

 

Love you mims!

 

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I wish my father were a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal, violent psycho or at least a loser of some kind

Strange thing to wish for, eh?

But I do. I wish my father was reprehensible. Some kind of monster, big or small. The kind of guy you would expect to leave his family—to leave his wife for his pregnant mistress and ten years later, to tell his daughter she isn’t allowed to see her sisters again. That’s the kind of thing a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal and/or violent psycho might be expected to do. I could understand that. I could wrap my brain around it. It would make sense, however much my childhood didn’t make sense. People would make sense.

My father is not a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal, violent psycho. He’s a professional from Poughkeepsie who watches football on Sundays and pays his taxes on time. He likes The West Wing and a cold Budweiser. He makes the occasional joke and laughs when things are funny. He has pizza nights with my sisters and their mother and he genuinely enjoys his family time, although there is the normal amount of inter-family bickering, as to be expected. He’s boring. Dreadfully, terribly, monstrously dull.

I tell my mother I don’t understand what she saw in him. She’s a free spirit, eccentric with her head always in the clouds. Wickedly smart, in an unexpected way. Interesting and a great conversationalist, if you have an open mind and a healthy sense of curiosity  The kind of woman who quit her steady job to write a rock opera musical—for Jesus. And still thinks that wasn’t an outlandish decision.

She explains it to me. He was her rock. Her normalcy. Her calm. He was the guy who could sit with her cousins and have a beer while she was off chasing pipedreams and gambles. When she came home with a million thoughts interweaving through her brain, he would suggest take-out Chinese. He took her hiking and let her wander off to stare at some interesting rock formation while he dutifully followed behind. And he loved her. He was normal and he loved her. She found comfort from her own busy mind in that.

I was born ten years into their fairly happy, stable marriage. I know it’s not my fault they divorced, yadda yadda. I don’t blame myself or carry any deep seeded sentiments of self-loathing. But, I am aware that the existence of a child between them created some problems. Nothing to do with me—I was busy goo goo gaga-ing and figuring out diapers.

My mother tells me she wanted to be my caretaker. She wanted to nurse me to health when I was sick and rub my back when I was sad. She wanted that to be her role, only. He wanted to be my caretaker too. He would turn to her when she was comforting me and ask for a turn. And in my mother’s quiet but determined way, she would respond, “No.” His role was to comfort her, and hers to comfort me. That was the hierarchy in my mother’s world.

How do I reconcile that? The man who left my mother for a woman fifteen years younger; the man who raised me half my life and then dropped off the planet; the man who now wants to be friends again—that man is the kind of man who wanted to hold his child when she was sick. That man reminds me on our first phone call after ten years of the various nicknames he gave me when I was younger. The nicknames I loved.

What can I possibly think of men now? My mother taught me to stay away from drug junkies, pathological liars, conman criminals and violent psychos. Those are the ones that will hurt you.

My father isn’t a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal or violent psycho. He’s an easy-going old Jewish man from New York who definitely stops for pedestrians in the crosswalk. He’s the kind of man your mom approves of, because he’s nice and he loves you. He’s the kind of man everyone thinks is safe. But he wasn’t and now what am I to think?

I wish to god my father were a drug junkie, pathological liar, conman criminal, violent psycho or at least a loser of some kind. That would make sense, at least.

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Letter I CAN’T Send to My Lost Younger Sister: Too Real Life

Well, I think it’s about that time again—that time when the wannabe writer steps away from fiction and says something personal. Not that all writing isn’t personal or true or real. Yes, yes—I know it is, calm yourself. But, there are moments when you write too honestly. When you don’t let yourself hide behind fiction because the words hit too close to home. I’ve been too honest twice on my blog so far in regards to my [relationship? with] my estranged father. See here and here to get some background. And now, just as confused as ever, I’m doing it again. Catharsis. Coping. Looking for answers in the blank spaces of a Word document. Etc. Thanks to all who have commented on past posts with advice and commiseration  It’s meant the world. Really.

But I don’t want to write him another letter. We’ve been emailing and he’s been nice enough about it all. I’m done pouring my heart out to him. He wants to be in my life—fine. Welcome to the party. It’s a pretty normal situation. Enjoy.

No, I don’t want to write him any more letters. I got it out of my system and I’m already bored with the results. Today, I write the first of two letters. One for each sister I haven’t seen in 10 years because of circumstances none of us understood or could control. Today, I write a letter to my sister, out there in the universe somewhere, whom we will call Lilly.

 

Dear Lilly,

 

            Let me begin by saying what I’ve wanted to say for ten very long years: I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you. I remember you. I remember being your sister, and although you were very young, I will always remember being your sister.

But the only thing I can do is remember. I don’t know you. All I know is my memories of a smiley, vivacious little girl that danced around and laughed with her head thrown back. So, maybe I only love the memory of you. But believe me when I say that I love that memory. And that love is strong enough for me to want to know the woman you’ve become.

It’s possible you blame me for not being in your life. I could justify everything—tell you the story as I know it. But maybe the version I know isn’t right. It was complicated. Everyone made mistakes. I don’t want to put blame on anyone. I’ve grown up looking at everyone in my life with mistrust and I don’t want you to do that. They aren’t bad people. Some of them made mistakes, but your father and mother love you and are good to you. I don’t want you to think that what happened with me has any bearing on their relationship with you. I want you to love them. I didn’t get a relationship with our father for a lot of reasons, but I want you to have what I didn’t. All I will say is that I was twelve years old and I didn’t want to lose you. Not having you in my life has been the most difficult part of the last ten years.

But now, you are 16. Our father has contacted me, attempting to rebuild a relationship. I have accepted this proposal with some reservation. I’ve always said I would do anything to see you again, the innocent in this whole fuckup of a situation. But my feelings toward him have made me think about your feelings. I always assumed our reunion someday off in a sunrise of the future would be heartfelt and tearful and happy—we’d embrace with joy and lament the way life fucked us over. But maybe it can’t be that way. Maybe that vision was a dream I held onto to cope with the loss. It’s been ten years. That’s a damn long time. Maybe the possibility of that dream coming true has decreased with every year as we each grew older, apart.

The same obstacle that discourages me from feeling a strong residual connection to my father will factor into any possible relationship I build with you now: 10 years. Enough years for you, a 6 years old girl in my memories, to grow up and become a whole person with a whole world that I know nothing about. You have boyfriends, tv shows, ambitions, quirks that I’ve missed developing. And no, that doesn’t mean we can never be close. But the truth is that I wasn’t there for the informative years. I’ll never really be a sister, in so far as that one of the most defining aspects of a sister is a shared childhood. And while we have the first 6 years of your life, and we have pictures of me holding you as an infant, smiling in the hospital—we don’t have 10 big years. And that’s scary. In the same way I’m sure my father is terrified when he thinks about me.

I’ve clung to the idea that you were this innocent, hurt by the pettiness of those around you. But, I have to face the fact that I was twelve and you were six. I was old enough for it to change my entire life and maybe—just maybe—you were young enough to forget I ever existed. I’m torn here. I truly hope you don’t remember crying every time I left you. I hope you don’t remember crying the last time we spoke, because you hadn’t seen your sissy in so long. I hope it didn’t hurt you as much as it hurt me, because it really hurt me. But at the same time, I hope to god you do remember. I may be a terrible person for it, but I want you to love the memory of me even a fraction of the amount I love the memory of you.

I’m terrified to see you again. I’m not afraid you’ll be angry—I know I’ll convince you that I did all I could to be in your life. I’m not afraid you’ll be upset—I’ll be an emotional wreck myself. I’m afraid you’re going to look at me the same way I look at our father—uninterested. That terrifies me. That’s the scenario I never imagined, even in my worst nightmares. It just may well hurt more than losing you and dad and our other sister, and your mother, and our whole shared family and life ten long years ago. It just may well kill me.

            So, we’re at a crossroad. I want to be in your life, but I don’t know what your life is. I want to love you, to be able to say it and mean it, but I don’t know you anymore. I want for you to feel something toward me. You are 16 and the world still has so much for you. I want above all for you to have a great life. A life that isn’t touched by all this bullshit like mine has been. Maybe I’m only martyring myself because I’m afraid. The real reason I won’t send you this letter is because I’m afraid you won’t answer it.

 

Please write to me if you’re out there, still loving the memory of me.

 

Love,

Emily 

 

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The Email I DID Send to my Estranged Father: Yikes

As some of you know, I’ve embarked on a rather strange journey reuniting with my estranged father, about which I have numerous reservations. Last week, I wrote a very long and intense letter explaining exactly how I felt and, in true 21st century form, I put it on the internet instead of showing my family and friends. (see it here). I was overwhelmed by the kind words and advice you all poured in and it really helped. A lot. In the end, I considered sending him the long letter, but decided not to. It’s just not my style. I’m not an overtly emotional person. I don’t often explain my feelings. While it may be necessary in this case, and I may regret sending the below email later today when it sinks in, this seemed like the better option. A little tongue and cheek is more my way. So, in the interest of honesty, that’s what I went with.
 
Thank you to everyone who’s be so nice to me doing this. I was very hesitant about blogging in general, let alone something so private. But, I’ve found this whole process really releasing. Being able to share through anonymity has been a gratifying experience. So, blogosphere, thanks for listening. 
 
 
 
My email:
 
 
Hi.
 
I know it’s been a while. So, here’s the deal:
 
I’m really busy and I have a lot going on. I’m also generally terrible about long distance communications. I hope you understand that it’s not because I’m angry or upset with you (at least, no more than I was… sorry, I have to at least give yousome shit).
 
I wrote a very long letter to you last week explaining exactly how I feel/don’t feel, but I read it over this morning and it’s a whole lot of words and I’m a minimalist. So, I’m going to summarize.
 
It’s been a really really long time since we had our little estrangement. And as much as it was difficult and I struggled with it, I struggled through it. I’ve grown up and constructed an entire life that is not based on having a father. I got used to the idea that I may never see you again and—as much as I always wanted to—that I may never see my sisters again. It’s not that I prefer that scenario. It just seemed the most likely case. I have an entire life that you’re not a part of. I have my own problems. I’m a real, whole person.
 
When you were into this whole reuniting deal, I wasn’t really shocked or upset, but more apathetic. I know you’re not a bad person. I remember you fondly, actually. I know you’re not a bad person, but you were bad to me. And that should mean something. What it means for our future, I don’t know.
 
As a side note, I’m sure you’d like to justify yourself. Don’t. I’m not interested. It’s not about what happened. If we go forward, we go forward. Not back.
 
But I’m hesitant. I hate to put it in these terms, but I’m not sure what you’re bringing to my life other than an obligatory, awkward relationship. We’re never going to be the way we used to. There’s always going to be hesitation, tiptoeing. There is the possibility that we could make something new and great, but I’m not sure if that’s how this is going to play out.
 
But, I could be convinced. If you really want to know me–not just because I’m your estranged daughter, but because I’m someone worth knowing–and you can come up with reasons for that, shoot for goal. But know that I want something meaningful. I don’t want to exchange small talk via email. I do small talk in the office. It doesn’t have to be heavy. It doesn’t have to be emotional–in fact, I would hate that. But I need something meaningful to make this work. 
 
Sorry this ended up being longer than I intended. If you don’t write back, I understand. I know I’m not making this easy for you, but can you blame me? It isn’t that I don’t trust you–please don’t think this is coming from anger or hurt or any of that. It’s just that, like I said, I have this life of mine and it’s already complicated. I’m not sure what the point of this is correspondence, other than to be able to say that I speak to my father from time to time. And I don’t do things just for the sake of doing them. I’m not like that.
 
But hey, I have a lot friends with great relationships with their fathers. And they seem to think it’s a good deal…
 
Emily
 
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And the email he sent me, to which the above is a response:
 
 

Subject: hi

Hi Emily

 
   Haven’t heard from you in quite some time. Hope all is well.
 
   I guess my photo was too much a shock….. It is to me too.
 
   take care and always thinking about you
 
  luv dad

A letter I won’t send to my estranged father: Real Life

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.

 

Sincerely,

Emily

your daughter, all grown up

 

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