When my parents split up, I was 11 years old. The divorce was finalized when I was 12. Let me get this out here first: I never thought it was my fault. I thought my parents were both assholes, to be honest, and I blamed them for not being grown-ups and for finding a way to honor the commitment that they made. I thought I was grand. I thought that the failure of their marriage was solidly their fault. They were the ones who promised to be together until one or the other of them died, and if they fucked that up, that really was on them. You could ask my mom and she would tell you that this was exactly my perspective: I'm not rewriting history as far as that goes.
No, where I started to wonder where I was a "bad daughter" was after the divorce. See, I knew them splitting wasn't about me. But when the split played out, well, I wondered whether I might be not the greatest daughter in the world - to my dad. I mean, sure, my mom is not the easiest person in the world to get along with, and sure, she can be a real bitch, but I always knew I was her number one most important thing to her. And yeah, she was a TOTAL bitch to my dad (at one point during the splitting up she spit in his face! Seriously! Who except for people on Rock of Love spits at people? And seriously, this was not the way of the two of them during their marriage) but she never actually got in the way of him seeing me. She didn't beg him to do so, but if he'd have manned up, well, she wouldn't have stood in his way. I know that with certainty, and I think my father should have known that, too, seeing as he knew my mom since they were both 14 years old.
See, the divorce agreement said my dad was to have every other weekend with me. My memories are fuzzy in the years when I was 11-13 years old, though I believe he saw me more frequently then, even though I don't remember many full weekends. But I can tell you with certainty that he saw me maybe 5 times - never for more than a few hours - over the entirety of the time that I was in high school. I can tell you with certainty that I wasn't invited to his wedding with my stepmother (when I was 13) and that I only found out that they were married after the fact. I can tell you with certainty that my stepmother was a bitch to me when they were first together, and those handful of times that I saw my father throughout my high school years that she was not present, I assume because she hated me. Or maybe because she thought I hated her and she was too much of a douchebag to get that I was a fucking kid and of course I thought she sucked but if she'd have made an effort then I'd have come around. Whatever. I can tell you that I only ever saw my father's side of the family - including 6 brothers and sisters and their kids and my grandmother - because my mom took me to see them - my dad cut them off (with the exception of one sister) as surely as he cut me off. The point is, the way my dad just... disappeared in that time... well yeah, it made me question whether I really was a cool kid. Whether it even mattered to him that I was his kid.
He believes that he didn't want to get in the way of my life with my friends in that time. That's what he's told me since. I'll note that it wasn't me who moved to the other side of town, which was why this was (if it even was) a problem. But I never had a room that was mine in his house, and I never was part of his life in a consistent way from the time my parents split.
Everything came to a head with my stepmother's first pregnancy, when I was about to turn 18. I only found out about it because my aunt told me that the baby had been stillborn, right around my birthday (in August - I hadn't invited my father to my high school graduation, though I found out later that my mother had sent him something telling him about it, which he ignored). I reacted not well. I called my dad on my birthday and bitched him out about not calling me on my birthday, knowing that he'd gone through that loss just a few days before, but pissed off because he hadn't even told me about the pregnancy. I acted like I didn't know that he'd just had a baby die. I made him tell me. Because I wanted to hurt him. Put this in the "bad daughter" column, if you're keeping score.
After that, things actually kind of got better with my dad. I had a car at that point, and we could manage our relationship without my mom, and I was basically grown, and he could relate to me on a friendy good-time level. He moved me home from college a couple of times, helped me out when my car died in Nowhere Ohio, we saw Buddy Guy and B.B. King in concert, etc. I thought things were going well. I introduced FL (high school and college boyfriend) to my father and his side of the family. And then my stepmother had my half-brother K. And all of a sudden she didn't think I was so much of a threat, and this was the time in my adult life where I was closest with my father and with my father's new life. I babysat K., and I visited with them somewhat regularly. Sure, I was astonished when my uncle acted like my father had contributed to paying for colleage at K's first birthday party (and I disabused him of that notion - my father paid for nothing of my education, and his pride in it has consistently pissed me off, since he never supported it), but we were in a "good place" then. Sure, I couldn't count on my father for shit, but things were fine, right? Sure, I felt like he didn't really know me and I consistently felt like I was crappy in relation to him, but that was all my mom's fault, right?
And then my dad "confessed" when my stepmom was pregnant with my youngest and most-favoritest half-brother C. that he was cheating on her. Over lunch. At a Ruby Tuesday's or Houlihan's or something. It was horrifying. I don't even know what I said, though I suspect it was something along the lines of, "What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you telling me this? Do you expect me to tell you that this is ok?" I've done my best to repress this, and continued to try to have a relationship with my dad and his family. It sort of worked. Sort of.
And then grad school. This is when we became more distant again. My dad drove through Ph.D. Town when he went on vacation with his "real" family, and didn't bother to stop and see me. That was one clue that I sucked. And then I asked him to do something for me (a rare thing, that I would make a request) and he said yes at first, but then renegged. This was my last straw, and this was when I intentionally cut him off for over a year. I then started feeling like a "bad daughter" after about 8 months, and I wrote him a letter. He never responded. My stepmother got in touch with me, and this led to me visiting with them in the summer of 2004 for a few hours. My dad never even mentioned the thing that had caused the rift. He just acted like it never happened. From that point, he'd sent random emails to me, and I respond excitedly and extensively, and then he'd never reply. And then I feel like an idiot and like a shitty daughter, even though I know that I'm not. I'm the best daughter in the world to my parents who love me - my mom and G. - but apparently I suck for my father. Whatever. Fuck off, right?
And I make my peace with it. I think to myself that maybe things will be different with my dad if I get married, or if I have a kid. I think to myself that maybe when my brothers are grown up, or when I have a family of my own, that things will change with me and my dad. But then he gets cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Terminal cancer, right? All of what might happen once some time passes and some things change? Yeah, time's up for us! It's over! This is our relationship! Period.
And so I go see him in January, because I know that it's important. And I think I'll see him soon again. And he sends me an email and I send him an email back, but he doesn't reply. Which I figure is par for the course, because that's him, right? And I figure no news is good news. Except no news is actually that nobody is telling me fucking anything. I find out last week that he's in hospice, for once and for all, and apparently this isn't new news - this is news that came via my very persistent Great Aunt. And then my Favorite Aunt (my dad's sister) told me.
And I'd have gone up this weekend if it weren't for the fact that I didn't want to kill him with my horrifying cold. So I called my dad, and told him that I'd come this coming weekend if I wasn't feeling better. In the meantime, I got a report from Favorite Aunt about her visit (awful, though she said that my dad was very alert mentally, though ravaged physically). I then tried to call my dad. On his cell, which is HIS phone. I got my stepmother, who's apparently taken his phone from him ("he's too sick to talk on the phone anymore"). According to my stepmother, I shouldn't bother coming because he doesn't know who he sees anymore. According to my aunt (who I trust a hell of a lot more) he'd like to see me. Fuck.
So am I a "bad daughter" for not going up this weekend? I don't think so. I think I did the best I could. And I did go to see him in January even though it wasn't convenient, and I have done my best as his daughter since I was a kid. As I said to my stepmother, I'm planning to come visit him on Friday. Period. I think I should. I want to. If something changes (i.e., he dies) then I'd like to be informed. I know it's fucked up, but I have little faith she'd tell me that. Whatever. I plan to drive up on Friday. Am I a "bad daughter" for having done less than that? Given the father he's been over the past 22 years? I don't think so.
But is he a "bad father"? In a lot of ways, yeah. Was he there when I needed him to be? No. Was he what a father should be in all sorts of ways? No. But it struck me... my aunt said he was a good brother, when he was. Not always, but historically. She said that to him. He said to her, he tried. I believe he did. And historically, I believe he tried to be a good father to me. That's not to say he succeeded for a good bit of time. But I do believe that he meant to be a good father to me, and that he tried, when he could, when he was able. Was it enough? No. Is he lucky that I had G. as a surrogate? Without a doubt. But my father did try. He just failed a whole lot of the time.
And yeah, that sucks. Who wants to be a father who fails most of time? Nobody. But he also did love me. And he tried as hard as he knew how to try - it just wasn't enough.
So am I a bad daughter? I don't think I really am. I think I did the best I could with the dad that I had. Sure, I sucked in a lot of ways. But I tried. The truth is probably that my dad wasn't a "bad father" either. I think he did try to be as good as he could try to be. Sure, he wasn't everything I'd want him to be, nor everything he should have been. But he did try, when he did. I think a lot of times he just didn't believe that he could ever be what he should be, as a father, to me. I think he did better with his sons, though I won't really know that until I can talk to them as grown-ups, if I ever can do that anyway.
Bur my father is dying. And I don't know what I'm supposed to do, given all of this history. All I know is that it's horrible, and that I don't know what to do. And I know that I'm entirely alone in this, and that makes it more horrible.
4 years ago