Sunday, September 04, 2011

An open letter to my dad on Father's Day - Things I need to say.

Dear Dad,

Last night I cried into my pillow. I'm turning forty this year, but I might as well be four when it comes to our relationship. I love you so much, but I can't tell you to your face because you're like a deer in the forest, any sudden movements and you're liable to runaway.

The times I get to see you, I just want to bathe in the rare light that is being near you. It doesn't happen very often and it only happens on your terms.

Two years ago on Father's Day, I was on a road trip with a friend that led us right past the property you live on. Mobile connectivity was very patchy, but I could see you'd tried to call my mobile. I tried to return your call but couldn't get through, so I called home, and found you'd called there, too. Dave told me you had driven out to the highway from your property to call because there is no reception on your property.

We were heading towards your property when Dave told me this, so I persisted in calling and I finally got through to you just twenty minutes down the road. We must have passed you without realising it. I told you we were stopping and asked if you'd like to come meet us as I hadn't seen you in over 18 months. You declined the offer.

I know it was probably because there were other people there and you weren't up for meeting strangers. I wish you could have, though.

Our relationship has always been like this. I know you care. I know you love me and my brother. You love us on your terms. I know that if we love you back too enthusiastically, you feel obliged and trapped. You occasionally drop by for a visit. It is almost always without warning. You stay a couple of hours, then leave. You are very generous and often give us money. We love the money because money is always tight. We'd love your visits even without the money.

I know all the boys and the noise is probably overwhelming to you. You live alone on a vast property most of the time, so you're used to lots of space and quiet. You used to have a phone that you rarely answered but in the past two years it has been disconnected. You have a mobile phone that has no reception on the property.

You joke about being stung by a scorpion or bitten by a snake and no one discovering you for many months. I think you're afraid of dying alone, but you don't want the obligation of having people in your life, unless it is on your terms. It is so hard to have a relationship like that.

Dad with Erik, Lukas, Brynjar and Ari

People often try to relay messages to your through me. That is the hardest thing because it suggests that somehow I have a closer relationship with you than most and that is just not true. You don't answer the phone for your mum, but it's not just her, it's everyone - including me.

I have one of your best friends on Facebook and sometimes I try to relay messages to you through him. A few weeks ago he started a chat with me telling me you were there and you needed my brothers address. You. were. right. there. You didn't type the message, you didn't ask how we were. I said I'd be out of the house the following day if you were thinking of visiting, but your friend said you weren't. Sometimes I'm just a four year old girl, dad.

I'd love to be able to call you today and wish you a Happy Father's day, but I can't because I won't get through, just like every other time I try. I will be calling my step-dad (who has only been my step-dad since my mid-twenties. I will call him because I can, but he isn't you (though he is always there to talk to any time, which is also why he isn't you).

Grandpa Lester with Ari

They said girls marry men just like their dad. Maybe in some ways Dave is just like you. He can be very generous (just like you), he is smart and funny (just like you), he has warm eyes (just like you). But as a dad, he's not really like you. This morning, on Father's Day, he got up early with the boys and made them breakfast - he used to do this all the time, but recently I started doing it in preparation for him working early mornings again, but he still does it on weekends. I remember one time when you made bubble and squeak for breakfast for us, I was so happy, I don't think it happened again.

He is very affectionate with his boys, he hugs them all the time. Any time they come to him, they can expect a hug. I find it hard to hug you because I don't want to frighten you away.

Dave is more involved with the boys school than I am. He's done class duty, fair stalls, and parent talks.

I guess the biggest difference is that Dave is accessible, physically and emotionally to the boys on mutual terms. He's by no means a perfect dad. We don't call him the Grumpy Old Man in a gesture of irony, but nevertheless, I think until the day he dies he'll never be more than a phone call away for his children.
The Grumpy Old Man with Brynjar

Dave is the father he is because of the model he had. Keith was an amazing dad, he was one of the best, I think. He had that magical quality of always being patient and always listening. He hardly ever lost his temper - only once that Dave can remember - that was really just his personality. I think he was a rare breed, a man who was not afraid to be vulnerable, to be in the background until called upon, to give others the limelight, but also to always be there. Always emotionally connected. He was no doormat, but he was extremely generous, humble and loving.

Pa with Erik and Lukas

Dad, I don't want this to be a letter of accusation, but I guess it has been. It's hard not to accuse when expressing frustration and disappointment. Mostly I just feel sad because I feel this will never be resolved. Mostly I try to console myself with the knowledge that you do love me, in your way, and I do love you. It just hard not being able to have an open and honest relationship with you for fear of driving you away completely and losing the fragile connection we have now.

I love you dad, I really hope you know that.


This post was inspired by this post by Andy and this post by Karen. In many ways I was luckier than both these women. My dad was more in my life than Andy's and less frightening to me than Karen's (my dad has never frightened me - others, but not me), but these posts really speak about the important a father has in his children's life, whether he knows it or not, and the impotence of a lot of children to affect a change in their relationship with their father if their needs aren't being met. An absent dad is recognised to have a huge, mostly negative affect on small children, but a present dad who is emotionally absent has the same effect, perhaps even more confusing, on the child. It is such a complex thing to love and feel love to a degree, but also feel disconnection. 


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry your relationship with your father is so tough. Mine was tough with my dad, also, but it's too late to hash it all out now. Unfortunately there's just no changing some people tho.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and sad. I hope this helps you find some peace with your dad. I hear a lot of my dad in your words (not answering the phone, visiting unannounced).
Focus on your boys. Give them the language and understanding that your dad never had: teach them it's OK to be affectionate and to talk and to reach out to people that matter in your life. Dads really do matter.
Thank you for reading my story. I'm glad it inspired you to write your own story down.

Jayne said...

Oh honey...I'm not sure if it's PMS at work or having had wine for lunch (so weird how drinking during the day always makes one more pished!) but I'm all teary reading this :-( As always, beautifully written & conveyed with heart. I'm sorry your dad hasn't ever been able to be there more for you emotionally. I think he typifies a generation of men trapped by their feelings-wanting to do and be more, but paralyzed by a type of fear; unable. I hope this post has been cathartic for you *hugs*

Jay said...

Some days just bring it all up so it sits just below the surface, waiting to be spilled, don't they?

I'm sorry your relationship with your dad is such a fragile one, but I hope posting has helped you in some way.

Enjoy your day with your boys x

Daisy, Roo and Two said...

Oh Sif. This so touched home for me. I'm so sorry that your relationship with tour Dad is so tenuous and you feel it is so fragile. It sounds like he is so terrified of loving you because he is even more terrified of losing you. Big hugs sweetheart xx

Sif Dal said...

Thank you every for your lovely words xx. I think it really is a generational or cultural phenomenon. Dad's relationship with his dad was difficult as well. I could say more but I've probably said enough. How we parent is often a reflection of the parenting we received as children. It's never black and white but children are colour blind when it comes to shades of grey and with our parents we often find it difficult to develop past times of emotional hurt or stress. Sometimes as adults we can see things more objectively, sometimes.

Good Job!