I was not going to tell this story. Not yet. I was writing about something completely different, about how mental illness affected my relationships, but I realized that I could not write about my experiences without sharing this story first.
Growing up, I was a “daddy’s girl”. He was my world. I looked up to him and spent so much time with him. I never thought that would ever change. My parents never fought around me. They would bicker, sure, but never fight. Then things started to change. I look back and wonder if they were always there, in front of me, these signs that maybe my father wasn’t the best man, and maybe my parent’s relationship wasn’t what I thought it was growing up. It’s hard to say though.
It was a time when text messaging wasn’t the prime communication mode, instant messaging on AIM was. My father and I shared the same computer in the lounge that was once my bedroom. I was also a sleuth, which did no one any good. I was in 8th grade and I’d spend every Wednesday at the local baseball fields, where my father was a softball coach of the co-ed team at the university he worked for. There was a girl on the team that never treated me well. She always gave me weird looks and I just never had good vibes from her, but I noticed a weirdness between her and my father and it made me tremendously uncomfortable and suspicious. I just knew something was going on, something I was not going to like.
One night I decided to do some investigating and I logged onto AIM under my fathers username. I looked through different saved messages and found what I was afraid of finding. Messages that no husband would be sending another woman if he was being faithful. My gut fell and I never looked at my father the same way again. I was old enough to understand that things change, relationships change, and if my parents decided together that being married was no longer working, I think I’d perhaps still have a relationship with my father, maybe, but it did not go down that way, not in the slightest. I carried this secret around with me for awhile. I was torn as it was so unfair to my mom, but I didn’t want to be the one to break her heart, although I think she knew for awhile as well.
I remember we were once visiting my aunt and uncle and my father snuck away to buy this girl, “his friend”, a birthday card, when he did not get anything for my mom’s birthday. I remember swimming in the pool in the backyard and my father coming out to tell me my mom was overreacting to something. I knew then that none of this was right.
My mom ended up in the hospital when I was a freshman in high school. I don’t remember what was wrong, but she was there for a couple of days. The night she was released, she went to bed early, and I was in my bedroom watching movies. A Cinderella Story and Sleepover on repeat, marveling in the love stories of people relatively my age, and I heard my mom screaming. I ran to her and she had a nightmare or wasn’t feeling good and asked for my father. I looked everywhere. It was late, and it was unusual for him to not be around, which terrified me. I called and called and called, and he never answered. I didn’t see his truck in the driveway and I just knew. I left him a voicemail, with all of my anger building. This was it. I couldn’t contain it any longer. It was already hard having this secret, but knowing that my father disappeared the night my mom came back from the hospital, knowing I was awake in my room and not telling me he was leaving, and not answering my many phone calls. I had enough. I don’t remember everything I said to him in the voicemail, but I do remember yelling “I know where you are and if you can’t be here for your wife and your family, then just don’t come home at all. “ I got a call telling me he couldn’t sleep and was bored and went to Walmart. Sure.
The rest of the night was a blur. I remember being told to stay in my room while they talked or yelled, the rest of the night. It was early morning when they came in my room and told me together that he was going to go stay at a hotel for a little while. I cannot recall my reaction, but I knew it was over.
At first, I was there solely for my mom. I was strong for her in every way I could be. I didn’t let myself vent or cope with my own feelings around her because I didn’t want to make her to feel sadder. My mom urged me to still have a relationship with him, and I tried. It was so hard at first. Everything was so bizarre.
By sophomore year, he had his own apartment, and I would stay with him, sometimes with my friend, sleeping on his couch. We would go to the movies, or to Blockbuster and eat frozen pizzas. It was fine. It was hard, and I never talked to either of them about my feelings, but it was fine. Then they got divorced, and I started to become reckless. I think holding everything inside of me, the sadness, confusion, betrayal, guilt, for years, released itself and I became incredibly selfish. My mom, rightfully so, had to be a mom, a parent, and make sure I was fed, and clothed, and keeping up with school. That allowed my father to shed the responsibility and just be my ‘friend’. This behavior of mine led to more stress for everyone, because as teenagers do, they act selfishly and make stupid mistakes. When I called my mom to ask her if I could stay at a friends house, or come home late, and she said no (which she rarely did. I never had a curfew.), I would call my dad and ask him. He would say yes, of course. I pinned them against each other and it wasn’t right or fair, but I was young and dumb.
There are a couple major things that led to my father and I not being on speaking terms. Before my parents split, my father wanted a new truck and a new motorcycle. My mom had paid off our house entirely, but she took out a second mortgage so they could pay for a down payment. After they split, my father didn’t end up paying any of his car/motorcycle payments and because my mom co-signed, she ended up paying for everything, while also trying to pay for herself and me. He also was mad at my mom because the money he was giving her for child support was not going into my hands ( I would call and ask to borrow money from him, so I could go to the movies, or eat out with my friends), but into her bank account in which she would buy us groceries, and pay bills, and buy me gas. You know, responsible human/parent things. Once, after we left a movie, he told me that he had started dating again, and was already seeing someone, and wanted me to meet her. I was not, in the slightest, ready for that. I told him I needed some time to figure my own emotions out and he wouldn’t give it to me. Throughout my high school career, I was battling these insane waters of my parents divorce, my mom barely keeping afloat financially and with her depression, my father not being my father anymore, but someone that wanted to walk away from all responsibility and expected me to just keep my mouth shut and a smile on my face. It was an incredibly difficult time, only made worse by other things I will share later.
My father never gave a real reason to my mom as to why he left. He never told her about his cheating. He never apologized to me or led me to feel that this wasn’t my fault, like most parents do when they get divorced. He never took the time to care about me or get to know me, not really. He was too caught up in his whole new life. He was unable to see me as a person with my own thoughts and feelings, and believed my mom was to blame for me needing space from him. He once called and screamed at her at work, believing she was brainwashing me and saying horrible things about him so I wouldn’t talk to him any more. The truth was that my mom pushed me to have a relationship with him, even after I told her that I didn’t want to.
So I finally got to the point where I was done. I was done with dealing with his immaturity and all the pain he caused me, my mom, and our lives. I needed to seperate myself from it because it was tearing me up inside, for years. I don’t remember when we stopped speaking, but I know that it was a while before I graduated high school. Someone invited him to my graduation, but he didn’t show up. I had found out through a text from my cousin, on his side, that he eloped, and I thought to myself, “well he really did go and start a whole new life. Leaving the one he had behind like it was garbage.” I had no plans on ever speaking to him again, but I did end up speaking to him, for the very last time, when I was 18 and in community college. I found out through someone that he was working there, and I was terrified I was going to run into him. I remember getting a phone call from him. I was in my boyfriend at the time and I’s bedroom. I remember standing near the foot of the bed and telling him I was done.
I haven’t spoken to him since then. It’s been ten years.
I did end up getting a message on Linkedin from him, a couple of years ago. Actually, the summer after I graduated from college and was getting ready to move to Oregon. It wasn’t that long. There was no apology and no question on how I was doing and what my life was like. I knew then that he was still the same person, and this letter wasn’t for me, it was for him. Although I broke down in front of my friends, I was relieved in a way. It was what I needed to let go of this anger and resentment I was holding onto for so long. I owed him no amount of head or heart space. He was a stranger to me, as I to him, and it will always be that way and I’m perfectly okay with that.
I once had a dad, but he’s a long forsaken memory.