Present, Yet Absent.My dad never left me. He never hurt me. He never did anything malicious.
But at the same time, he did leave. He checked out mentally after I passed the toddler stage.
He did hurt me. He hurt me through his absolute negligence and failure to notice that fathers are extremely important to young girls.
And he was malicious. I view it as something similar to "lying through omission." He was malicious through the things he did not do rather than the things that he did do.
If I were to write an honest letter to my dad, it would go something like this:
It's me, your only daughter. I know that you didn't intend to have me. I know that you didn't intend to marry my mom from the start. I know that you had other plans and they were interrupted. But I also know how much you loved me when I was born. My mom sometimes tells me that when I was first born, you were so proud of me and so thrilled to have me that I was all that you could talk about. I also remember how you and I used to do our "father-daughter" stuff together and I remember that I always had fun with you. We would watch documentaries on TV and eat orange sherbet, go hiking, go skiing, and go looking for jackrabbits in the desert from time to time. Sometimes, you would even roll me up in a comforter and call me a "burrito." I never had so much fun. I remember I giggled so hard and I couldn't wait to spend more time with my dad.
But somewhere in there, all that stopped. I can't really remember when it stopped because it happened so gradually and while I was still young enough that I can easily forget the things that happened back then. I remember a lot of your interest in my dropped off at the birth of my little brother. I feel like you stopped paying attention to me completely. While I didn't expect that I would always be the center of your attention 100% of the time, I still thought that maybe we could spend more time together, just the two of us, but it never happened.
More recently, I noticed the way that my friends and my acquaintances interact with their fathers and something seemed off about you and I. Then I got the chance to stay with a family- my first love's family- where there is a mother, a father, and a son. They treated me very well, just as someone would treat a cherished family member and for an entire wonderful week, I saw what a "normal family" is like and how they function. I saw a mother praising her extremely talented son where praise was due, guiding him in the areas he needed guidance in, and correcting him in areas where he needed to be corrected. I saw a father have intellectual conversations with his son, challenge him on a level that no one else could, and give him a different perspective on all the points that his mother brought up. And I saw two parents together, co-parenting as partners, thinking of what they should encourage their son to do, how they can alleviate his stress, what he should wear to meet certain important people, and how they can help him in whatever way possible. The father is not always outwardly emotional, but his actions are evidence of his feelings. He has not given up on neither his wife nor his son. He has not checked out. He is still interested in both their lives.
What does something like that say about us? You and my mother are not together. Once another child came into the picture, you had so much drama surrounding that child that you abandoned me to take care of his circumstances. Once I started exhibiting more womanly features, you took no more interest in my life. I told you about school plays that I was in in hopes that you would make some time just for me, to come and see something that I worked hard to do and hoped would make you proud of me. But you didn't show up. You had plans. I told you about little art exhibitions I was a part of because I thought that maybe you'd like to see and you would be proud once you saw how hard I worked on my art pieces. But you didn't show up that time either. Again, you had plans. I had my own interests that you had no idea about because you never got to know me and because of that, you could never truly believe in my abilities. Once I needed to seek greener pastures across the country, my mother had to become both the mother and the father. She had to operate as half of a unit. She did the best she could, but she made her own mistakes. I never heard from you. You never called me on my birthdays or any holidays that I had to miss with you because my mom couldn't afford a plane ticket by herself and you didn't want to pitch in. Whenever something went wrong, I had no other person to turn to. There was no one to counter my mother's irrational thinking, no one to help me with my homework, no one to provide for me things that my mother couldn't. There was even a time when I was able to make it out for Christmas by some act of God and when Christmas day actually came, presents were piled up underneath the tree. But none of them were for me. They were all for you and my brother, the "artist" of the family.
Then the day came when I was graduating from high school. I invited you to the event because I hoped that maybe you would think that this was an important event. I hoped that maybe you would save up for a plane ticket, come out, see where my home had been for the previous three years, see where I went to school, meet all my former teachers, and see all that I had accomplished there so you would know that my move wasn't in vain. I hoped that maybe I would be able to introduce my dad to people that mattered to me. But you couldn't come. It wasn't a big deal, you insisted. After all, I still have college graduation. Although there's a huge part of me that doubts that you'll come to that, either.
I tried to be as understanding as possible. I've only heard one side of the story as to why you and my mom divorced. Maybe there was some reason that I didn't know about. There was a lot happening at the time that my brother was born, so maybe any adult would have been frazzled at a time like that. I always make all these excuses for you so that I can delay believing that maybe you're just not as interested as what you should have been. After all, not being present for your new wife and daughter is not a very adult thing to do. And neither is the reason why my brother was born or why any of the surrounding circumstances came into fruition. But I think that the moment when I truly began to lose faith in you was when I heard through my cousin that you told him that you couldn't wait for my brother to turn 18 because as soon as he does, you're going to flee the country and become an expat in Thailand.
Now I realize that it's too late for me. I'm almost 20 now. You probably won't call to wish me a happy birthday. I don't even know why I still hope there will be a card in the mail anymore. It's fine. I've dealt with it. I learned to not talk about myself or my life around you because I noticed that you don't actually listen. Fine. Whatever. But whatever you do, please don't do the same thing for my brother.
My brother is beginning to be abandoned by you, I can tell. He hasn't been free to do sports or participate in extracurricular activities because his dad doesn't want to wake up "early" on the weekends. He's been late to school because his dad went out drinking the night before until 4 am and failed to honor his responsibilities of picking him from the family friend who is babysitting for him out of the kindness of her own heart. Sure, he was cute when he was little, but he's almost a teenager now and he's beginning to need things. He's beginning to need clothes and shoes, but you won't get those for him because that same family friend and your own mother give those things to him as "presents" because you take advantage of the fact that they did once or twice to begin with. He's beginning to need more food that isn't spoiled in the fridge because you're too lazy to ever clean anything out. He's beginning to need a positive father-figure role model in his life, but he can't have that either because you don't actually value women and you haven't grown mentally since you were sixteen. A twelve-year-old doesn't need to hear that he needs to date multiple women at the same time. A twelve-year-old doesn't need to know the details of your conquests. The truth is that the way that you're operating now is not what my brother needs. And who's to say that at 18, he won't still need someone in the states to help him if things go wrong his first year of college? I know I sure did. It is not fair to assume that I'll be the one to pick him up if he falls just because I'll be an adult by then with a high-paying job. Who knows? I'll probably have my own house by then and marry that boy with the excellent family life. But you wouldn't know why I want to marry him someday because you don't even know who I am by now. I don't even want to have to let you know that I'll take that role if I have to for my brother (I love my brother and I feel like he'd be in better hands if I did have to support him in whatever way he needed) because I don't want you to do to me what you've done to everyone else and take advantage of my generosity. But you will. I know you will. I'm sure you will. I'll do it, but just know that even though I will, he'll have to live with the ultimate disappointment in losing the support and care of the only parent that he has ever known. He'll always have me, but let's face it, I'm not his dad.
All that I'm asking is for you to step back and take a look at what's wrong with this picture and think about what the consequences of your actions might be and after doing that, whether you care or not, man up and do the right thing, even if you have to make some sacrifices. After all, that's everything that being a parent is about: sacrifice. And you haven't done enough of it yet.
I'm not telling you any of this because I hate you. I don't hate you at all. You're my dad and I love you even though you're flawed. I'm telling you this because I'm just disappointed in you. I'm disappointed that there are certain things that you value and other more important things that you don't. I wish I could do something that you used to do to me when I did something wrong, like give you a time-out. But I have no authority over you and nothing that silly will change your mind about anything. All I can do is write you a letter and hope that it works.