Blog / Mental Health

How I Cope With A Distant Dad

I can’t recall the last time a Father’s Day passed and I felt anything other than lucky to wish my mom a great day. Today, however, on this Father’s Day, scrolling through Facebook and the world (ahem, the internet) basically, I feel envious and sad. It’s always shocking when these feelings sneak up on me, but all I see is…

fathersday

Okay, I am being a bit dramatic, but at least I’ll admit that. I have a dad – and we even speak! – although I’ve often thought he’s more of an incredibly lost and lonely soul that just happens to have fathered me somehow. We’ve never been close, though I’d love to hear if he thought we were at one point or another. We talk when my phone reminds me to call him, or he calls me to tell me he’s travelling again. I joke about how I’m not doing anything and would love to go with him and he chuckles meekly about how “maybe someday” that’ll happen. I doubt that it’ll ever happen but I still hold out hope.

He is extremely strong-willed and so am I, but in completely different regards. From my perspective, he is entirely self-protective, and that may be because of what he endured or experienced in his life, but I really couldn’t tell you because I don’t really know. All I know are the bits and pieces of stories I’ve collected.

His parents were very blunt and hard parents on my dad and his sisters. I can’t speak to the truth in any of this because I’ve gathered this information throughout my childhood but I have memories of being told my grandmother died because she made so much Polish food with lard and butter that, when there were leftovers, she’d eat them. She had a heart-attack because of this, and my dad always told me not to get fat, and I think my grandmother’s death might be why… though I don’t know for sure. My grandfather died a few weeks after I was born. I have one photo of us together. He looks nice and full of love. I am waiting for my dad to get to that point, because we all turn into our parents right? I was told I don’t know when that, when my dad was a child, he had rabbits in the backyard and my grandfather bit the head off one as punishment to my father. I think that’s why my dad doesn’t like pets. But again, I don’t know for sure.

My Aunt Christine was murdered by her furious ex-boyfriend when she was 17. May dad was 11, I think. I hold this event accountable for all the troubles that may have followed, but – you guessed it – I can’t be certain. When I was 16, I spent 2 days in the public library in London searching through newspaper articles trying to find the one about her death. Even the librarian there was into it. We were determined. When I finally found it, it totally traumatized me. “This is what LOVE is?” I thought. The article recounted in detail everything that happened and it played out in my head as though I was there. Christine broke up with her boyfriend and went to hang out with her two gay friends who lived together. This was the 50’s and I was impressed. My aunt was incredible. The now ex-boyfriend showed up entirely love-struck and aloof at the friend’s house, pounding on the door. One friend distracted him, but he barged in. He shot Christine twice, once in the stomach, and once in the leg. Then he shot himself. He died, and so did she on the way to the hospital. It seemed completely unreal, reading this in the library by myself at 16. The newspaper even published the letter the boy wrote. It was in Italian. I can’t remember what it said, but my dad always seemed to snub Italian people, and now I knew why.

I was the same age as Christine when I read about her death and I’d never even kissed a boy, let alone had one love me enough to want to kill me upon separation.

I hid the article in a binder under my bed and when I visited my dad a couple weekends later, it was sitting ominously on the kitchen table. My dad asked me where I had found the article and who had told me about it. My Aunt, his other sister told me. My dad asked me how I felt about it. I can’t remember what I said, but I know he looked sad. He wasn’t mad, like I was expecting. We didn’t talk about it after that day. He even let me keep the article.

I spent the months after that carrying a photo of Aunt Christine around with me. I actually still have it. Actually… It’s blown up and hanging in a frame on my wall; a gift from an ex-boyfriend, but one I’ll never rid of. I convinced myself she was guardian angel. I would talk to her before going to sleep at my dad’s house. I thought she was my connection to him; if I felt connected to her, I would somehow connect with my dad. We could bond over tragedy, or something. Admittingly now, I never thought of it as a tragedy. I wasn’t there. I didn’t know what it was like. I’m not even sure I really comprehended death or murder at 16… But I thought it would allow me to connect with my father. I’m not sure it did.

Over the past years I’ve given up fighting my father; being angry with him for not being more of a friend to me, or fitting into the definition I’ve given to the word “Dad”. The sound of his voice is comforting despite my wishing there was a true bond between us. I don’t know why this year is any different than before but I’m wholly envious of everyone who is lucky to have this bond; to experience and live it and feel that love I’ve someone defined for myself. But this is a small and ungracious part of me. I’ve continually told myself that I’m lucky to simply know who my father is. It’s an even harder experience to not have one or both parents to compare yourself to. To blame all your seemingly negative or difficult traits on.

I am grateful to know this man, but also to have an Uncle who wholeheartedly acted like a father to me and a Grandfather, now passed, who filled this cavern in my heart with the friendship and humour I’d always sought. My dad – he’s a great man – yet a lone and complicated one. I fill my questions about him with assumptions and phone calls with hints of future bonding and I put myself out there for him to befriend if he ever sought one. And my envy, thankfully, does not cloud the happiness I have for my friends who have fathers that are by their immediate sides. I know we’re all complicated and troubled, but who are we if not together? I just hope my dad realizes that I’ve been here for him this whole time… Or at least now… That I’m all grown up and all.

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