A wonderfully honest guest post from Katy, who is estranged from her father, and wonders if there is any point in reconciliation.
The last time I saw my dad plays like home movie footage in my head. I was about 20. My hair was longer and brighter and everything about me was generally perkier. Well, physically at least. Mentally I was in the midst of unravelling, except I didn’t know it at the time.
My dad was in a pub around the corner from a wedding I was at and I was told he was there if I wanted to see him. It was the first time in about 2 years, but I thought fuck it, why not? What’s the worst that could happen? So I rocked up at the village pub and there he was sitting in the smoky tap-room with his Sunday drinking buddies. I didn’t have a scooby what I should say to him. He showed me off to his cronies. “This is my daughter, isn’t she beautiful?” Me: “yeah dad, I’m awesome, that’s why you never wanted to see me growing up.” Not out loud of course, wouldn’t want to make a scene.
I lasted about 10 minutes and then went back to the wedding and cadged a cigarette off my cousin with a, “Sorry mum, I have a tendency to smoke when I’m stressed or drunk and right now I’m the former and very shortly intend to be the latter.” In the circumstances she couldn’t disapprove. I was shaking. I was on the verge of my first panic attack in 5 or 6 years. She isn’t daft my mum, so she kept schtum as much as she probably wanted to snatch the fag out my hand and tell me off.
So, now I am 42 and while we were away on holiday in August I got a text from my dad. First one since 31 December 2013 when he was clearly at the bottom of a bottle of vodka. I saw his name on my phone and I was back there 20 years ago, heart racing, butterflies and utter panic. What did he want? Was he in my home town? Did he want to see me? Should I just press delete and not read it? I showed his name to the man and I think he could read all this crap flying through my head. “What does he want?” So I looked. Just his new mobile number. Clearly a sent to all contacts job. My heart calmed down a bit. The butterflies flew away.
But it left me thinking, as contact from him always does, should I try to see him? He will be 70 next year and is probably only alive thanks to the pickling and preserving qualities of alcohol. Do I want the next I hear of him to be an email from his sister in Canada telling me he died? That is a question I honestly cannot answer.
Before the wedding, the previous occasion I saw him was when he turned up at my mum’s house when I was 19. He was in the area as a witness for a court case he said, so he thought he’d come and see me. Thing was, before that I’d not seen him since I was 10. A lot had happened in the meantime, including the death of my brother; his son. So we sat in his car in the local pub car park, which is now a Tesco local. I told him exactly what I thought of him. It came out like a relentless monologue informing him exactly how many ways he had fucked up by doing what he did with the occasional question thrown in for good measure. “Why didn’t you get in touch when my brother died? Why did you not want to see me any more? I was 10 FFS, I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I must’ve done something wrong because why would my dad not want to see me any more? Where were you when I was grieving for my sister and my cousin and my brother? How do you think it makes me feel when my gran, YOUR FUCKING MUM, asks me if I’ve heard from you, well I can tell you dad, it makes my heart-break just a little bit more.” But in the same monologue: “I’m glad you left because we didn’t have to worry we’d upset you any more and feel the wrath, get that look that only you could give that withered a child to the core. My mum would never have gone out and got a degree, a life, a job, if you’d have stayed around. She wouldn’t have met my stepdad who is twice the parent you could ever have hoped to be. She wouldn’t have bloomed into the woman she was meant to be. Teenage me and you would’ve killed each other. So I’m glad you didn’t want me any more. But I was 10 then. All I had then was why?”
He had nothing.
Rewind another 10 years to a 9-year-old me home from junior school for my lunch. I found a crying mum on the sofa by the patio door and a dad saying something unexpected and unwelcome. He sent me upstairs. I sat at the top and I listened. That’s what you do when you’re 9. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I hadn’t then spent the next few days pretending I believed my dad was away on a business trip. So a few days later we were told, my older brother and I, that he wasn’t coming back. He was with someone else. Even though I already knew, I cried and clung to my mum, across the knee of my brother, who frankly could not have given less of a fuck.
I saw him maybe 3 times after that. Then nothing. No explanation why. Just nothing. Years and years later my mum told me how she’d begged him to see me, even if he wouldn’t agree to have my brothers, because I was the only one who cared. Although I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the unanswered whys that made me care. Maybe it was the comments that my mood swings, my temper and my dirty look (of which I am still particularly proud) were replicas of him. Maybe it was just that he was my dad. He had been my dad for 9 years and now he just wasn’t.
Most of the time he doesn’t enter my head. It’s just occasionally something will trigger a memory: hearing “By The Rivers of Babylon” by Boney M or “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart, which remind me of the weekend mornings when it was my mum’s turn for a lie in and he would turn the music up too loud; if I see a picture of The Incredible Hulk I see him coming looming up from behind the sofa to scare me silly; Billy Connolly and Dave Allen; sheepskin coats; jellyfish washed up on a beach; slicked back hair in need of a cut.
The day of the wedding when I last saw my dad was emotionally charged before I knew that he was in the pub round the corner. When my cousin had invited me, my mum and my older brother to his wedding he must’ve known it wouldn’t be greeted like a normal invitation. He’s a bright bloke. Maybe he expected us to say no.
I remember approaching the venue feeling like I had several tiny, acrobatic monkeys in my stomach and a frantically pounding heart. This was the first time we’d faced this woman in about 10 years. See, the mother of the groom was the woman my dad left my mum for. My aunt. Their child, the half-sister I’d never met, was his bridesmaid.
So now when I receive one of his random and unexpected texts I consider whether I want to see him. Two things stop me. The potential that he’ll break my heart again. I’m not sure I could stand that. I’m not sure that would be fair on my mum, my brother, my relationship or my children. Then there’s the fact that he’s not my dad any more. He’s just a man that was in my life for a while.
There’s only one thing that makes me think I should.
He’s my dad.
What would you do?