I won't be wishing my dad a happy Father's Day this year but I don't want to be completely ungrateful. Although my dad has hurt me in ways I don't know if I will ever fully recover from (I sound so melodramatic but I don't have a less corny way of saying it) it would be unfair to say he never tried to be a good father. For myself I want to be able to acknowledge the hurt as well as the good in my childhood. I won't be sharing any of this with him, for both of our sakes.
So, if you've read my blog in the past you might know that all is not rosy with me and my daddy. He has made it quite clear that he has no interest in me. He never contacts me, seems to go out of his way to make me feel inferior when I do see him and is the cause of a lot of hurt that he hasn't made any attempt to make amends for.
After he moved to England and monumentally slapped me in the face by telling me that he had 'done his job' as a father and never wanted kids anyway, I continued to send him a card on Father's Day. It was always difficult finding one that didn't say 'thanks for everything you have done and still do' or proclaim that this particular father is the best in the world (I may still love him but I'm not going to lie to myself or him!). I didn't want to be in any way able to blame myself for the lack of relationship with him. I stopped sending them after a few years because he never acknowledged that he had received them and I began to realise how unimportant I am to him.
I still think about him on Father's Day and I feel more sad than I care to admit, but I try not to dwell on it and remind myself that I've done my best to be a 'good daughter' and it is just not going to make any difference.
This year I have struggled because (if you are on Facebook you may have seen this) of the challenge to put a picture of your father as your facebook profile picture for three days. This Facebook challenge is upsetting for a few reasons: one being that it's bad enough that it's Father's Day and I have a crap father so feel sad about that, but the majority of people I know have taken the challenge and it's reminding me of it every time I go online. Secondly, it upsets me that two of my sisters have changed their pictures and seem to have completely no problem with my dad any more, even though we all have reason to be angry with him. I'm not annoyed because I think they shouldn't speak to him (I'm happy for them if they feel they have a relationship with him); I'm annoyed because it makes me feel as though I am just overreacting to my whole life with my dad. I know it gives him fuel for his 'woe is me' fire as well. I know my dad; I know how he thinks and I'm pretty sure he is in complete denial about any blame that should be on him as far as the failure of our relationship goes.
It is reassuring that one of my sisters at least hasn't gone along with it, even though I feel sad for her that she probably feels the same way I do. I guess it also upsets me because I know it's going to be more obvious to my dad that I am not happy with him. However, maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe in not confronting him and avoiding letting him know I'm angry with him, it's as bad as if I was just lying to him. Then I stop to think about the facts and realise that he may not even give a shit anyway. This is something I'm not sure about. I know he doesn't give a shit about me, but I think he wants to be loved and so will still pick up on any failure in that respect. Yeah, that about sums him up.
HOWEVER, I didn't come on here just to moan about my dad. Despite his efforts to show how little he cares about me, I do have some memories of my childhood and they weren't all bad. Sometimes I struggle to see how the good ones can fit in with the bad ones. I know I coped with this by splitting off who I was at those times, so I didn't have to fathom how someone who apparently did love me could also want to kill me. I still get stuck in a ditch when I remember a good thing, of thinking: “You have made up all the bad stuff, how could those things possibly be true when he (insert loving act here) for you?!” Likewise when I remember a bad thing, it's hard to fathom how the good times could have really happened. I just need to remind myself that whether or not he had any feelings of love for me, he wanted to be 'good' and tried to be a good father some of the time.
So, in an attempt to acknowledge the good parts of my childhood, here are some of the better memories and things I can thank my dad for:
- A few times I remember waking up on a school morning and my dad telling me and my sisters that we weren't going to go to school that day, but that he was going to take us to the beach instead. We never really got to do fun stuff like that because of the church/cult, so an event like this was like an unexpected Christmas day for a child. I remember jumping up and down in the hallway with my sisters shouting: “We're going to the sea side!!! We're going to the sea side!!!”
- We didn't have much money when I was a child. Sometimes my parents couldn't even afford food for us. I still find it hard to imagine how a family living in a place like the UK could be in so much poverty, but it does happen. We never had new things; being the youngest, my clothes were usually fifth hand by the time I got wearing them (didn't help with the bullying on non uniform days, that my clothes were practically Victorian style). When I was about five or six I remember knowing that my dad was working on a secret project in the cellar of our house. He seemed to be down there for weeks. My birthday came and he presented me with a dolls house completely made by him. Each room was decorated with carpet and wall paper and the front of the house was painted with bricks and ivy and a red shiny door and the words: “Candy's House” on the front. I still have the doll's house although it lives at my mum's house now. This was a happy memory.
- The time my sister's and I cleaned the whole house from top to bottom and my parents took us to McDonalds as a reward. I only went to McDonalds twice as a child so this was a HUGE event for us.
- Going for walks in the Holywood Hills with my dad when we moved to Belfast. He would tell me not to change the way my older sisters had and would lament to me about how they weren't interested in doing things like walks with him. Now I can see that he obviously just doesn't know how to relate to teenage girls... I tried so hard not to change. I still went walking with him all through my teens. I even took up fishing. I wanted to be the boy he always wanted to have, but I guess I just couldn't ever be man enough for him. This memory maybe isn't just as positive but I'll leave it in anyway because I have found this revelatory.
- My eighteenth birthday: he went out and bought me a giant teddy bear. Now this was monumental for my dad because he never got involved in buying gifts for birthdays or Christmas; that was always Mum's job. I still have that bear and although it makes me feel sad because of the loss of my father, it means so much to me. It's like a tiny speck of knowing how it feels to be loved. I always go to that bear when things become unbearable. I've woken many times over the years from a dissociation induced state of unconsciousness with my arms around 'bear'.
- The one time I remember him telling me he loved me. I must have been about twenty one. It was after he left the church/cult and was going through a lot of things, having been a leader of it and then being without that role. Anyway, I think he was feeling a lot of stuff and I remember him coming to me and hugging me and telling me he loved me and was sorry for all the times he had hurt me. At the time I told him that he had always been a good father and had nothing to apologise for. I felt uncomfortable. I was the person who only knew the good memories and had blocked out the bad ones. When I remember this one occasion, I doubt his statement that he had 'never wanted kids' and had done his time as a father.
- He HATED Christmas. Every year he'd tell us we weren't having a tree (some years we didn't: sometimes we were allowed one but it had to be kept in the airing cupboard so he didn't have to look at it. I would go and sit on the landing at the top of the stairs, plug the lights in and open the cupboard door for a while to enjoy the 'festivities' on my own) and that there was going to be no Christmas but on the day, he would usually manage to muster up some Christmas spirit and get involved. He made some amazing Christmas dinners. He is a great cook.
- When I was about seven, I got into stilts in a big way. At school during PE class we would get a choice of outdoor playing equipment and I would always run for the stilts. It was the first time I ever felt good at something and I remember breaking the record for the furthest walked on stilts in my school (OK, so it was only across the playground and school field but I was only seven for crying out loud!). I wanted stilts to use at home so badly and my dad decided to make me some. (It's hard to remember these things: I feel happy, but at the same time I feel more and more confused about how he could do such nice things but then seem to hate me SO much at other times)
- He could be really funny and he's very intelligent. I think a lot of people in my church/cult would have looked up to my dad and I'm sure there were people who thought we were so lucky to be living with him. He was very different with other people than he was behind closed doors. Occasionally, he would be in a good mood and the family would get a share of his humour too.
I use Father's Day as a barometer for how I am progressing with my feelings about him. I think the fact that I have been able to think about these things and acknowledge both the good and bad feelings, is progress from previous years. Last year I was more numb. The year before that I felt almost overwhelmed by the feelings of loss. The year before that I cried my eyes out in Tesco whilst looking for an honest card to give him and failing to find one that made the cut (by the way, there's an obvious niche in the market if you're looking for a business opportunity: Mother's/Father's Day cards for bad parents). The year before that takes us back to denial and a different Candy. What will next year bring? The other barometer I use, is the question: “How would you feel if he died now?”. This barometer never yields healthy reports.