It was New Zealand Fathers Day at the beginning of the month. It has always been a weird day for me.
My relationship with my father was.. strained. He had a difficult life. He saw things that he should never have seen, he went through things he should never have gone through and he felt things he should never have had to feel.
He became an angry and violent man, caught up in his own circumstances and as a result, I saw things I should never have seen, went through things I should never have gone through and I felt things I should never have had to feel.
I remember him being great with other peoples children, I remember people telling him how great he was with children. I remember him cooing over other peoples babies and playing games with other peoples toddlers. I don’t remember him being great with me, I don’t remember laughing with him, or playing games or feeling unconditionally loved.
I remember being yelled at for laughing too loudly, I remember being blamed for things well beyond my control, I remember wishing desperately for a father that loved me, that was proud of my accomplishments, that held hands with me when we walked, read to me, taught me things about cars and called me princess the way dads did in the movies.
I have a memory. I was an early teen and learning about makeup. My then best friend was over and we were getting glamorous with Mum’s make up when he walked past my bedroom. He made a joke about the faces we pull when we’re doing mascara and get to the bottom lashes. We all laughed and I told him to go away so we could finish getting beautiful. I hold on to that memory.
For me, it’s a glimpse into a world where I had the ideal “GAH, DAD! You’re so embarrassing” relationship that teenage daughters are meant to have with their dads.
When we heard that he had died, I yelled about not going to his funeral and I didn’t go with my mother to his house that day. I didn’t cry, I didn’t know how to feel so I chose anger.
I was 18 and our relationship had finally begun to turn around.
Maybe he regretted the way he had been before and was making an effort. Maybe he always loved me, but was only just figuring out how to show it. I remember hoping it was that.
I got sick at a friends house one night when we were meant to be having a sleepover – her house was half an hour away from home, but Dad only lived around the corner. I called him and he came to get me and said I could stay with him that night instead. We got takeaway fish and chips for dinner and when we got back to the car and realised that we’d forgotten the tomato sauce, he didn’t yell. He gave me his wallet to run back in and grab some.
We ate on the floor of his lounge and chatted about school and driving and he offered to teach me to drive the manual car Mum had just bought me. I slept on the couch and I cried that night – I was so happy to just be there, with him.
Now he was gone. I’d never know if we could have had the relationship I had always dreamed of us having. I could never demand to know why he treated us the way that he did, or hear him apologise for everything he put us through. I could never hear him say he loved me, or know if he was proud of me.
I felt relieved in some ways – the things he had done, the way he had treated my mother, the way he had made us feel growing up, it was over. I felt guilty immediately for feeling that way and then angry that I was left without closure. I felt sad and confused and unsure of how to mourn the loss of someone I had so many times wished away growing up.
My childhood memories are littered with a bruised and crying mother, tears, frustration, fear and anger. And yet, he was my father. I loved him and wanted more than anything for him to love me too I kept holding out hope for the day he’d become the man I needed him to be.
It took me years to feel at peace with all of the emotions that followed that day and even longer to feel at peace with myself.
People would say often how much I was like him. “Oh you are so you’re fathers daughter”; “You’re just like your father”. They didn’t know what our home life was like. It was easy to be unaware, my father could be charming and witty and fun. No one knew.
The words played in my head often. I hated every part of my character that reminded me of him and I felt lost at rejecting the biggest part of who I was.
I would find myself reacting to situations the way he did and I was terrified of having children for fear of becoming the parent he was.
I struggled with choosing partners because I didn’t know what normal was meant to look like. I didn’t know what love looked like.
It was my mother that taught me that every day we have a choice. We can, in our moments of frustration, choose to yell or choose to calm down and then speak. In our moments of frustration, we can choose to throw our toys out of the cot and give up, or we can take a deep breath and keep trying.
Over the years, she helped me to see that the characteristics that were like his might be the best I have. If I chose to look at them that way. I could choose my reactions, I didn’t have to go with my learned responses – I decided who I was. I still make the wrong choices, more often than I’d like to admit, but I feel at peace with who I am. All of the parts.
She taught me that forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for us. That forgiving him didn’t mean that what he had done was ok, it meant that I could find peace. She taught me that it was ok to feel sad, it was ok to miss him and it was ok to mourn the relationship I wondered if we could have had. She taught me that there was no need to feel conflicted about loving him, he was the reason I was here and that no matter what he did, he was my dad.
While watching Brent parent his daughter, I see everything I had ever hoped for in a dad and I (happy) cry often at how lucky we all are to have him in our lives.
His (not so) baby girl will grow up with a father that loves her, that is openly proud of all of her accomplishments, that holds hands with her when we walk, read to her when she was little, and will teach her things about cars and while he doesn’t call her princess, he does have his own special name for her, the way dads do in the movies.
She will grow up with the highest of standards for her partners, set by the first love of her life – her Dad.
All of our children will grow up knowing how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, they will know respect, the importance of communication, and honesty.
They will all grow up knowing that they get to decide who they are, and that every day we have a choice. Most of all, they’ll grow up knowing how to love, with everything that they have because they have been loved, openly and completely, and they will have seen us love each other, with everything we have.