30 August, 2012

Family Matters

Tuesday I spoke to my father for the first time in 8 years. We've been emailing for a couple years, recently exchanged phone numbers, but we still hadn't spoken...not really.

You see, my biological parents divorced when I was a baby. Too young to even remember a time when they were married. I was born in England - my father was in the USAF - and my mom left him around 8 months after I was born. I won't get into the "why" of that because 1) I don't feel comfortable sharing it and 2) I don't know the whole story anyway. Mom left, we flew back to the States and moved in with my grandparents. There was a nasty custody battle, which my mom eventually won. We lived with my grandparents for about 2 years, until my mom married my stepdad - who eventually became "dad."

My father only saw me once, maybe twice a year. Mostly because of the custody thing, but probably more so due to the fact that he was in the military. (Something I never understood until very recently...) Every time he would visit, I always got anxious. I mean, I didn't live with this guy... I barely knew him and yet I was expected to talk to him?! As an introvert (which was far worse when I was a child), this was extremely hard. I read something in a parenting book a few days ago that said, basically, your child gets their cues on how to act from you. They don't understand new situations, so they look to you for how they should feel. With this knowledge, I feel certain saying that since my mom was uncomfortable in this situation (as was my stepdad) it makes sense that I would feel this way.

As I got older, sometimes my mom would tell me stories about him. Not really any good stories, either. Actually, I'm not sure I can tell you one nice thing she's ever said about him, unless you count, "He can be nice when he wants to be." And sometimes, when I'd do something that he did, she'd always get onto me and tell me she hated that because Rick did it. I can't tell you how many times I tapped my fingers on a table, desk or computer and got yelled at for it. As all redheads do, my father has a temper. He was never good at controlling it and I've always had a difficult time with it. On several of those "difficult times," I heard my mother tell me I was just like my father. She never meant it in a good way; she meant it to hurt me. And it did. Why would I want to be like someone she clearly hated? Still, I couldn't help that I acted like him. I'd never known him at all...it wasn't my fault. Sometimes I understood this, but more often than not I'd walk away wondering what I'd done wrong.

I grew up hearing about things my father did or said while my parents were married. They were married 3 years, and had divorced long before I became "aware" of anything. All my knowledge of him came from her and what little interaction we had while he was in town.

My freshman year of high school, I emailed him some without my mother's knowledge. I was taking a computer course and accessed my email account there. I can't even remember why I started doing it, but I'm sure it was because I felt like I wanted to know him. After that year, the emails slowed down a lot. I hardly ever talked to him. By my senior year, I might have emailed him a few more times. The last time I emailed him I had asked for money to paint my severely beaten up car. He suggested we "barter for it." That sounded sorta fishy to me, so I did what any teenager does - I asked my mom about it. Of course, she told me not to respond because she was worried what that meant. I can still understand it to a certain degree. 

He didn't come to my high school graduation because I didn't want him there. I didn't want him there because all the information I had on him was from my mom, who said he wasn't a good person. My mom sent the invitation the day of the ceremony so he'd know about it, just not in time. A couple months later, he came to visit at my parents' house. He'd wanted to meet in town, but because I didn't know him I wasn't comfortable with it. He stayed for a very awkward 2 hours, told me to let him know if I needed anything and then left.

That was the last time I saw him. I was 18 years old.

Fast forward to 2 years ago.

He had apparently lost my email address and emailed my mom. I can't remember exactly what the email said, but the idea was that he wanted to talk to me, to get to know me. And to apologize for not really being there, especially after I turned 18. A few months before this, I had been thinking about emailing him or sending a letter or something. He'd been in the same place for a while, so I did have his address. And apparently his email address never changed (unlike me...I've had at least 5 different ones). Anyway, when I got this email I knew it was time.

I'll admit that it's been difficult at times. At first I was a little irritated and upset. Why wait so long to talk to me? But the more we emailed, the more I realized that I'd only heard one side of the story. One side for over 20 years. I've heard my mom tell her side, but I'd never heard his. How he came home from 24 hr duty to an empty house. Despite all the troubles they had, I can't imagine how that felt. How it felt for him to hear me call someone else "dad" after Mom remarried. How it felt knowing he couldn't be there... 

Over the emails and facebook messages, we've mostly gotten to know each other. It's been awkward at times, but I'm sure it's worth it. Oddly enough, it's been easier since Charlotte was born. Everybody wants to talk about the baby and, as her proud mommy, I'm happy to do so! And yesterday, I decided it might just be time to talk to him. So, we used Skype to talk for the first time since I was 18. It was a little awkward, but I think that's to be expected. He got to see Charlotte and he met Joe, too. It was a really nice chat, overall. I'm glad we finally had the opportunity.

Since then I've been thinking about a lot of things related to our relationship. It's frustrating to hear one side for so long and then hear the other, which isn't 100% different...but it's the other side. And, so far, he's nothing like my mother described. Although, that was 20something years ago and they were married. He's my father. Our relationship is obviously different. I think so much time has passed that those things shouldn't really matter anymore. Anything he did, he didn't do directly to me. They either happened to my mom or just plain happened. I had little to do with it.

I think what frustrates me most is knowing that I missed out on something. I didn't invite him to any graduations (high school or college) and I didn't invite him to my wedding. {Although, honestly, it would have been way awkward.} I don't call him "dad" because he was never really around. And I'm fairly certain he's an introvert too, which doesn't exactly help in the talking-to-people department. I just... I never really got the chance to know my father. Not the guy who married my mom, although he is an important part of my life, but the guy without whom I literally wouldn't be here. The one guy who's biologically engineered to love me. I don't even have any pictures of us...well, except for the ones he sent me via email. And I was a teeny, tiny little baby in those. 

That's it. That's all I have. It just...it just sucks. There's really no other way to put it.

Did I have a good childhood? Yes. Did I have a father figure in my life, who I came to call "dad?" Yes. Is it the same as having your own father in your life? Absolutely not. I always felt sort of...different. My brother looks a lot like my dad. Aside from hair color, I look like my mom. But I always sort of stuck out like a sore thumb. Or at least I felt that way. Red hair, blue eyes, pasty white skin, glasses, contacts, nose stuck in a book, quiet, to myself kind of person. My [step]dad has black hair and green eyes, Mom has brownish blonde hair and green eyes, my brother has brown hair and brown eyes. And there's me. A lot of people my brother and I went to school with didn't even know we were related until we told them. Allow me to remind you that I graduated with 37 people. That's how you know it's bad.

I've totally gotten off on a tangent here. The point is this: God totally gets the credit for healing this relationship. It's amazing to me that we're on a speaking basis after so long, and after so many years of me hearing bad things about him. It's also amazing how I feel about all this. I never imagined that I'd want to know him, let alone that I'd feel sad about all the years and things we missed out on. I'll never know what that was like. But I'm glad we're here. I can only hope that things will continue to get better, and thank God along the way.

P.S. Thanks to everyone who participated in the Wednesday Walkabout yesterday!! =D It was a hit! Can't wait for next week! (And maybe I'll get the link to work on time, too.)


Jen said...

I pray that your relationship with him gets better. I am happy that you reached out to him. :)

Chantal said...

I hope you guys can figure out a good relationship. I don't understand exactly how it works, since I haven't been there, but my two older sisters have a different father and my dad raised them as his own - so I know a bit.

Durante said...

This is a really touching story; I think you're right, it's amazing that you two are able to reconnect, and it's hard to get past all the poison you had been fed over the years. Good for you!

Allie said...

My real dad is no longer in my life... sort of similar sort of different. Divorced when I was super young, then he was there, then he wasn't and then he vanished, came back and is gone again. Alcoholic, abusive... just not needed. He has never met my husband or seen me in years and years. My step dad is my dad and I love him dearly.

I hope the two of you grow close and everything works out!

Mei Lian said...

I could not help but tear reading this. I can not grasp the idea of my father not being there. I pray you are able to develop your relationship in the way you wish.

Crazy Shenanigans-JMO said...

I can totally relate to this post. I haven't had a relationship with my dad since I was about 14 and in the last year or two he's been trying to come back into my life.

blm said...

Thanks so much for sharing this! I am raising my stepdaughter full-time, and it's been such a challenge for me to find the right balance of being "mom" for 10 months out of the year, while also trying to encourage a relationship between her and her bio-mom. Unfortunately, we don't get along with her bio-mom at all (we have tried and continue to try for her sake), and she's not ever had a real bond with her. I would love to hear your suggestions (maybe things you wish your mom had done), to try to do the best we can with this situation.