Goodbye Dad, I Love You
“Mommy, will you always love me?” The Girl Child asked, seemingly at random.
“Always,” I answered.
“Will you always like me?” she asked next.
“Maybe not” I said.
Harsh, I know.
As she stared back at me with a shocked expression on her sweet, seven year old face, I began to explain.
“I will always, always, love you, and nothing that you will ever do is going to change that. You will always be my baby, and I will always be your momma. But, there will probably be times when you make choices that I don’t like, and during those times, I will always love you, but I might not like the things you are doing, or the choices you are making. I might be angry with you, or upset with you, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love you.”
She sat there for a minute and as I watched a look of understanding flash behind her eyes, she said “Ohhhh, so that’s what you mean when you always say ‘Girl Child, I want you to go to your room because I am not happy with you. I love you, but I don’t like the way you are acting’.” “Yep!” I exclaimed. “That is exactly what I mean. Sometimes people do things that we don’t like, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t love them.”
And when it comes to my children, that will never, ever change. There is nothing that they will ever be able to do, that stops me from loving them with every fiber of my being. That doesn’t mean that I will always be happy with them, or that I will approve of the choices they make, but nothing they can do is ever going to lessen the love that I have for them, and nothing will ever stop me from wanting to protect them.
Because I am their mother, and my love for them runs deeper than the beat of my heart.
I miss my dad.
Yet I do.
My dad, as I’ve mentioned before, has Aspergers, which, for those of you who aren’t familiar with that disorder, it means that he has high functioning autism. And unless you were really tuned in to his need for rigidity (we did this last year on this day, in this exact way, so we must always do it in the exact same way), familiarity (I don’t need new carpet, I’ve had the same carpet for 32 years and I like it!), his black and white thinking (we are either OK, or not OK, and nothing in between), and his basic lack of understanding when it comes to emotions, you may not even notice. All people with Aspergers present differently, and this is just the way that the disorder presents itself in him.
It is what it is, but growing up with him at times, it was hell.
Especially with a mother who uses a legitimate mental illness, to manipulate every single person around her.
She knew exactly what she was doing, oh hell yes she did, because she would say one thing to my face in a hissed, hot, breath of seething angry words, and then turn around, turn on her puppy dog eyes, well up some tears, and give him the sob story that never included any mention of her role in it.
And he would fall for it, every, single, time.
As the years went on, her mental health declined, but her manipulation increased. Soon, the weight of her mental illness rested upon my shoulders alone, and the fate of her future lay in my hands.
If she didn’t like something I did, she would become depressed.
If she didn’t like something I said, she would check herself into the hospital.
If I didn’t do what she wanted me to do, she would attempt suicide; telling people that I was the one who had pushed her to the brink.
Every emotion that she had seemed directly tied to me, and at the same time, her perception of reality was so far from what was actually going on, that no logical person would have stood a chance in getting her to act rationally.
Her mental health issues were never my fault.
She had problems long before whatever I brought into her life at the time of my conception, and any relation she was drawing from my existence to her mental instability, lay somewhere in a region of her brain that I myself had absolutely no control over.
But my father?
Well, he couldn’t fix my mother, but maybe he could stop me from ruining her.
And so her mental health?
It became my job.
“Eden, whatever she says to you, do not talk back. I don’t care if she is screaming and yelling, chasing you around the house, and pulling you down the stairs by your hair, do not react, because I know that you can handle it. Your mom is sick, so I need you to be strong, because she can’t control herself, but you can.”
JUST TAKE IT.
It doesn’t matter what she is doing to you, saying to you, or how she is destroying you, you just take it, because it’s your job.
That should never have been my responsibility.
I was the child and she was the parent. HE WAS THE PARENT.
He should have been protecting me, but he wasn’t, because he didn’t understand how.
In his mind, my mother was a death risk, and I? Well, I wasn’t.
So it really didn’t matter if his wife was destroying his child, because he was saving his wife.
And he told me so, on many occasions, that she was his priority, and that I was second. I think — or at least I’ve managed to convince myself — that deep down, he must have known that I was stronger than her, that I would survive, and her?
Maybe she wouldn’t.
And he wasn’t wrong, because I did survive, but probably not in the way that he had imagined, because I grew, I learned, I survived, and then I left.
I love my dad, because I don’t think that he intentionally meant to harm me, but as a parent, he never really protected me either.
He never really raised me.
When my mom left, he “left” too. Spending hours upon hours at his office, coming home at 1 and 2 am. And when he was home, he wasn’t really forming any kind of relationship with me. He always told me that it was because I was a girl and he just couldn’t relate to me because of it, but I think that outside of any hobbies that he understood, he just really couldn’t relate to anyone at all.
Father-daughter conversations? I can’t remember one that didn’t involve my mother being the topic.
In fact, the one time a year that we spent together, was when he would take a half a day off of work to take me to a business conference for his company, and then he would take me out to lunch. I loved it and I lived for it, because it was time with him.
I needed him, but he never really understood that.
Just like he didn’t understand that when I met my ex, I was drowning. Drowning in life, living in despair, looking for anyone who would take a real interest in me, and desperate for the male attention that he had never given me.
My dad, he didn’t like my ex, but rather than build me up so that I would have known that I deserved better, my dad tore me down, and helped me pack when I moved out.
It was one of the most defining moments of my life; knowing that the only man who was willing to fight for me, was the loser who was fighting my father for my hand.
A hand, that my dad let go of.
After my son was born, when my marriage really started to fall apart, I continuously went to my parents asking them to help me get divorced, but instead my dad made me an appointment with a counselor. I didn’t want to go because I knew what his thought process was. It was that if I could fix my marriage, then all would be right with the world, but my world was so damaged and broken at the hands of my husband, that no amount of talk therapy was ever going to change my husband’s abusive hands or his drug addicted lifestyle.
But I went, because I was trying to be the daughter that my dad wanted me to be, and I was yearning for help — any help — from the father I wished I had.
My dad had his own appointment at the same time, in the same office, with a different therapist, so week after week, we would walk into therapy together, and week after week, we would walk out together, and in his Apsergers mind, we were on our way to everything being OK.
Because it was OK, right? We were fixing things, right?
Except that we weren’t. With each appointment I would attend, he was more certain that my old life was right around the corner, and I was becoming more certain that I needed to shut the door to that life completely.
The counselor, after talking with me for several weeks, asked if she could have permission to talk to my father’s counselor. I gave it, and after gaining permission from him to talk to his counselor, both counselors sat us down for a joint session.
The entirety of the meeting is a bit more blurry than many of my other memories, but the phrases that stick out at me the most, are as follows:
“You can’t continue to sacrifice your daughter for your wife. Do you realize that you are hurting her? Do you realize that she got married to this man, because no one ever taught her that she was allowed to stand up for herself? Do you realize that by forcing her to stay married, that you are once again putting someone else above your own child? Do you realize that she is not safe, and that this is not a marriage that you should be invested in saving? Do you realize that you can’t keep sweeping these issues under the rug?”
I spent the majority of the appointment with my gaze fixed on the floor, listening to the counselor tell him everything that I had ever needed him to hear. Then, when I finally wiped the tears from my eyes and willed myself to look at expression on my father’s face, a thousand pounds of despair descended upon my shoulders, covered by the light of finally understanding, that he did not, in fact, understand.
He had literally no ability to process what the counselor was saying, or to understand what he was putting me through, because in his Aspergers mind — a place where emotions don’t make any sense and the world is black and white — he had done everything right.
His wife was alive, his daughter was alive, and as long as I stayed married, my family would survive.
His family would survive.
The world he had spent a lifetime trying to create, would survive.
But I wasn’t surviving.
I was dying inside and he didn’t see it.
He couldn’t see it.
It’s mind boggling to me that my parents had managed to find each other; two people in this world who were just messed up enough to really make it work, but too messed up to let anything around them thrive.
He was unintentionally killing me, with what he thought was help.
As you know from the rest of my story, my husband abandoned us and that was the end of my marriage. My parents were never supportive, and eventually I was the one to do the abandoning when I walked away from them.
Except there is one part of the story that I never told you.
A year after I stopped talking to my parents, after some pretty intense counseling on my part, I reached back out to my dad. With a better understanding of his lack of understanding, I thought that maybe I could form some sort of relationship with him. What that would look like, I wasn’t sure, but I was willing to try.
He was happy, excited even, but when I told him that my first steps toward him would have to be without my mother, he froze, and said that she wouldn’t be able to handle that.
It was then that I realized, that it wasn’t just about saving my mother, but also about saving himself. I truly don’t think that he knows how to exist outside of the world that she has created around him.
He couldn’t move forward without her, and I, well I couldn’t move forward with her.
So there we stood, neither of us really able to compromise, neither of us being capable of moving, and eventually, after realizing that he would never be able to see me in the shadow behind my mother, I did walk away.
He cried, a lot, and that killed me, more than you will ever know, but I needed a father who was able to protect me from someone who was hurting me, and when I realized that person had never been, and never would be him, I needed to let him go.
And not even just him, but the idea of who I thought he could be; of who I so desperately wanted him to be for me.
The father that I never really had, but always wished he was.
But, never really there to begin with.
It’s been a couple of years since that day, and it still hurts. I look at my kids, and I know, that come hell or high water, I may show them tough love, but I will always love them through tough times.
In my family, times got tough, but my father, he couldn’t figure out how to love me through them.
He really just didn’t know how.
So that kills me, because I know that he probably doesn’t know any better, that he really isn’t capable of more, but I simply got to the point where I could no longer martyr myself for someone who maybe did love me, but not in the way that I needed.
Sometimes, the people that we want to love us, want to love us, but simply just can’t love us in the ways that we actually need to be loved.
Does he love me?
I hope so.
But the kind of love that he is capable of showing me, it only hurts me.
I just can’t afford to be loved like that.
They say that it’s better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all, and sometimes, it’s better to let go of love, than to be loved in a way that hurts you.
So I let go, because even though he may never have been capable of saving me, he still somehow raised me to be able to save myself. And if that’s the only lesson that I ever learn from our father-daughter relationship, well then, thank you dad.
I know you tried.
I love you.