Five Years After Disowning My Family, I Texted My Father Because I Needed Help
A card came in the mail today, with a return address reflecting my former maiden name. Immediately, I panicked a bit. “Why is my ex-family sending me a card? Who would even be sending it?”
The return address didn’t look familiar, and as far as I know, nobody from my family lives in the town in where it was coming from. But then again, I haven’t talked to anyone in my family for six years now, so it’s a possibility that what was once before, may not be what is now.
All that I do know, is that I didn’t want to open it. Which is ironic, because last year around this time, I texted my dad.
Yes, you read that right. Five years after cutting off my family completely, I texted my dad.
In the years since disowning my family, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve thought about the childhood I had in their home. The Friday night pizza nights where my mom would spread a blanket out on the family room floor, and we’d all dig into a deep dish pizza while watching “TGIF” on TV. I’ve thought about the road trips we would take, with each trip commencing only after we all sang the same goofy “Family Vacation” song as we pulled out of the driveway. And I’ve thought about the dry erase board that I kept on my desk, so that after I was asleep, my dad could sneak in and add one detail to the picture that we kept drawing night-after-night, for months.
Since disowning my family, all of those memories have ceased to be created. I’ve now lived through six sets of holidays without my family, each one taking on new traditions that I’m forming with my children, while equally missing the one’s that my parents established with me.
Did you know that each and every year on Christmas morning, my dad would cancel Christmas? Usually yelled in a furry because his VHS camcorder never seemed to work when he wanted it to, or the bickering between my brothers and I had gotten under his skin, but either way, he cancelled Christmas every year, on Christmas morning. And in turn, my brothers and I would erupt into a fit of laughter and try to pinpoint which one of us had won the previously placed bet, on how long it would take him call the whole holiday off.
I miss all of those memories, and it took me a long time to accept that it’s OK to have them. To comprehend that I am allowed to remember things about my family, that make me happy. It’s a concept that was difficult for me to come to terms with, because I thought, that if I could remember good times, then I was wrong to have disowned my family.
Cutting someone off from your life is never an easy thing to do. Cutting off your entire family, takes with it a huge part of your identity. I no longer have people that I come from. Traditions that I grew up with. Bloodlines that share their DNA with me.
Now, I’m just me.
Over the years, I’ve come to terms with that, and I have learned to be OK with it. Because although I do remember the good times, I also can’t forget the bad. The bad, which unfortunately, significantly outweighs the good.
I’ve heard a lot of opinions on my decision over the years. Some unwavering in their support, and many chastising me for what I’ve done. I’ve heard that my mother is destroyed by not being able to see her grandchildren, and I’ve been told that I am the most selfish daughter a mother could have. And although each judgmental comment makes me feel as if I want to put up my arms in defense and pull out my weapons, I’ve also made peace in knowing that I don’t need to prove my reasoning to anyone, except my kids and I.
Six years ago I was fresh out of an abusive marriage, living in poverty, raising two devastated children, while I pieced together parts of my shattered self. It was a place that had taken me 28 years to get to, walking alongside my family the entire way down. And now, six years later, after walking away from my family, my children and I are standing in the middle of the life I never even dreamt I would have.
So my choices, well, I’m good with them.
But I also, can’t deny my memories.
My mother grew up in an abusive household, and when I was roughly 12 years old, she cut off the majority of her extended family. For reasons that I was always told were beyond my age of comprehension, one day we had a large family, and then suddenly, we no longer did. I remember writing a letter to my aunt, begging her to let me see my cousins, but my mom refused to mail it.
“You need to trust that I’m doing what I think is right” she said to me. But what was right, didn’t feel fair at all.
As I grew up, I came to uncover some of the details of her families departure, and as an adult, I think I now understand why she did what she did. But as a woman living in a cycle that seems eerily familiar to the one that I have been so desperately trying to break, I have to be open to the idea that maybe, I need to handle things differently when it comes to my own disowning of the family.
My mother’s mother lived in abuse, and died of suicide. My mother then grew up in abuse, cutoff her family, and then attempted suicide, before raising me in abuse. I then grew up in abuse, married into it, attempted suicide, and then cut off my family.
And the cycle stopped there. Unlike my mother’s mother, or my mother, I changed. My entire life is so unrecognizable to hers, or the one she grew up in, that I have consistently felt like maybe, I finally broke the chain not only in my life, but in the way I raise my family.
But where things start to blur for me, are the memories rooted in my mother spending hours upon hours waiting on dial up internet, searching the newly invented ancestry websites, trying to figure out where she came from. Floating around on her own, she wanted nothing more than to know who her mother was, and what her bloodlines were, so that she might know who she is.
She seemed rather desperate to know who she was; almost as if in knowing that, then she might finally begin to understand herself, through all the pain that bore away at her soul.
As for myself, I can’t say that I feel that drive. I feel like I know enough of where I came from, to know that I don’t want to know anymore.
But my daughter Savannah doesn’t feel that way.
“I don’t have anyone but you” she cried two years ago while sitting on the couch; feelings that were brought up by me telling her doctor that I don’t have much family medical history beyond my own.
“You have me, and that’s enough” I tried to reassure her. But when she came home from school upset because the semester project was to develop her family tree, our conversation went even deeper. “I don’t know anything about myself” she pleaded. “All I know is that my dad left, and you won’t let me talk to any of your family. I don’t look like you, my skin is darker than you, and everyone who can tell me where I came from, will be really old or dead by the time you let me talk to them!”
It hurt, I won’t deny it. But just because something hurts, doesn’t mean that it gives me the right to shut her feelings down.
So, I didn’t.
For weeks, I thought about what she had said and wondered, are the decisions that I made for myself, the best decisions for her? Am I doing this for me, or am I doing this for her?
Six years ago and for several after that, I know that the choices that I made were for her. Not to delve too deeply into the backstory, but when I did cut off my family, it was only done after numerous situations made it clear that my parents were not in a position to put my children’s needs, before their own desires. When I cut ties between my parents and my children, I didn’t, and still don’t, have a doubt in my mind that my family was a detrimental effect on all of us, and that they needed to go until I could put us all back together.
But Savannah is older now, and her needs are changing.
She wants to know where she came from, and if I don’t want to find her in the same position that my mother was in, then I decided that I would need to continue to do things differently than my mother did for herself, and for me.
I need to put my children first, just as I always have, even when it hurts.
So after several years of having zero contact with my family, my husband Will, called my dad. I was pregnant with Baylor at the time, so when my dad didn’t answer, Will left him a message introducing himself, and explained that we were having a baby. He said that his reason for calling was because he wondered if he might be able to get a couple of my baby pictures, so that he would know where our child came from.
He didn’t mention Savannah, because I wasn’t sure what type of response would come from any type of communication, and I wanted to protect her.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry, because the response, was nothing.
But a year later, with Savannah still asking me where she came from, I decided to text him myself. I kept it rather business professional, but expressed the real reason why I was reaching out, while explaining that it was important for the kids to know where they came from.
Then, immediately after sending the message, I deleted it on my end, because I couldn’t bear to see it in my message history. And for the next few weeks, every time a message came through, I cringed.
But it was never him.
To this day, another year later, I have never heard back from him. And as much as it hurts to know that they can’t set their own issues aside for the best interests of my children, it also doesn’t surprise me.
They never could see past their own self-serving needs, and it’s why I ended up where I was in the first place. It’s why when I walked away, I cut them off from my children too. Not because I wanted to, but because I knew it’s what they needed, and six years later, I am still be reminded why.
I have always put my children first, even when it’s not the easy way, and even when it hurts. A trait, that I clearly didn’t learn from them; the reason, why I knew I needed to leave.
And although my father never responded to me, I have continued to be reminded by our mutual acquaintances, that I destroyed my parents with my refusal to allow them contact with my children. A story which seems pretty par for the course when I look back at my life growing up; the path which led me to where I am today.
So Savannah my love, I’m so sorry that this is happening to you. There is nothing that I wanted more than for you to have something different. If I could give it to you, I would, but the only thing that I can do now, is to continue to try and do things differently.
I know where you come from.
You came from me.
And everything else that you are, well, that comes from you.
You are smart, compassionate, selfless, funny, beautiful, brave, and oh, so loved.
You are the perfect mix of me and you, and although I may not know more than that, I do believe that it’s a pretty good start.
You are amazing, in everything you are, and whoever you want to be.
The card, well it turned out to be from our babysitter, who coincidentally has the same last name as my now-ex-family does; a fact which I repeatedly seem to block from my memory bank. It’s now sitting on my kitchen counter, serving as a reminder that although we may not have a long bloodline, we certainly have built a pretty great group of people around us.
And as for you, I truly hope that you know;
YOU are amazing.
Whoever you are, and whoever you want to be.
Not defined by where you came from, but outlined only by where you are going.