As often happens this time of year, I find myself thinking of my father.  My birthday is 10 days from now and that means that his is 12 days away.  You would think that would help him remember my birthday, but he claims he doesn’t remember his own.  That was his defense for not acknowledging me most years.

I only lived with my father for 10 years.  For almost all 10 of those years, the man was drunk.  Rumor has it that when my mother went into labor, she had to retrieve him from the home of a neighbor where the two were slamming back a case of Miller Genuine Draft. 

My father was a carpenter by trade, though, quite frankly, I haven’t the foggiest clue how he managed to do his job day in and day out with the amount of beer he consumed.  He must have done it well enough since to the best of my knowledge he generally did have a job.  That is until, in 1986 at the age of 37, he fell from the second story of a building he was constructing onto the concrete floor below him. 

“I had cut a hole in the floor and covered it with a piece of plywood so it wouldn’t be exposed.  I said to myself, ‘Jim, don’t step back.’  Well, someone must have moved the wood.  I stepped back and the wood was gone and I fell.”

That was his official story.  My mother says he was probably drunk and forgot where he was.

My mom worked at the local library and I would go there afterschool to help her shelve books in the children’s room.  I was just shy of my 10th birthday, but I already had a great love for the organization of the stacks.  It was just Mom and me and the other librarian on this paticular afternoon.  Mom got the call at work that my father had fallen and was in the hospital.  They asked if she would come up and she said no.  She told me that “unfortunately” he would live, which was a shame because he was worth more dead.  She was more annoyed than anything else that the car was at the jobsite in Connecticut, quite a bit away from our home in New Jersey.  Regardless, she was glad to be rid of him for awhile.

He broke a few ribs and damaged his kidneys and lungs.  As a heavy smoker and drinker, I’m sure the condition was grave.  But, he pulled through and returned home about a week later.  He was sober when he got there.  I imagine this would have been a pretty rough detox made easier only by the painkillers I’m sure he received for his injuries.  I was told that he was told that another drink could kill him.  I recall my mother making some sort of joke about that, insinuating that if that was true, she’d buy him a beer.

The next few months were odd, with my parents seemingly attempting to salvage their marriage of nearly 15 years with Dad’s new found sobriety.  He was out of work and not drunk.  Things got done around the house.  Projects that had lingered for years were being completed.  Our house was small with only 2 bedrooms.  My father built a wall that split my parents’ room in two.  Part was given to my brother, part housed their dressers.  My parents slept on the couches so that my brother and I, now 12 and 10 respectively, could have our own rooms.

I remember my 10th birthday like it was yesterday.  My parents brought my brother and me and my best friend to a local carnival.  We never did anything as a family.  I was finally starting to feel like maybe we would all be OK.  That was one of my happiest birthdays, even to this day, because of the hope it represented.

In August of 1986, my father had a relapse and in a drunken rage beat my mother so severely she needed medical attention.  A restraining order was filed and I never lived with him again.  He stayed with a friend, then in his car, then in a motel attached to a bar.  Then back to the car when his money ran out.  I saw him a few times in late 1986 by court ordered supervised visitation until he stopped showing up.  We spoke on the phone and he wrote letters from his various stints in rehab.  We eventually stopped talking.

My parents didn’t offically divorce until I was a freshman in high school.  Neither of them could afford to.  I really don’t know what prompted it when it did happen.  It doesn’t even matter.

On and off between then and now, I’ve attempted to have a relationship with this man.  He is not receptive, or rather, he is incapable of having a relationship.  My step-mother has no interest in my family and since he legally cannot drive anymore, it would all be on me.  I know it’s for the best.  While he has been sober now for about 20 years, he is so damaged and so broken that he just can’t function in the real world. I let him into my life, into my home and I allowed him to get to know my son for the first year of Nathan’s life.  He showed his true colors and closed the door on our relationship again in 2008.

He told me I remind him of my mother.  I’m sure that reminders of that time in his life are hard for him.  He doesn’t want to try to remember and he doesn’t want to drink the memories away.  Therefore, he avoids me.  On the one hand, that’s fine with me.  I don’t want him in my life.  I don’t want him to ever hurt my son like he’s hurt me.  Though it may be childish to make a statement as simplistic as this, I don’t think he wants to find a way for us to connect.  It may hurt him to not know me, but clearly not enough to really work so that he can. 

I think that’s what has bothered me for the last quarter-century.  It’s not the horrible things he did.  It’s not the drinking or the violence or his inability to be a father in any real sense.  It’s the fact that even though I’ve forgiven him and I was willing to let all of it go and start over with him, as adults, me needing nothing from him, he still didn’t want me around enough to make an effort.  He didn’t and still doesn’t love me enough to want to be a part of my life. 

I’ve accepted this and I am done reaching out to him.  Since I have a child of my own to protect, there is nothing my father can say or do that will convince me to let him into my life.  Some day, maybe, that acceptance won’t hurt me so much.  Until then, every May, every birthday of mine and his that passes, simply serves as a reminder to me of all that has transpired in the past.

So happy birthday, Dad, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  I don’t know if you will think of me, but I’ll think of you.  Not exactly fondly, but certainly sadly.

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66 Responses to “Dad.”

  1. Hi Michelle this is the first time that I am reading your blog. Discovered you on Yeah Write. I have also for different reasons given up on my biological father, in my case it was different I had a wonderful step father who was my real Dad.

    • Hi Vivian – thanks for reading. I’ve actually read your blog via Twitter before, so it’s nice to have you here! Sometimes giving up is all you can do. Glad you had a stepfather to fill that role for you.

  2. oh michelle. my heart hearts for you. even if these wounds are healed, some days make them sting red and i would imagine his birthday would be a day such as this. big ol’ hugs from me. squeeze that boy of yours tight. know that you are doing right by him. giving him the love he deserves, and also? teaching him what love looks like. that lesson will make him into a great, great man.

  3. Robbie K says:

    This is heartbreaking and so much for a child to endure. I’m sure it is with mixed emotions that you think of him at all. sorry that he is too broken to mend his relationship with you but wonderful to know he is sober.

    • Yes, I agree that it is so good that he’s sober now. I truly am happy for him for whatever happiness he has found in his life. I wouldn’t wish him unhappiness – I’m sure having to live with the choices he’s made is suffering enough. Thanks for your kind words.

  4. MamaMash says:

    I don’t have a relationship with my dad either. Not because I haven’t tried. Not like he deserved all my efforts anyway, what with the past and all. But he doesn’t make any effort.

    I wonder if it’s because it’s too painful for him to even think of me?

    • That’s kind of how I feel – that he can’t live with his behavior and though I’ve forgiven him, he’s never forgiven himself. It’s sad, but it’s on him. He had his chances. I’m sorry you don’t have your dad either.

  5. carrie says:

    There is something instinctual about wanting our parents to love us the way we love our children. I know you have moved past that wish, as a parent yourself your one job is to take care of your baby and because of your past I think you are doing this so beautifully. You will never hurt your son the way your father hurt you.

    I’m sorry he couldn’t have been what you needed!

    • Thanks Carrie. Accepting him for who he is and his limitations has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I tell my son daily (and probably too much!) how much I love him. He will never, ever have to wonder how I feel about him.

  6. This is an excellent post, clearly illustrating your journey and your insightful questioning of how to integrate your absent father into your life today. The statement that resonated with me the most was, “It may hurt him to not know me, but clearly not enough to really work so that he can.” This is my mom. And it hurts. I am in the process of grieving a mom that I thought I had, but didn’t–one I want to have, but won’t. I am hopeful that after the grieving, there will be space for love from others. Even though it won’t be her, it’ll still be love. I’m sorry for your experiences and I want you to know, you deserve love.

    • Thank you so much. Grieving for what we can’t have, what by all accounts we should have, is just so hard. I hope you can make peace. Some days are way harder than others, but in the end, for me, it’s been so freeing to not carry it with me every day. The days it does weigh on me are just so exhausting. It helps to write – to say the things I can’t say to him. I appreciate your comments, as always.

  7. Delilah Love says:

    I’m so sorry that you don’t get to have the father that you deserve. This is such an excellent post, full of emotion and insight. I loved it!

  8. Such a beautifully written, very sad post.
    Thank you so much for sharing, I bet it wasn’t easy!

  9. Gia says:

    Ugh, how hard for you and your family. Good for you for recognizing that its time to do whats best for you and your new family.

  10. I have no patience left for alcoholics and their supposed “disease.” Put the bottle down already! My childhood was dominated by them, I foolishly married one, then suffered through divorcing him, and I am DONE. Look at you: thoughtful, insightful, wonderful writer, a great mother, wife and daughter. He doesn’t deserve you. I know that doesn’t make it hurt less, but there it is. Well-told, Michelle, as always.

    • Thank you so much. You are always so sweet. You’re right, he doesn’t deserve to know me. It took me so long to believe that about myself… Thank you for saying so.

  11. Michelle, this breaks my heart. I don’t know why a father would choose not to have someone as wonderful as you in his life…it’s his loss, there’s no doubt about that. Through your words here, you show so much grace. Through the forgiveness of your father, you show just what he’s missing out on.

    Beautiful words.

    • Thank you Katie. He was never loved either, he had a very hard life – not that it’s an excuse, but I think he was never taught how to love and be loved. His family really did a number on him and I just refused to carry that forward to another generation. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

  12. Karine says:

    Ah, fathers… they can really brake a little girl’s hear, can’t they?

    My dad was also an alcoholic and was mostly a shitty father. But at least he was there and he did love me, in his own alcohol twisted way.

    However, eventually, his alcoholism caught with him. My mother left him (and I went with her but I was 18 y/o – a bit old for shared custody). My brother shuttled back and forth (at 14 y/o, it was his choice). Just shy of my 20th b-day, I moved out of my mom’s but not before I had removed my brother from my Dad’s custody, that’s how bad things had gotten. And then, just 5 short months later, he passed away.

    His drinking had literally made his pancreas explode. Official cause of death: Excessive internal hemorrhaging due to acute pancreatis.

    So why am I rambling on about my own stuff on your blog like a total asshat? Because I want to let you know that I get it. I really do. You just have to do whats right for yourself and your son. You owe your father nothing. However, I will say that you need to ask yourself this: if he died tomorrow, would I have any regrets about how things are currently? Am I going to have a bunch of what ifs? and I should’ve…? If the answer is no, then you are absolutely doing the right thing. If the answer is yes, then maybe you shouldn’t completely give up on him and your relationship with him.

    Amazing post.

    • Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m so sorry you went through that.

      To answer your question: No, I don’t think I’ll have any regrets. I tried so hard. He turned me away. I spoke to him nearly 2 years ago and he didn’t ask how my son or husband were. Literally never mentioned them as though they didn’t exist. He needs help – he may be sober, but he’s not well, if that makes any sense. I would never say never, but it would have to be one amazing turn around on his part for me to give him another chance. I just can’t let myself get hurt anymore.

      It’s sad, but it’s not my fault. It’s his. He is the one who didn’t try. If he tried, I’d probably hear him out, if for no other reason than I’d want someone to do the same for me, even though I hope I never put someone in that position.

      I do appreciate your comment though, I hope I didn’t come across otherwise. Thank you, sincerely :)

  13. Pish Posh says:

    Oh god Michelle. If I can offer anything please believe me in this. I have had a lot of experience with your dad – the way that that type of man is. I know your dad is unique of course and I dont know you or him. But please believe me, I know just from reading your words…

    It is NOT that he doesn’t love you. It isn’t that he doesn’t want it enough. As hard as it is to understand and as completely rational and understandable as it is to say “but…” and “but I would make it easy…” I REALLY think the simple truth of the matter is he is completely ashamed of himself. Your love makes him feel like a pathetic loser. The fact that you would love him, that your baby son would know him – that makes him see and realize and have to deal with his flaws, his past, his failures. It so completely is not about you.

    I know this man. I tell him his children just want to feel loved, to have his company, to see him, to feel wanted. To know they are thought about. This man thinks all they want is presents, and that they are better off without him in their life.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s what I think.

    Beautiful, honest, real post. I’m so sorry for all that you’ve gone through, and your mother too.

    You know what though, the parents sleeping on the couch is such a sign of love and two people doing the best they could.

    • You 100% hit the nail on the head. Your comment resonated with me since I first read it and this is the first chance I had to come back and respond. My adult mind knows everything you say is true. The little girl that lived it – she creeps in every now and again and says very different things. Thank you for the compliment. And your last line, doing the best they could – that’s why I love my parents, faults and all. They don’t ask parents if they’ll be good at it or capable, our bodies reproduce with little thought to how we’ll care for our children. They did the best they could, through all of their limitations. Accepting that all they wanted was what was best, even when they couldn’t give it, was the first step towards forgiving them.

  14. Pish Posh says:

    and by presents what I mean is that all HE can see is that he cannot provide, feels that he has nothing to give, and that he is only bringing others down by being around, it is hatred of himself, not lack of love for you.

  15. christina says:

    oh Michelle. ugh. alcohol is so friggin evil. (and yes, i did read that he’s sober now but…).
    i’m sorry.

  16. Kathy Kramer says:

    There’s something about the father-daughter dynamic and how a bad one has such a negative effect on the daughter’s life.

    I’ve reached that point myself, I no longer care about having a relationship with my father. I went through the same sort of thing when I was in my mid30s after fifteen years of estrangement. It was my father who initiated it, but then he was the one to piss it away.

    My husband is at the same point as you are with his mother. He no longer wants a relationship with someone who won’t help herself. He’s done with her.

    My father was not an alcoholic, but I totally get what you’re feeling right now. ((Hugs))

  17. DawnMarie38 says:

    Michelle….no words for you…except I find you very brave to verbalize your thoughts…u r a strong woman…I admire that…and Happy Birthday….hope u have a great day enjoying your son and hubby!

  18. I like to fanasize about a world where all little children get to grow up feeling loved and cherished by two parents because that is how we all deserve to feel as children, loved, treasured, cherished. I know its just a fantasy…but I wish.

    • All children? Yes, that’s a fantasy. Our kids, we can make that happen. We DO make that happen. My son will never wonder how I feel about him (at least I hope not!). That’s what I can do to end the cycle. Those of us who have ever felt unloved can teach our children what love feels like so they can teach theirs.

  19. Such sadness and so beautifully expressed. I hope your little one helps being healing to your life and that every happy day you have now helps to ease that little girl pain.

  20. Ado says:

    Oh, sweetie. Major squeeze-hug for you. I can relate so much. I am tearing up as I read your words. Alcoholism sucks, it just does. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that and then he finally got sober but was still so damaged he couldn’t be there for you – I’m sure that is what hurts the most – but just remember, he is brain-damaged. Sending you hugs and a vote too. (-:

    • Thanks, hugs back to you, because I know you get it. Just from reading your posts, I know you know…

      And yes, brain damaged. Sober is good. I know he’s happier now than he was then. I hope someday he can truly be happy in life.

  21. Vanessa says:

    This makes me appreciate that my ex did turn himself around and try to be a better dad. It was rocky at first because he went from one extreme to the other, but it’s gotten okay with time.

    • I’m glad to hear things got better for your ex. I think for most of us when you love someone, you want them to get better, even if that can’t erase anything they’d done to hurt us. We want the best for them.

  22. So sad, and perfectly written

  23. Kristin says:

    Beautifully written. It takes a strong will and a full heart to make a decision like that. And to write a post like that.

  24. so well written, a strong and brave post. thank you.

  25. TriGirl says:

    This was so honestly written. There is nothing simple about the situation, but you wrote it so clearly. I hope you have a very happy birthday with your little boy :)

  26. Lisa Nolan says:

    Happy birthday to you, and only you! My mom did not continue her relationship with her father when she was an adult, and never even went to his funeral. She did not feel sad, more like angry. It stayed a part of her always. I don’t know if forgiving him would have helped (he was a womanizer who only cared about himself, her words). And I don’t have any words of wisdom. OK, a few. Maybe it’s like a death, and there are stages you go through when someone close to you dies. Having a special needs child was kind a like that for me in a way. And I went through many stages (denial, sadness, depression, anger, rage, alcohol, honesty, acceptance, then forgiveness). What I can say is, facing your demons REALLY SUCKS. But I think it’s better to face them. My mom never did, and it made her bitter. OK, I’ve ranted long enough! I’m on to the next blog!

    • I’ve had a LOT of therapy over the years which makes dealing with the limitation of my parents so much easier. I was angry for so long, sometimes I still am. But anger only hurts me and takes away from my parenting. I try to give my feelings an outlet and then go back to living life. The past is the past and nothing will change that.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes!

  27. Happy birthday! I hope the relationships you do have are a special treausure, especially this time of year. The clarity in this post is excellent. I hope that rubs off on my writing!

  28. Wow, such a powerful story, thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry about your dad. Wish I knew what to say. My husband has a difficult relationship with his father and is currently not speaking to him, and I never know what to say to him either. It’s just a situation that shouldn’t exist.

  29. Julia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story and this personal piece of you. Wishing you a very happy birthday.

  30. He might be avoiding shame, but it’s no reason to abandon family again. I went through something slightly similar, not so violent, and the man just passed away a month ago. I keep expecting to feel a loss, and I just don’t. It sounds like you’ll work it through on your own. It’s always a shame.

    • I hope you can find peace – even if you don’t feel the loss. I think that when we have to deal with situations like this, we start grieving earlier than when the person passes away. Then when it does happen, it’s not the same slamming into a brick wall feeling you hear about. At least that’s how it was with my mother when she passed. It is a shame though, like you say.

  31. The story is a testament of the strength you gained from being in such unstable environments as a kid. It sounds like you’ve done a very good job of making sure that you don’t repeat most of the same mistakes. Happy birthday, Michelle.

    • Thanks :). It took me a long time to gain from this experience rather than let it hold me back. But I didn’t want to end up like him, like his mother, and probably like his grandparents. This alcoholism started long before he was a boy and likely won’t stop with his generation. But knowing these things, knowing the cycle I was born into has helped me to see my role in stopping it. Thanks for the birthday wishes.

  32. Jackie says:

    Oh Michelle, how brave of you to share. I only imagine it’s not something you enjoy remembering. I do hope you had a fabulous birthday none the less.

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