On Saturday I graduated from law school. And as excited and thankful as I was, something cast a pall over the celebration because my dad wasn’t there for me.
Yes, he and my stepmother came to the celebration. But they refused to sit on the same row as everyone else because my mother’s boyfriend (henceforth referred to as her partner, because saying boyfriend is weird at their age) was there. When I left the arena and came to hug my father, his words were not “Congratulations, I’m so proud of you” but “I love you but I hate that son of a b*tch.” When we went out to the courtyard, I was savoring the moment, chatting with my siblings but he broke it up to say “Let me get my pictures so we can leave.” He had told me earlier in the week that he had to work, and since then his sister had been taken to the hospital for surgery related to her cancer treatment. Understandable. But in his haste to leave he didn’t refer to that, he talked about how he couldn’t stand to be around my mom’s partner. As a gift, he gave me the money to treat everyone to lunch but stipulated that it wasn’t to be spent on “that man”.
The rest of us went to lunch and had a wonderful time. But it bugged me, not least of all because the words I thought I’d hear from my father came from my mom’s partner. He was the one who gave me a big hug and said, “Congratulations, I’m proud of you. You did good.” Today I spoke to him on the phone. He tried to explain himself and say that my mom’s partner says inappropriate things. “He is just so arrogant and pompous. He had the nerve to say- in front of me, your father~- that he needed to walk around and catch you so he could have the first picture.” I responded by saying he just likes to joke and you have to ignore it, and honestly I was a little disappointed because I felt that he let his dislike for my mom’s partner, overshadow my accomplishment. From there the conversation devolved into a monologue of how ungrateful I was, how dare I say that after all he’s done for me when mom’s partner has done nothing; that the fact he’s been around as long as my stepmom is irrelevant because he and my mom aren’t married; that if I take pictures with him at my wedding he’ll be hurt and disappointed. I only call when I need something and I didn’t even wish my stepmom a happy Mother’s Day (untrue on both counts).
I have spent the past 5 or 6 years of my life actively trying to build a better relationship with my father. He has always been emotionally distant. I thought that since I was growing up, that maybe we could start to speak on more equal footing, and that my feelings would matter just a little bit. But unless I’m showering him with praise, it goes south. My dad can recite every perceived wrong that I’ve done to him and my stepmother going back a decade or more, but the things I do right are summarily dismissed. It has become clear that he has no interest in my feelings. Anytime I do or say something he dislikes, he says I am selfish, greedy, ungrateful. If he’s in high dudgeon, there’s a guilt trip about how he won’t be around forever and I’ll regret not appreciating him while he was around to see it. Frankly, it’s starting to feel like emotional abuse and I’m not having it. I’ve wasted years of my life trying to be the perfect daughter in order to gain his approval but I finally see that will never happen. I’ll always love my father, but he does not have the right to be in my life just because we share DNA.
From now on, our relationship will be strictly surface level. I’m keeping all my opinions and feelings to myself. If it’s not about something neutral like the weather or the news, or impossible to avoid like the wedding? I’m not speaking on it. I thought we could be open and honest with each other but he either can’t handle it or doesn’t want to be bothered. But I won’t continue to put myself in situations where he is going to belittle me. I have yelled, screamed, cursed and shed tears over how my father treats me and I won’t do it anymore. It’s not worth it. If he asks why I’m acting so distant, I’ll tell him–but only one time. I’m sure my honesty will incite more bad behavior on his part, but I think it’s fair to give people an opportunity to change. From now on, the ball is in his court. When he’s ready to treat me with respect and kindness, even when my actions don’t please him, I’ll be waiting.