My Dad died and I don’t feel anything.
I had another post planned entirely for this week but as is the way, life hurled at me an unexpected curveball and so I’m dealing with that first.
I was enjoying some lovely quality time with my brood at the weekend when I received a message from my Aunt telling me that my father had died. He had drank a litre of whiskey and taken a stonking dose of Fentanyl so there is absolutely no doubt that he intended on dying. Nobody could have survived what he had put in to his system.
It’s been two years since I spoke to him and even then, those conversations only took place in light of my Nana, his mother, passing away. You see, for as long as I can remember he has drank and prioritized his drinking over my sister and I. I remember being aware of it even as a kid; I would get up on a morning and he would be sat with a mug watching morning television, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was sipping his morning coffee. Only I knew better than that. I’d found the bottle bank hidden underneath his clothes in his wardrobe and I’d smelt it on him. He could have pickled me with one breath of the intoxicated air he breathed out. He’s made poor decisions throughout his life and many of those poor decisions impacted on his daughters yet there was never any remorse or apology. He had every outside agency and support service provider involved with him and he was given plenty of opportunities to turn his life around but he continually chose not to. I had given him chance after chance after chance to change and re-build our relationship and each time he bitterly let me down.
He was a compulsive liar, too. I’m not sure whether it was the drink responsible for these lies or whether he really was, inherently, a person that simply could not speak the truth. In adolescence and beyond, this was ok because I knew not to trust what he said, but as a child, it was devastating. I remember when Disneyland Paris (or Euro Disney as it was then) first opened. My sister and I were desperate to go and during our scheduled contact with our dad, he promised us he would take us. He said he’d booked the tickets and he informed our mum, who was estranged from him, when he would pick us up to take us. We were so excited. We counted down the sleeps to the day of our flight across to Paris. The day finally came and we were left sitting on our suitcases at the front door waiting for him. We waited. And waited. And waited. He never showed up. He had never booked the trip. It had all been an elaborate lie. I’m not sure what his motive was to lie about something like that. He could have easily have said to us something none committal like ‘I’ll take you one day in the future’ or ‘It’s too expensive to go there, let’s think of somewhere else you’d like to go’ or he could, of course, have said absolutely nothing on the subject. Instead, he promised us we were going and continued with the elaborate lie as we counted down the days to our long awaited holiday.
This may not sound like a big deal, but as kids we were devastated. We had told our school friends we were going. Hell, we had told anyone who would listen that we were going. I vividly remember sitting on those suitcases waiting to be collected and with every half hour that passed, I was more and more submerged in disappointment. I thought it was bad enough back then but as a parent now, I really can’t understand why anyone would want to get a child’s hopes up for something special knowing all the time that those hopes won’t turn in to a reality. My heart physically breaks if I mentally trade places with my children and think of them sitting on those suitcases waiting to go on holiday, so excited and on cloud nine. I don’t understand why he did it.
To remove all doubt that something maybe ‘came up’ outside of my father’s control, he continued to lie about everything and anything. In fact, just a couple of years later he surprised me with front row tickets for me and a friend to see my favourite boy band in Wembley. I stupidly hadn’t learnt my lesson and allowed myself (and my friend) to get excited. Everyone at school was jealous. They didn’t have tickets and we did. Only, we didn’t. Obviously. The front row tickets at Wembley didn’t exist. They never did. He had never booked them.
The lies went on and on. They ranged from promised quality time together that was never pulled off, to day trips, holidays – gifts at Christmas – the lot. He lied about EVERYTHING.
It must have been the biggest relief for my Mum when I finally became old enough to realise that he knowingly lied to us time and time again. I can’t imagine what she went through whilst watching her two children be let down time and time again. Once old enough, I eventually voted with my feet and decided not to see him anymore. My sister continued to have some contact but I think that was only the case because she was younger than me and hadn’t quite worked it out for herself yet.
Years passed and second, third and fourth chances were given but all of those chances were shortlived as he continued to consistently demonstrate that he had not changed one bit. The final straw was when I took my little boy to visit him. My boy had just learnt to sit up unaided; he was wobbly but so pleased with himself. I remember him sitting on the floor in the living room, playing with his toys. It was early morning and breakfast TV was on the television. My father staggered in with his “morning coffee” and slurred a good morning to us. As he passed my boy he staggered and tripped over him. He wasn’t hurt, but he got a shock and was upset and crying and that was enough for me. It suddenly dawned on me that I was allowing history to repeat itself by allowing him contact with my child. I was no longer willing to have my child in that environment and I certainly didn’t want my son to build a relationship with a man who had shown me nothing but disappointment after disappointment all my life.
If there was ever any question about whether he’d changed over the years, it was confirmed when I regained contact with my Aunt and cousins from my father’s side of the family via Facebook. I hadn’t been in contact with them for years because when my relationship broke down with my father, he led me to believe that nobody from his family wanted any contact with me. I was pleasantly surprised when my cousin sent me a message asking me how I was. Straight off the bat I sensed a sympathetic tone to the message and I couldn’t make sense of what I was reading. It was referring to something that had happened to me that I had no knowledge of. It was like she’d sent the message to the wrong person. I sent a confused message back to her asking for clarity and it turned out that my father had told his side of the family that I had got sick and that I’d been told that I only had three months to live. This was, of course, just another elaborate lie of his to gain attention of some sort from them.
I felt sick. As a parent I can’t even imagine where you would need to be in your head to lie that your child is terminally ill when absolutely nothing of the sort is going on. I never saw my father after that. We had a few strained telephone conversations, usually when there was some family news to deliver, but that was it. I never got an apology. On the one occasion I felt brave enough to challenge him about what he had said about me, he couldn’t have cared less that he had upset me. He certainly didn’t apologise. He didn’t even explain why he had said those things.
I last spoke to him two years ago. He had got my landline telephone number and he continued to call me on a number of occasions. I don’t know whether this was a weak attempt at building bridges but those bridges were irreparable as far as I was concerned. I actually pulled the landline out to avoid the calls and having to listen to the numerous voicemails – and it remains pulled out to this day.
So when I read that he had died I didn’t know what to feel. My body reacted in a way I didn’t expect. I couldn’t stop shaking and although I fought the tears with every ounce of my strength (because I absolutely refused to cry over the man), I did cry. I’m not sure why. I felt suffocated with confusion. Maybe it was the shock, I don’t know. I focused on the practical matters of letting my sister, and then my mum, know, but the more we spoke about it, the more upset I was getting, and the more upset I was getting, the more angry I was getting at myself for being upset over him. What was it I was feeling and, more importantly, why was I feeling that?!
It’s a weird one. When you lose someone you love, you respond in exactly the way you would expect to respond. You cry. You’re devastated. You’re lost. You grieve. But when you lose someone that you are supposed to love and cherish, but you are estranged from, there is no protocol. There is no ‘natural way’ to respond. There is no right way to react. My body was feeling one thing, my heart another, and my brain something else entirely.
My Aunt had passed on the details of my father’s Support Worker, who, incidentally, had been the person to find him after he had overdosed. She was a lovely lady who very patiently explained everything that had happened to him since I last spoke to him two years ago. Some of the things she told me were very unexpected, some of the things she told me were very sad and some of the things she reported that he said about my sister and I took me by surprise. I ended up a wet mess on the phone but still feeling utterly confused about how I felt about it all.
I cried so much that night that I could barely open my eyes by the time I went to bed. It was only when I talked at length about it with my husband that I was able to recognise what it was I was feeling. I wasn’t grieving for him, the man that drank 24/7 and lied in the most cruel way. I wasn’t grieving for the father he was; I was grieving for the father he wasn’t.
I was devastated. But not in the way people may think. I was devastated that my father had died and due to his poor decisions and poor behavior, his death meant very little to me. I felt nothing. I felt numb. Like someone had told me about the death of a man I never knew. I was sad that someone had died. I was sad that someone had felt so low that they had resorted to suicide. I was sad that someone died without any family around them. But that’s as far as my feelings go.
Two days on and the dust is settling; I haven’t cried today. My tummy does a bit of a flop when I think about it but that is it. I am sad that he wasn’t the Dad I wanted or needed him to be. I am sad that because of what he did, I am not utterly heartbroken and bereft by his loss. I won’t allow the ‘what if’s’ to creep in. The ‘what if we had got things back on track?’ ‘what if I had forgiven him?’ ‘What if I hadn’t pulled that landline out?’ thoughts have no place in my head. I’m not going there. I refuse to feel guilt. He had the capacity to change his life around. He had the capacity to buy in to the support services around him. He had the capacity to apologise. He didn’t. That was his decision and it was those decisions that led him down the dark path that resulted in his death.
Although ‘ashamed’ is a strong word, I do feel almost ashamed that I share the genetic make up of a man who valued life so little that he thought it was easier to throw his life away rather than work with the support he had around him to improve his life. I am sorry that he could see no light at the end of the tunnel and I can appreciate that that must have been an extremely lonely and painful time. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, regardless of what they had done.
For all I feel nothing, I’m sure that, when I least expect it, the numbness will wear off and I will feel something. I’m not sure what that something will be. For all I had no relationship with him, I’m sure a part of this will remain with me for the rest of my life. Even if it just serves as a reminder to hold my family close, make the right decisions, be honest and be the best parent I can possibly be to my children.