Last month, I saw my dad for the first time in seven years. I figured it was as good a time as any because my sister, my niece, my husband, my kids, and I all went on vacation to the beach. My sister was already in contact with my dad, so it seemed like an ideal icebreaker—or a potentially awkward meeting after a huge gap of seven years.
I spent the month leading up to the meeting with major anxiety. I spent as much time as I could crying as I revisited old memories, meditating, and making lists of what I wanted to talk to my therapist about. When the day finally came for my dad to meet us at the beach, I was beyond nervous. I was also spread thin as I was trying to keep my "mom hat" on to take care of my own kids, while still mentally preparing for this major event. Most of all, I was worried that I would bust out crying after seeing him for the first time in so long.
When I saw him, it was the same and different at the same time. I was so nervous, and my eyes did fill with tears. But I told myself that we could get to know each other on new ground; I didn't have to play the same role that I always played as a little girl—eager to please, trying to make inane conversation so that no one would feel uncomfortable.
That first meeting brought up so many emotions. To tell you the truth, it broke my heart to see my dad. I've talked before about how he likely suffered from undiagnosed mental illness when I was a little girl. It was hardest to look at him as he is in the moment. To see that he still has little broken pieces of him that I remember from the past.
Still, he seemed happy, upbeat, and mostly together now. He also seemed happy to see me, after we got past the initial awkwardness. One of the main reasons that I didn’t want to see him after so long was because I would have to face reality. Dad, are you happy now? Do you feel alone? What have you been doing for the past seven years? Is any of this my fault?
After that weekend vacation, I told myself that I would be open to seeing my dad, if he reached out to me. I personally felt that there was a serious parent-child imbalance throughout my life, and I just wanted him to show me that he would make an effort. He did. We got together with my kids at Chuck E. Cheese's over the weekend, and it truly was a blast. He was so great with my kids.
I'm not trying to gloss over what happened during my childhood. There is a part of me that feels exceptionally guilty for the amount of time we spent apart; there's another part of me that believes that the only way we are able to spend time together now is because I stepped away to heal my wounds and unplug from what was a toxic relationship.
Again, the hardest part for me is facing how I feel in the moment. After our meeting this past weekend, I was so, so happy. In fact, it scared me how happy I was to spend time with him. God, I missed him so much (and I’m crying as I write this). I pretended for years that it didn't matter; divorce was normal, so I should just get over it. It was easier not to be vulnerable and tell myself that I just had daddy issues, and it didn't matter anymore.
Now, I'm not so sure. I think that the way I was treated and brushed aside as a child was inexcusable, but I do understand more about making mistakes as a parent, especially if you have mountains of baggage you are wading through. I do think I deserved so much more as a child, but now I have taken the time to try to give that to myself, what my parents couldn’t give to me back then.
I'm sad that my dad and I have lost those seven years, but I don't see how it could have gone any differently. I know I have talked extensively about parental estrangement, and I wholly support anyone who has chosen to be estranged from their parent, no questions asked. It is never the child's fault, never, never.
This is where I am right now. I’m scared of that vulnerable, happy child inside of me who so desperately wants to have a relationship with my dad. I'm going to take it month by month; I'm still cautious. If you are estranged from your parent, I don't think there is a right or wrong way to go about it. Honor yourself. Honor the child who still hurts inside of you, as cheesy as it sounds. In many cases, you may be better off cutting a toxic parent out of your life. No matter what you decide, as the child, it's not your fault.