I was three years old when my father left.
My brother was 18 months.
Every birthday I hoped he would send a card. Neither a card, a letter or phone call arrived.
The first word I learnt to say after ‘mummy’ was ‘why’.
When I turned ten I hoped he might send a card as I’d reached double figures. At the time it felt like an achievement.
When I did well in school tests or exams I wanted him to know. As a stroppy teenager I daydreamed about walking into his office and demanding answers.
When I got married I hoped he would show up to give me away.
When I got divorced I knew why. I had always known that I was so haunted by the abandonment of my father that I couldn’t possibly accept love. Self-sabotage ran through my veins.
I declared when I was very young that I would never have children. What I didn’t say out loud was that the thought of bringing another human being into the world and ever letting them down terrified me.
How could I possibly ever be sure that the man I chose to have children with wouldn’t walk away as my father had?
I didn’t see then that the real problem wasn’t him leaving; it was what was left to fester after the door closed.
I didn’t know why I fell into depression as a teenager. I didn’t know what made the world fall dark, the walls press in around me until I couldn’t breathe. When I’ve tried to end my life, I genuinely wanted to die.
I tried to numb my living agony with fierce ambition. I worked far too hard and found a magic escape in alcohol. For years I ran. I did not let myself feel my feelings. I was a shadow of a human being going through the motions every day.
When the waves caught up with me many years later when the Band-Aids of promotions, glittering salaries and star-studded afterparties all fell off, I crashed into a crumpled heap.
Now I’m sober, someone asked me a few years ago, “Do you know why you drank?” I did not know then — but I know now.
Through my whole entire life, I was allowed to believe that I was unlovable. The person who created me chose to walk away.
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not here to judge. I’m merely explaining my life experience.
Whether I was picking flowers as a little girl wishing I could give them to a father who loved me …
Whether I was taking a deep breath and going up yet another gear to secure another promotion …
Or, whether I was lying in a psych ward with tearstained cheeks … my core belief was that I was unlovable. It was a maddening, sickening, churning, boiling, festering, omnipresent nausea that had bubbled at the back of my throat since I was a little girl. So, when I contacted my father after 40 years of silence, I just wanted to let go of that haunting oppression.
When he replied, I learned that he had tried to contact me.
“On many occasions I requested contact but was never allowed,” he wrote. My heart raced.
Nothing I had been told was true.
Worse, nothing I had lived 44 years believing was even based in truth.
“Over the years I have had nightmares about contacting you and what would occur. Ever since I ran away I’ve been haunted by my actions and thought of you constantly,” he continued.
“My parents tried on many occasions to see their grandchildren but were firmly dismissed.”
Those grandparents are now dead. Once again I find myself shaking as I try to finish this column.
Christmas is coming: there are alienated parents desperate to see their children — uncles, aunts, grandparents who would love to give their related little ones a hug and tell them they love them.
Children are not weapons.
Please re-read the decades of torture above that can result in children growing up believing they are unlovable.
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