Why my Father Never Loved Me
I've never known if my father loves me.
My father dwelt in the basement of a home built from his hard work & labour. He toiled away in an office surrounded by computers & memorabilia of my sister's life, accomplishments & likes. A math test she'd aced in tenth grade hung above his tape recorder. The lyrics of a Nirvana song she enjoyed hung next to his whiteboard. A picture she'd drawn of him & signed "with love” in rounded girlish writing, was taped to a bookshelf above his computer monitor.
When I would visit him in this space, his capacity to love, & to express that love, was all around us. He was not a hard man, nor a complex man. He was not the stereotypical father who'd been hardened by society’s insistence that a man be a man. The thing was, he just didn’t know me. He didn't know my likes or dislikes. Our interactions were few. While he pursued a relationship with my sister, & took interest in her likes & wants, I felt pushed away & unwanted.
I struggle with this feeling, & I know as I sit here that I am not expressing myself fully. The intricacies & minutiae of this father-daughter relationship are less tangible, & wrapped up in my emotional knee-jerk reactions & the conditioning that has shaped so much of me.
There is also a part of me that cringes at my feelings of unwanted-ness. This part of me is always there to offer a proverbial bitch slap. After all, I never went without. I always had a roof over my head & food to eat. I had toys aplenty, & was provided an expensive private-school education. How selfish am I to think I am anything but spoilt as I grapple with these tiny slights & rejections?
To fully explain why I allow my mind to wade into & wallow in the waters of the complexity of my relationship with my father, I must explain further:
My sister is two & a half years older than me. While she is my mother's third child, she was my father's first. She came along a little more than a year after my parents were married. My father, in his mid-thirties at the time, was delighted by the tiny person he had helped to create.
I arrived nearly three years later. By then, my parents had decided they hadn't wanted any more children. By all accounts, including my mother’s & father's, I was an accident. Then in his late thirties, my father was tired, & my mother had been raising children since she was 17. As a result, the responsibility of me, with my strangely large head, & weird smattering of health problems, was thrust onto my older brother.
My older sister hated me. The first example of my sister's attacks on me, that I can remember, came when our family still lived in Fort McMurray. My brother, who I worshiped with all the adoration of a younger sister, presented me with a bank that he'd had since he was a toddler. It was a plastic bank in the shape of Goofy's head. In a fit of jealousy, my sister took the bank out of my hands & threw it on the floor breaking a hole into it.
My brother chastised her for this behaviour, however, as would become the norm, my sister sought solace in my father. He offered who no punishment, & cuddled her as she cried about the injustice of brother getting upset with her.
As time marched on, these sister-on-sister attacks became more common place & escalated in severity. The atrocities that my sister wrought upon me included things like squeezing my hand tightly until the joints in my fingers popped painfully, & not letting go unless I agreed to give her candy, a toy, or whatever possession of mine she might want. Sometimes she would get hold of my beloved cat, Samantha, & trap Samantha in her arms with kitty's tiny paw clasped between her fingers, & she would squeeze until Samantha cried out in pain, or she would pull on Samantha's tail, all the while demanding that I bend to her sisterly will lest she kill my cat. The things she wanted from me were childish prizes like a Barbie that I’d saved up for, or candy that I had. If I had anything she didn’t, she’d immediately go for Samantha & try to harm her. Needless to say, I complied with all of her demands.
She also attempted to kill me once. In our second home, in Calgary, she chased me into my brother's bedroom, on the second floor our house, & attempted to push me out of the window. During the violent attack, which occurred when I was little more than five-years-old, she detailed how falling from the window would cause my neck to break. She told me I would die, & my father would be happy because he never wanted me anyway. He only wanted her.
When I told my father about this small sampling of her behaviour, he laughed. I’m not sure if, when I ran to him in tears, he thought I was joking, or if laughing was his way of not having to deal with my sister. I can’t be sure why he laughed. All I can be sure of is that he didn’t stop my sister’s behaviour, or attempt to protect me in anyway.
Seeing my father’s reaction, my sister told me our dad loved her more. She told me I was a mistake, & that no-one liked me, & his behaviour reinforced all that she said.
When I tried to talk to my father about this, he wouldn't hear me out, he simply brushed it off as jealousy. He told me to worry about myself, & not compare myself to my sister. When I talked to my mom about this, she swore up & down that my father loved me.
Worst of all was the dark times, also referred to in our family as "The Baton Years".
I was a baton twirler. I excelled mightily at the sport & was extremely competitive in it. My mother was a big part of that success. She would drag me to lessons, & 6AM practices. She would sit & watch me try to perfect my routine, & various tricks in the living room of our house.
She would also fly off the handle when I failed to learn a new trick, or didn't accomplish what she felt I should have in a given practice.
There were punishments for not accomplishing enough, & the penalties ranged from not being allowed to eat dinner with the family, being screamed at & called names, to being hit, slapped, punched, or on one occasion shoved down the stairs. Sometimes, my possessions were taken away from me & given to my sister, who sat with my mom, as I practiced, & suggested such punishments. Sometimes I was reminded that I was an accident, or told that I was stupid & useless, unlike my tall, slender, & smart sister.
Upon my father returning home from work, my parents would debrief each other on their respective days.
I remember, on the day my mother had pushed me down the stairs, we were sitting at the table discussing the event, & the rage my mother felt as she put her hands on my shoulders & pushed. I sat in silence as my mother told my father what had happened, & he laughed. My mother laughed, & my sister laughed. I sat there chewing my food, holding back tears.
I was roughly 10 years old when this happened, & I went to bed that night, clutching my cat, Samantha, to my chest, sobbing into her fur while wondering what method of suicide would hurt the least. That seemed like the only out to me.
In contrast, my mom called my sister a c*** once. My sister, 14 at the time, responded by shoving my mother down the stairs. When my mom decreed that my sister was to spend the rest of the afternoon in her room, an even larger fight broke out which ended when my father came home, took the place of my sister in the argument & explained to my mother how inappropriate it was to call my sister a name. He then spent the evening with my sister, the two of them talking & watching television together.
This juxtaposition has always hurt me. It burns & aches in every part of me.
Everything else that was happening aside, why did he never stand up for me like he stood up for my sister? Why couldn't he protect me when I so badly needed protecting?
I've spent my whole life believing it was my fault. I dug a hole for myself out of his lack of interest, his complete ignorance of me, & his enabling of my sister's recriminations. I lived in that hole, that pit of despair, believing the worst of myself, believing that I was an atrocity, a mistake, the lowliest of scum, & a plague upon the world. I believed that I was never meant for goodness, light, joy, or happiness, so I never reached for it. What I wanted more than anything was an out & I believe suicide was the only escape possible. The fact that I was scared to end things only served to make me feel worse about my situation.
Things stayed this way until I was 25.
That was the year that I decided to move on. I'd spent 25 years clawing at the walls of that hole, frantically trying to fix it, to be enough to fill in the void, & be someone that my father loved, wanted, or at the very least, would go out of his way to talk to. After 25 years, I just climbed out of that hole & left.
A lot has happened since I up & left. I found myself, & worked hard to be the person I want to be. I learned to love, & learned to allow myself to be loved. I built myself into someone so unlike the faces of my past. I pounded away at myself until I was soft, loving, & accepting.
I tattooed the word "gentle" onto my skin as a reminder of who I am, & the fact that I am worthy of gentleness. I allowed myself to appreciate the intricacies of myself. I am smart, I am funny (I think), I am caring, & I have an infinite capacity to love.
Still, I stumble. Still, I find myself crawling, sometimes, wondering, who do I have to be to be enough? I read books, I learn, I perform acts of self sacrifice, I make myself less to build others up, I work hard, I achieve, & I accomplish. Still, I find myself screaming, caged, yet again, by the uncertainty of my father's love.
...I've never known if my father loves me, & it burns in the pit of my stomach with a debilitating ferocity, & I wish things were different. I guess, no matter where I go, I will always wish things were different.
In all of the wishing for things to be different, however, there is one thing I can actually make different. I can make myself different. I can change my attitude. I may not understand my father, but I can love him anyway, & I do. I can seek out common ground for the two of us & interact with him there. I can accept that I will always be initiating communication with him while he doesn’t seem to have any real desire to reach out to me. I can change myself & let go of everything else.
At the end of the day, I do have a limitless capacity to love & I can give freely of that love…even if I don’t really know if I’m getting any love in return.