In all my blogs thus far you will note there has been a distinct lack of father-figure, despite the abundance of boys and men our mother was involved with. I can’t say this is intentional but it is a by-product of growing up without a father that wanted to be around – for the right reasons.
The distinction between a father and a Dad has long been verbalised and it is common knowledge that it is relatively easy to become a father; a few jerks and a squirt and nine months later a little XX or XY chromosome carrying mixture crowns the cervix into life. That is where being a father ceases. However, to be a Dad implies a more moralistic and emotional investment – in short, it means you give a little more of a shit about the life of that little beast that carries half your DNA.
I would very firmly categorise my ‘jerker and squirter’ as a biological father only. He was a very great disappointment to me; I had higher hopes for the man than what came to be and here are the reasons why:
I reached out to Harry in the weeks following my 30th birthday. In hindsight, this was possibly a romanticised knee-jerk reaction after the fall-out with my mum’s side of the family. I had been really hurt by the events surrounding my birthday and I began to see everyone who had laid the foundations of my life in a very different light. Perhaps I felt the fibres of my existence were shaky…I think it is more that I thought I had a right to a decent parent and I’ve always wanted a good Dad.
No one in Mum’s family ever had a good word to say about Harry and his associated kin. Names like ‘creeping Jesus,’ ‘bloody weirdo’ and ‘arsehole’ swirled around the whirlpool of his identity and I simply assumed they were right; excellent judges of character as they were! But now a new notion blew into my cortex on the nonchalant breeze. Could this man be so bad? Or had he simply seen my mother’s family for the bunch of self-righteous, opinionated and jaded humans that they clearly were?
The facts, as I knew them, were these:
Firstly, Harry had cheated on my mother throughout their eight year relationship. While I didn’t agree with such behaviour I rationalised that at the tender age of 22 when saddled with a baby which was very definitely intended as a honey trap most young men would act in a similar way.
Secondly, Harry had signed away all rights to his illegitimate daughter when he was approached by my mother and step-father to request I was put out for adoption. This was tougher to square in my mind because he had knowingly and willingly allowed another man to legally become my parent; he was older by same years when the request was made and I felt if he had wanted a relationship with his daughter he would have fought this, tooth and nail, surely?
Thirdly, he had tried on only one occasion immediately following the death of aforementioned step-father to contact me and endeavour to salvage a relationship. At that point I was uninterested….I felt enough water had flowed under the proverbial bridge by that point.
Persuaded by a close friend to reach out, I found my paternal grandmother [PG] on social media – the only possible way I could have made contact, and sent a message. Immediately after sending the message I felt, intuitively, that I had made a mistake. I felt guilty on the family who had brought me up because they would be horrified and furious to learn of my betrayal. But more than that, I questioned my reasons for sending the message. Was I plastering over a wound I thought should be healed with familial love when actually I was perfectly happy to navigate the river of life alone?
From the very moment I made the connection, through the social media of my friend (I did not have any social media at the time); it was like a runaway train. Utterly powerless to stop the avalanche of messages that came through from PG I grew more and more discomfited. I could not handle the level of keenness, the sheer abandonment of all emotional propriety that ensued. My friend, Sam, assuaged my concerns. She understood the torrent of over-zealous contact for which she acted as a go-between came from a place of desperation and love. This woman had clearly wanted to be part of my life for so long and upon my making contact she grasped at it with both hands, covetous and unashamed in her fervour.
However, I didn’t know how to handle this. My own family were cold-fish. No affection, no love or encouragement to be demonstrative with our emotions… her protestations of adoration for a person she did not know and had not seen for many years made me cringe. I tried to be reasonable and rational, understand her desperation in its extreme presentation but I knew I already felt keenly uncomfortable. How could she possibly love me? I didn’t love her…I didn’t know her. It was all contrived in my eyes – said because she felt she should, not because she felt it.
The horse had bolted, though. I was invested. I could not simply toy with the lives of these people; pick them up and put them down as I wished. I had kicked over the rock and I had my anxieties about what I found beneath but what could I do? I’d made the leap of faith and I just had to free-fall into it now. The PG insisted her son had always wanted me, always been desperate to be part of my life, always devastated to be excluded, loved me beyond measure…and yet PG never once mentioned that she had told him I had been in touch or reported back his reaction. All this came through the medium of messages, pouring like a waterfall into Sam’s inbox with no sign of stopping. I was mindful this onslaught might start to annoy my friend who must surely be tired of acting as the messenger between PG’s utterances of affection and my reluctant and infrequent responses. I curtailed the dialogue by suggesting we meet face to face. A date and time were decided and from there I ignored all further sentiment.
The meeting date drew nearer. My anxieties rose but my excitement to meet this other half of who I was did not rise with it; I was a half-baked dough-ball, risen on one side but empty and flat on the other. I felt perfectly ambivalent about the whole thing despite knowing what a big deal it was and the mawkish meaning it had to the people I was going to meet.
I pulled up on PG’s drive, noting with dismay the garish Bentley gleaming on the driveway. I had heard my Paternal Grandparents had won the lottery some years before and could clearly now see the dividends of that fortuitous win. I knocked on the door furtively, not quite sure what I would be walking into.
I should preface what happened from this point by saying people crying makes me feel physically sick. The sight of the water secreting from their eyes and overflowing until they run in great rivers down their face until plummeting from the chin onto whatever lies beneath in a salty pool is disgusting to me. It brings a lump of bilge in my throat and I have, on occasion, heaved and made excuses to leave the room; the thought of someone’s tears touching me makes me more bilious than anything else on the planet.
Of course, PG was crying. She opened the door melodramatically and threw herself at me, covering me in a shower of watery, teary kisses. Lurking behind her was the Paternal Grandfather [PGF]…I had never heard good things about this man; either from strangers or from those close to me. Anyone who met him seemed to have tales of an arrogant wide-boy who was unanimously disliked. My own grandfather, a very peaceful man whom I loved as the only man who had never let me down and had passed away a few years before had spoken of his distaste for PGF and the only other person my granddad had slated was Tony Blair. I knew PGF would be someone I needed to tolerate – at best.
When the commotion and exaggerated shenanigans were over, PG, PGF and I went through to the lounge area where I expected to see Harry waiting for me in a ‘Blind Date-esque’ big reveal. But when we got into the lounge I was surprised to see there was no sign of Harry. Picking up on my confusion, PG advised she had not yet told Harry all that had transpired between us!
I was horrified. They had thought it would be a good idea for the man to turn up to the house with no prior warning that I would be there!
‘I’ve told him I’ve got a surprise for him!’ PG said, smiling with glee as if she had a shiny new car waiting on the drive to present to him – not the long lost daughter he had not seen since she was a baby.
‘You haven’t told him about me?’ I asked, cringing inside.
‘No – I know what my ‘Arry’s like. ‘E’d ‘ave been a nervous wreck all week waitin’ for this so I fawt this way was best!’ Enthused and delighted with her trickery, she failed to note my apprehension.
‘You know him best, I suppose,’ was all I could find to respond.
The wait for his arrival was painful. Every car that passed, every bump that could be him made me jump out of my skin in anticipation. I was dreading his arrival. The entire time I was regaled by PGF with how much they all loved me and how terrible my mother was for keeping me from them all these years, how Harry had been devastated to give me up but knew my stepfather to be a good man who would take care of me. I don’t think I said a single word.
‘I know me family like the back o’ me ‘and. I make it me business to know ‘em. I’m tellin’ you now, my ‘Arry is a good man – a great man. You got to prove you ain’t gonna ‘urt ‘im though.’ He reeled off line after line of adoration and caveats around how Harry would need to be swaddled in cotton wool by me until I had proved myself to be the daughter he deserved. Multiple time PFG became overcome with emotion and teared up with pride over his son, Harry the Abandoner.
When finally the prodigal son arrived, PG and PGF sprang up from their seats like spritely imps, rushing to the door and leaving me alone in the lounge, waiting – now furious.
‘Oh ‘ello Ted!’ I heard PGF say warmly.
Ted? Who the fuck was Ted? Had they not even told Harry to come alone?
‘Right, ‘Arry…we got a surproise for ya! Come fru ‘ere!’ PGF led Harry toward the door; I could hear the shuffle of socks on wooden flooring. I couldn’t even bear to look!
‘It’s ya Dortah!!’ PG cried out, emotion lacing her voice.
Harry and I stared at one another awkwardly, trapped in a situation neither of us wanted or could handle. Peering from behind Harry was a strange looking young boy with a mullet cut dressed like the Artful Dodger.
‘Eeeyar, Ted! ‘Ow’s this for a surproise – you got a sistah! Didn’t know that, did ya?’ PGF encouraged both males in to the room while PG flitted around, unsure what to do with herself and appearing to be behaving like a moth trying to find which flame to fly to in a room on fire. To say I was disgusted that Harry had brought his son with him, who did not know of my existence, would be an uncomfortable understatement.
Harry was very like me – it was obvious to see. Our icy demeanour toward one another poorly covered with feigned interest started to thaw as he became more comfortable with the situation and I realised I did not dislike him. In fact, I found him quite funny.
By the end of the coup d’etat we had agreed to meet just him and I, somewhere on mutual territory, and try to power through to some semblance of a relationship.
But very early in I could feel disappointment washing over the rocks of my judgement like waves. I wanted to like him. I wanted him to be the Dad I had been so desperate for my whole life. But he just wasn’t. He was lack-lustre and distant. It seemed like he could never be bothered, expecting me to always be the organiser, the negotiator, the chaser. It didn’t fit well with me – I had been the one who was abandoned to a paedophile and psychotic mother yet somehow Harry came out the victim in all this?
It took me around four months to grow completely dejected and tired with the situation to the point I stopped making any effort. Harry had, at first, been half-heartedly interested in cultivating a relationship with me. He said all the right things but there was no energy or meaning behind any of it. I met his wife, Beth, and her children from a previous relationship and was immediately struck by their warmth; I wished that it was they who were my blood relatives rather than Harry, PG, PGF and the weird little Ted whom I could not warm to.
To summarise it, Harry simply was not interested. He cared a great deal for Ted, which was nice to see. But tales reached me of his disgusting behaviour towards Beth’s son which I was horrified to hear – it bordered on bullying. When I raised this with Harry he justified this behaviour by asking ‘why should I look after someone else’s kids when I can’t even see my own?’ I learned Harry had a son, born between Ted and I, Jake. Jake, he felt, used him sporadically for financial gain and then kicked him by the wayside once more. I sensed a them where Harry rutted his way through psychotic vulva at an alarming rate and left these women high and dry, impregnated. Yet it always came back to Harry being the victim.
All I heard, over and over again, from Harry, Beth, PG, PGF – everyone – was how negatively affected by my loss he had been. He had clearly sold every person around him a dream presenting himself as the abandoned party. How every Christmas and birthday he left the room to cry tears of sadness over how I was not part of his life. The more emotional baggage the family put on me, insinuating it was in some way my fault that Harry had chosen not to be involved in my life, the more I became annoyed. After all, it had been a choice. A choice to cheat on Mum. A choice to let another man adopt his daughter. A choice to make one half-arsed attempt to contact that daughter at the worst possible time. I could not fathom how such a man could be so hard-done by. The woe-is-me act ground on me. I would never divulge to him, or any of his family, what had happened with my stepfather and I; I felt the guilt that may come alongside that was unwarranted for Harry. He was shit and he felt sorry for himself and that was his modus-operandus to get through his entire life, but he didn’t deserve to know the man he had entrusted his daughter to had let her down in the most sickening of ways. Secrecy comes easily to me – he didn’t need to know. Additionally, I feared the repercussions the information might have…this was not a family who conducted themselves with decorum in emotive situations and I couldn’t take that risk regardless of the temptation to give this pathetic, weak man some information that might make him think twice before playing the victim card. Besides, he would probably add it to his suffering and wounded persona.
This was not my only issue in the four months that passed though. Contrasting Harry’s genuine apathy, PG and PGF were hounding me 24/7. Text after text would come through asking me whether I was popping in to see them. The more I pulled away, the more they clung on. It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand their behaviour; I could. But I had entered the situation for a Dad. I didn’t want the additional relatives – I never asked for them and I certainly didn’t need them. I felt suffocated by their heavy handed approach and I had just moved away from a family where expectations upon me lay heavy on my shoulders. If PG asked me to pop in, I would say my time was limited but if I could, I would. I thought this might appease them but then Beth telephoned to warn I had not managed their expectations appropriately and if I wasn’t going in I needed to say that clearly – they had taken my ‘I’ll try and see’ as a ‘Count me in!’ To be frank, this was all a headache and a drama I simply did not need or want. The paternal family had quelled my appetite for a family and I had never been more stubbornly sure that I could, and would, cope alone. At this time I was working two jobs full time and I barely had time to eat or sleep – making time to meet with grandparents I honestly couldn’t care less about (didn’t even like) was beyond the call of duty. The final message asking me to ‘pop in’ was passive aggressive but, with Beth’s advice in mind I responded saying I was very busy with work, which they knew, and that I wouldn’t have time to go in for at least a month. PG responded saying that was absolutely fine and I went on with my life thinking I could possibly pop in to see them once every few months and this might be enough to appease them and it was bearable for me if I didn’t think about it too much.
But then, out of the blue, I received the following text message from Harry’s sister who lived overseas:
I was disgusted and incensed. My issues were as follows:
Don’t ask me how I am in a friendly manner only to then go into a rant – the mood swings gave me whiplash.
‘A ploy for money’? It had taken me years, alone, to pay back every penny Wes had stolen from me and I was proud of my achievements. I made a point, at all costs, to never ask anyone for a single favour, financial or otherwise. I could survive on my own, thank you very much!
I didn’t care what PG thought – she’d had 30 years to make her keenness to know me apparent and she, like her son, had waited for me to make the first move. She then could not be the injured party when I wanted to take the pace slowly.
I didn’t understand all the references to a prior relationship; I had been too young to remember being part of their ‘family fold’ when I was a baby and I resented the insinuation that I had yo-yo bounced between contact and no contact previously.
I actually could really blame her brother for being ‘distant’ as well – who did he think he was playing the sad and sorry-for-himself act? What had he really been through in life that was thrust upon him? From where I stood, every fuck-up was of his own making.
It all boiled down to the following: PG and PGF were overbearing in the worst possible sense and Harry was as useful as a father as a cock flavoured lollipop. I saw red – I’d had enough of this shit now. I decided the best course of action would be to block the auntie immediately; she deserved none of my time or my energy. I then contacted Beth to tell her I would be making no further effort with Harry as he had made none with me. She understood but again reiterated there was an element of me needing to prove myself to Harry – to prove that I would not hurt him, and then he would give me his trust. Basically I thought Harry could fuck right off if he felt justified in asking anything more of me than my time. I told Beth this and she acknowledged my opinion without being able to say much in response. I think she agreed but had, in many ways, been trained by Harry to pity and forgive him.
I’m not going to do a ‘so the moral of the story is this…’ paragraph because I really don’t require one on this I don’t think. The story speaks for itself: I reached out and took a leap of faith because I felt entitled to at least give my biological father a chance to prove himself to me. I was disappointed but I can’t say it damaged me further. I don’t believe I have abandonment issues caused by Harry and I don’t believe I attach any emotions to him or his family. I tried because it was my right but neither Harry nor his family lived up to my expectations.
In many ways it did me the biggest of favours because it was from the moment I rejected him that I finally accepted I was alone in the world and, to be honest, I’ve never been happier. I truly have thrived ever since – not in spite of anyone or because of anyone but out of a duty to care for myself. As a good person with lots of good qualities I have fundamentally come to believe that my parents and families are missing out on me – I, on the other hand, am not missing out on anything they have to offer at all. One day I think it will dawn on them how much of a shame it is that they missed out on me – my friends will attest to the following statement: I’m pretty damn great; I’d want me as my daughter!