I watched The Shiralee on Saturday for the first time since I was about 8 years old. Needless to say, I appreciated it rather more this time around. It got me thinking. You may wish to stop reading now, because the rest of this post is both rambling and perhaps not happy, but it’s something that I want to get out of my head. And sometimes I can't quite find the words that I'm looking for.
To a little girl, her daddy is a hero. A veritable demigod. He’s Prince Charming and Superman and Sir Galahad, all rolled into one, no matter how shithouse he is as a daddy.
Sure, little girls grow up, and they learn that their parents are human too, but there’s still a lurking ideal, a belief that your dad can do anything, simply because he’s your dad.
So what must it take for that belief to be damaged? To, in fact, be broken, shattered into countless pieces, to the point where a daughter has nothing left but contempt for her father? For her to want nothing more to do with him? I can tell you what it took for me.
My earliest memory of this man, and my only memory of him before the age of 8 or 9, is not of being cuddled, or of love, or having fun, but of him repeatedly hitting my upper arm when I said I didn’t know what I wanted for breakfast one morning. He asked, and when I said “I don’t know” he held my arm out and started hitting it, asking after each time what I wanted for breakfast. Naturally I did nothing but scream and cry, and it wasn’t until mum came to find out what was going on that he stopped. A lovely memory, yes?
Throughout my entire life, he had been there on and off, seemingly as the mood took him. I’m not talking about being physically there, as admittedly my parents were divorced so he only saw us twice a year, but THERE in even a most general sense. Even those two times a year, he’d take us to his mother’s place and, for the most part, I entertained myself by either playing with my cousin or the neighbour’s kids, or my uncles would spend time with me. I still remember, after my brother left home to go to uni, I didn’t hear from our father for a while. After being used to weekly phone calls this hurt, and my 12-year-old self wondered what I’d done to make him stop talking to me.
In my mid-teens it seems that my father decided he wanted to be “dad” and moved near to where I went to school. There followed three years in which I actually got to know him, this man who called himself my father.
Into my adult life the pattern continued – a couple of months of regular contact, followed by more months of nothing. And yet all of this I forgave, because hey, it’s your dad, right? And you’re meant to love your parents. The problem is that I’d learned that my father was someone that I didn’t particularly like. This caused me no end of guilt and grief from the conflicting emotions it raised.
Even up until the final time, the only time it seemed my father initiated any contact with me (bear in mind, he lived 5-10 minutes away) was when his partner prompted him. The final episode happened late last year. Suffice to say there was a falling out, and I claim responsibility for my part in it. I think we could have overcome this and probably continued on as we had been for many years to come, except for what he did. What did he do? He lied to me about his mother’s health. He contacted his brothers and threatened them that if they attended my wedding then they would no longer be part of the family. He called my brother and told him to think “very carefully about the consequences” if he attended my wedding. He spread lies to the family about things I had allegedly said and done. He defamed my fiancé (now husband). He not once actually spoke to me during all of this. Oh wait, I tell a lie – he did speak to me: when I called him to find out which hospital my grandmother was in. All of this over something that, one year ago, he agreed with me on.
The neglect and other shit throughout my life I have forgiven, time and time again. This last I will not. His last words to me were vindictive and childish, and that is his burden to bear. He has lost more than a daughter, I have lost far less than a father. I am now at peace within myself, the conflicting emotions and guilt are gone, as I feel absolutely no requirement to love or honour him as my parent. I thank him for setting me free.