I remember the day your wife died Dad, my Mum had called and said ‘You need to go to the hospital‘. I was 23, it was actually a really beautiful sunny day, the smell in the air was filled with happiness and summer even though someone you loved was about to die. I remember walking into that bleak hospital and waiting in the waiting room especially for families of the dying. We didn’t realise it was happening so soon until that Doctor came in and told you that her organs were shutting down, your face showed so much pain and grief, I don’t think I even moved to comfort you because honestly I didn’t know how. I remember that day like I was there yesterday, Dad. I remember that day as clear as the day my Grandpa died, Dad. I remember that day crying as a teen on my mum’s lap on my bedroom floor as my heart shattered at the loss of someone I saw as my second father, it broke just as yours did in that room.
I remember the words ‘She’s gone’. I remember coming into that room and looking at her fuzzy bald head, stroking it gently, her sweet puffy cheeks in what was now an eternal sleep, she was rested and comfortable now. I walked over to you with tears in my eyes because your heart was truly breaking. I sat on your lap and curled up like I was a toddler, I told you how sorry I was and we all cried. You almost seemed relieved that she was no longer in pain. The room was filled with her family and ours, full of people that loved her, that cared for her and you. We all had your back then Dad.
We went back to your house and we sat with you under your cosy outdoor area filled with all things her and we drank beer , we laughed and chatted about her, her life and anything else we could think of to stop the awkwardness of silence. Of death in a family.
I drove home that day a little bit broken, amazed at how strong and brave I thought you were. I wished then that I could be like you one day. The months and years that followed you were heartbroken, lost and dazed. To this day I know you have probably never healed and it’s ok, because the void of missing someone you love hurts. And it changes a person. The loss of your own Dad followed by your wife is a pain I can’t even fathom.
I grew up thinking life with you was this world I never imagined I could be a part of, I spent days as a child wishing it was permanent for the sheer absence of the sexual abuse i had at home with my step-dad, it was bright and free with you, I felt like a different person. I was exposed to a family that became my respite, a family that I adored, a family I still adore. Some weekends when you came to save me from my home with Mum, from my abuse was the best thing you could have ever done because it made you the good guy, it saved me at times when I felt I couldn’t cope. The family I had when I was with you was like a dream and I dreaded every time I had to go back home. But you didn’t know why, you wouldn’t know for years and how could you because sometimes you just weren’t there.
I wanted to be just like you Dad. You were my hero, I had you on a pedestal that I realise now was unrealistic and unfair of me. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20’s and married to a man very much like you that I always had thought you could do no wrong. Somewhere there I realised I expected too much from someone I placed so highly for so long.
My perception of you and what life was with you was insanely warped, not because it was amazing but because where I was coming from was bleak. Which in turn means I viewed life with my mum and my step- dad as pure sadness and disappointment. I have few memories of the happiness I am sure I must have had there with my mum but my memories of any good times with my mother are not there, it’s just an empty space that I can’t find in my mind and now that I know her better than I know you, I mourn for the memory of her and I back then.
But you are in there Dad, you are lucky enough to still be part of my memory, all of it, all the visits to your house, eating cornflakes while watching movies all morning, the things we did when you read the paper, the chicken and mac you made us, the long baths you would take when reading a huge book, sleeping in your bed when I was little, the movies and all the family christmases I adored so much. I have all that in there. You are lucky to be in there. My happy place, my safe haven.
You were my safe place for so long that when it ceased to exist those few years ago, I shut down. I didn’t know how to react, I had grown up and realised you too are only human, the world I created around the memory of you as a child, memories of safety, had actually fallen down. It crumbled and cracked like the ruins in Rome, it crumbled and when it did the pain of that broke me a little bit more. The pain of it felt like betrayal because when I thought you would always have my back, you didn’t.
I’ve carried the guilt of not being this ‘Perfect daughter’ for a few years now but I am the daughter and you are the father and I see that now. I have children of my own and I have since vowed to do anything in my power to ensure I am always a part of their life no matter how hard that might be. I would do everything I could. I would never put them in a position where they felt like they had to choose me over another person that they love and who cares for them in return, because no matter what, my kids shouldn’t have to choose to have me in their life, I just would be. No amount of anything is worth not knowing my children or grand children. I am confused to this day at how you are able to accept this in yourself especially knowing how much I know you must miss the one child I have that you had grown to know and love.
We barely speak now and these memories are all I have of you now because you are no longer a part of my life because you chose it that way.
Now we are separated by awkward long distance ‘I do love you‘ texts and the obligatory birthday text occasionally. I want you to know though, you were my safe place, you were everything to me back then and this, what this is now, feels wrong.
While I have a new safe person now, I can make new memories with him and am extremely happy and grateful to do so, my children will grow not knowing this man I called my dad for years, they will not know of a man who without knowing was saving me when he picked me up on the weekends. I never imagined to be estranged from you. I never imagined there would come a day that you wouldn’t have my back especially now when I have done such amazing things for myself. I have come out on top of a world that should have eaten me up, but I didn’t let it.
I want you to know that I know you are only human and sometimes the world, our lives and emotions can get the better of us. I hold no resentment, no blame, no bitterness. I expect the same. I will no longer hold you on a pedestal, I will no longer expect anything from you if you are not willing to give it.
You will always be my dad because I will never be able to forget that as a child you were my safe place but you can’t be that safe place now and that is ok.
This open letter is not to cause pain or anger nor is it to cause hurt or embarrassment, it is merely speaking out loud because I can and know here you’ll hear me.
When you are ready to have my back again, I’ll have yours.