17 years ago, I wrote my father a letter. I don’t remember exactly what I said, or how eloquent it was or wasn’t. The only thing I do remember is that I said, “I will always love you, but I can’t be around you.”
I had lived with my father–literally or figuratively–my whole life. When I married, my husband inherited my family, the good and the bad. Every time I visited my father, I struggled with the effect he had on my husband, who I frequently told, “Stay out of it. I’ll deal with him.”
I’d lived with my father’s abuse my whole life. I could take it (or at least, I thought I could). But I didn’t think it was fair for my husband to take his abuse, or respond to my father’s abuse of others.
After I got married and saw the effect my father had on my husband, I began thinking about the future. How would I handle my father’s abuse in front of–or directed at–my child?
I eventually came to the conclusion that it would be better for everyone if I cut my father out of my life completely, rather than try to navigate a relationship with him without letting him see his grandchildren. In the spring of 2004, his birthday and Father’s Day rapidly approaching, I gathered my thoughts and wrote my father the letter that would determine our relationship for the rest of our lives. I explained that for my own well-being and for the well-being of my husband and future children, he could no longer be in my life.
Over the years since then, I’ve heard via family members how that letter impacted him. How he would take out the letter from time to time and cry about me. How they would share pictures of my son with him, and how he wanted to meet him. How they would lie to him, saying that I wanted to reconcile, and get his hopes up.
What didn’t happen, though: He never contacted me, never called me, never tried to reconcile. Never accepted or admitted blame for anything he’d ever done. Never tried to do better.
In November, my father died. As he was dying, I was asked if I wanted to say goodbye to him. I responded that I’d said everything I needed to say 17 years ago. Not knowing what to expect from family, I wasn’t sure I would attend his memorial service, but I decided to go for closure.
I saw uncles I hadn’t seen in decades. Everyone had aged since I’d last seen them (as I had, of course). I made peace, in a way, with my family as they are. The miles and miles between us–figuratively and literally–will probably never close, and that’s okay. It is what it is.
My feelings toward my father are complicated. There’s anger and resentment, yes, but there’s also love, compassion, and pity. My father wasn’t wholly bad. Like most people, he had good aspects to him in addition to the bad, and it’s hard to separate out who the person was from their past and their behaviors.
Apparently, I still have a lot of grieving to do, but the uncertainty of having my dad still alive but in my past is gone. I can breathe, knowing that chapter of my life is over.