Until recently, I’d always felt like I was less valuable than other children because my parents weren’t married. It always felt like something was missing when I’d go to school and public events. That something? My dad.
He wasn’t a stranger; he’d just decided he’d rather create a family with someone other than my mother around the same time I was born. I knew him and saw him periodically. But our relationship had no depth. For the first 12 years of my life, I probably saw my father for a cumulative 48 hours. From time to time, he’d pick me up from school, but that seven-minute drive felt like nothing.
My childhood brain created a host of excuses for why I was the “outside child” who’d never seen my dad’s home or family. All of which were made worse by a world that suggests the father-daughter relationship is the most pivotal relationship of a young girl’s life.
I believed in the value of a relationship with one’s dad, and the absence of it left me feeling worthless.
It was shameful growing up knowing I was a statistic.
But in seventh grade — a day I’ll never forget since it was also the day my mom’s favorite musician died — I nervously went to my father’s house for the first time. During that visit, he tearfully apologized for allowing his family, particularly his soon to be ex-wife, for keeping us apart. It seemed sincere.
From then on, we entered the tumultuous process that is delayed parent-child connection. Of course, being a teenager didn’t make that process any easier. In fact, there were many moments it felt like we’d take one step forward and then five steps back.
Despite the difficulty and several gaps in communication, we made lots of progress after that. I’d see him trying, and I started looking forward to our talks.
Still, the dynamics changed again soon after that. A few years after we reconnected, he entered a new relationship. Since then, they’ve married and created their own blended family. I can see the love he has for her in his eyes from across the room. But, if I’m honest, it’s terribly painful to watch my dad be a “perfect father” with his new family when he wasn’t there for me.
In my youthful mind, he exchanged the chance for us to develop a real relationship for her. The old limitations and restrictions were rotated for new ones. My time became less of a priority, and eventually, I didn’t want any time at all.
It might seem ridiculous that this still bothers me. I’m an adult with a husband and my own children. But having an absent dad has had a lasting impact on my life, and seeing his new perfect family sucks.
Since I’m aware of how silly I might sound to some people, I typically stay away from everyone else on that side of the family. Most times I feel like a reminder of a different time in my father’s life. It’s left me visibly different from his other children. Not to mention I’m the only one out of nearly ten kids who has a different last name.
But, in order to understand my reactions, one must have context. Out of several biological and nonbiological children, with multiple mothers, I am the only one who never lived with him. The other children, both older and younger, know my father on a deeper traditional level. I, on the other hand, have never had the opportunity.
We’re never alone. I need to share his attention with the needs of the older kids and the demanding schedules of the younger kids. I feel extremely limited in when it’s acceptable to call because work, extracurriculars, and family time don’t leave much of anything.
I recently found out that he didn’t sign my birth certificate, out of personal choice. The fact that he still hasn’t taken the time to resolve something that small hurts. At this point, it’s likely not an intentional lack of action. But the way he hasn’t amended my birth certificate before signing his name to the birth certificates of his other kids is a painful reminder that I will always be different.
As a teen, I remember calling him in tears begging for the opportunity to live with him instead of my mother and being met with silence. Time after time, an apathy toward my longing to be closer to him — or at least to have time with him alone — made me question why I continued fighting for this relationship.
I’ve talked to him about these things more times than I can count. The loneliness, the frustration, and the discomfort of being the only child to watch through a glass window.
PTA, team sports, and dance recital for his younger kids all take priority over engaging with his adult child. It’s frustrating to know that the sacrificial, omniscient, and loving perspective that others have of my father is something I will never know.
He tries and invites me to functions but it feels weird. Within the first few minutes, I feel uncomfortable. It all looks so perfect — the love and financial stability give a sharp contrast to the single parent life of poverty I grew up in.
I’m envious watching his other children grow up upper middle class. I bet the new kids have trust funds to accompany their houses and college dormitory payments.
I, on the other hand, had student loans and needed to reach out to my extended family to find a co-signer on a loan.
His other children will never understand the struggle of getting to know him on rotating weekends and being dropped off at home unsure what will be for dinner. And they’ll probably never know me either, since I’m decades older than they are and still unable to handle the image of perfection that they offer.
So now, after all this turmoil, I’m thinking about finally letting go.
No one wants to be the reminder of a bad decision or a stain on someone’s perfect life. I might be better off just walking away.
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