When Your Estranged Father Is Hospitalized With COVID-19
I sat in front of my computer, typing. Then my phone rang. It was my eldest sister.
For most people, getting a call from a family member is an everyday occurrence.
Not for me.
We are not close. I get in touch with them only when social occasions force me to.
So, whenever any of them calls me, I get nervous.
“Yes?” I answered.
“Hi,” my sister said. Then a long pause.
“I was wondering if you knew Dad is in the hospital. He has COVID-19,” she added.
“No, I didn’t know,” I replied.
“Yeah, he got admitted today,” she said.
Then, she added that both our younger brother and our younger sister’s husband were also sick. For a moment, I felt like I was in a Monty Python sketch.
“Is it bad?” I asked.
Turns out, my brother-in-law has been in the hospital for almost two weeks now. My brother has had it a bit easier; he just had to isolate.
“Ok, thank you,” I said.
For a moment, I just sat there. What should I do now?
I realized my filial duty required me to call my mother.
“Hey, I heard about Dad,” I said.
My mother went on to tell me how my father’s oxygen levels got so low he had to be admitted. Visits are not allowed, so she will get one daily phone call to let her know how things are going.
She was quite calm. She is a retired nurse, so this doesn’t surprise me.
Then, the same thing that happens whenever we talk happened again: awkward silence.
“Well, let me know,” I said.
“Sure,” she replied.
We hung up.
I have written before about how my parents used to physically and emotionally abuse my siblings and me. I ended up fleeing from home for a few months, although I eventually got back to prove I was a good daughter.
Things did change. There was no more hitting or screaming, and no more name-calling…but we never really addressed the violent issues that had occurred before.
“See, we are no longer doing the horrible things we used to do, so let’s move on,” seemed to be the order of the day.
A couple of years later, I moved out for good, this time in more amicable terms. However, my parents told me they did not approve of this, mainly because I was going to be a young woman living alone in an apartment. Still, they knew there was nothing they could do to stop me.
Here’s the thing: my parents never apologized for what they did. They never acknowledged the damage their actions inflicted on us. I have come to realize that, to them, their parenting practices were the norm, the stuff everybody did.
Eventually, they came to see they were wrong. But they never said they were sorry. Therefore, there has always been an unspoken thing hovering over us.
Have you noticed? People who hurt you are always in a rush for you to forgive and, above all, to forget.
If you don’t, then you are a resentful bitch … apparently, that’s what I am now.
My sisters have a close relationship with my parents. This has baffled me for years. I think it has to do with the fact that, due to personal and professional reasons, they have needed my parents to help them take care of their children. This has caused them to spend a lot of time in my parents’ home.
Did they see something I didn’t see? Did they get to have conversations I never had?
The result is, my siblings are in touch with my parents, and I’m not.
Want to hear something funny?
Technically speaking, my father and I were coworkers. Although we never worked in the same school, we both were public school teachers. He retired only a couple of years ago; therefore, we pretty much know the same people.
As the news of my father’s condition spread, I began to get calls from fellow teachers.
“Hey, is your dad okay? Please, let me know,” they asked.
These calls stress me out. I know people are calling because they want to be kind but, when they hear I’m not as bothered as they expected me to be, they don’t know what to do.
Have you noticed? To the outer world, the person who hurt you is charming and delightful. “Such a great person!”
I find myself in a predicament.
This is my father, the man who used to pull my hair or hit me with a belt if I dared to spill a bit of water.
My father, the man who, when I was around nine, felt the need to inform me I was a disgusting pig that needed to lose weight.
My father, the man who used to terrorize me.
This is my father.
He is a 64-year-old man, overweight, with diabetes and hypertension. And let’s not forget about his family history of heart disease. Luckily, he got medical attention early, but he has many aggravating factors.
After talking to my mother, I couldn’t help to ask myself, “What do I feel?”
Well, I’m not happy. But I’m not as sad as, I assume, a daughter should be.
Does it make sense that I wish I were crying my eyes out?
I see now that, at some point in my life, I built a gigantic, thick wall between that man and myself. It probably sounds like a harsh thing to do. As we have already established, he is my father.
Let me reframe this: if I told you I have done my best to stay away from an abusive partner, would it still seem like an extreme measure? Or would it make all the sense in the world?
My parents hurt me as few people ever have. I used to feel guilty, but now I see my detachment from them is my brain’s way of dealing with the pain. After all, if we don’t care too much about someone, then they can’t hurt us.
I don’t hate them. It’s way worse: I don’t even think about them. The only thing that keeps me from completely straying away is a sense of filial duty.
I do feel a certain amount of sadness. I know I was deprived of something precious, something I see other people have: actual father-daughter affection.
I’m well aware this crappy relationship is at the core of many of my emotional issues. It’s so textbook it’s embarrassing.
And that’s my predicament. I don’t want him to die, the same way I don’t want anybody else to die. But it frightens me how little I care.
The day I fled from home, all those years ago, my father told me I was selfish: “You are not thinking about the pain you are causing us!” For a moment, I felt guilty. But then I thought about my pain…someone had to. I needed to be away from them, so that’s what I did.
Things are different now. I’m no longer a little girl. They can’t hurt me anymore. I face a different kind of danger; the risk of going numb, of detaching myself from anything and anyone to avoid pain. Of all the things my parents did to me, this is probably the worst one.
There’s just one nuance: this is no longer on them. This is my path now. It is in my hands to choose what I’m going to do about this. Perhaps there was a time when this numbness served me well; it kept me safe enough.
However, all things must come to an end. I refuse to be an emotional zombie, an inanimate being who floats through life, not entirely gone, but also not wholly there. This is the sickness I face. I don’t know if I’ll recover.
I have no option but to try.
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