I don't love my dad – but I don't have the guts to cut him out of my life

It was not that long ago that I realised my relationship with my father wasn’t healthy.

It all clicked when someone asked me: ‘Do you love him?’ And I had to stop and think. The answer was no, I didn’t love him – and still don’t.

I always thought I had to be the bigger person and would try over and over again to have a happy and normal relationship with him. But all my attempts over the years have been fruitless.

I’ve been told he used to take my brother and I everywhere, that he used to take very good care of us. But I’ve only ever seen it in pictures. I don’t have any memories of my father being affectionate. Our relationship has always been cold and distant.

I remember a few family laughs and good holidays, but my mother was always involved in them; it was never just him.

The best memory of major disappointment that comes to mind is from about seven years ago, when I was 16. I was choosing what subjects I wanted to study in high school, and as the wordsmith I’ve always been – and always will be – I chose classical studies.

I remember endless times at the dinner table when my decisions were questioned by my father, always accompanied by: ‘Those dead languages you’re studying are a waste of time.’ Some of my family members came to my rescue by scorning him for saying it, but it didn’t change much.

My mother did defend me, in this specific moment and in every other time he disapproved of my decisions.

I moved to Scotland to study at university a couple of years after that conversation. After, my relationship with my father petered away. Before I moved out, we barely spoke to each other anyway. He never showed any shred of interest in my life.

I did try to show an interest in his hobbies, but was always deemed not knowledgeable enough to talk about them with him.

Truthfully, I don’t have the guts to cut him off

Meaningless conversations disappeared when we didn’t run into each other in the kitchen any longer. It was a huge relief to know that I could live my life outside of his scrutiny. At this time my relationship with my mum was also very distant; I wanted to keep them both as separate from me as possible.

But my mother has always shown an interest in my life and made a lot of effort to keep in touch with me while I was away. I spoke to her regularly on the phone, and only when he was around she would pass me the phone and I would speak to my dad, but there was never an active intention of him calling me directly or vice versa.

After my degree, the time had come for me to return to visit my family before moving back to Scotland and getting on with my life.

Me, my parents and my brother were going for lunch. While all of us were trying to pretend to enjoy each other’s company, sharing a civil and unimportant conversation, the topic of a gang-rape case was brought to the table. Though there was a high profile case involving the crime in Spain, it was brought up abruptly.

There have always been topics of conversation to avoid around my father, he has never been one to reason with. He had the audacity to say that, according to the videos in circulation, the girl who had been raped didn’t seem to be having such a bad time.

Knowing I am a dedicated feminist, I thought this comment was not only disrespectful against women, but disrespectful against me. I understand you don’t agree with me, but don’t say things like that in public and expect me to just let it slide.

I stood up and left. A part of me wishes I had taken that opportunity to say: ‘That’s it, I’m finished with you.’ But realistically, I was not economically independent at the time and could not survive without his money, and he is still my mother’s partner.

I know it would upset her and make her life more difficult if we didn’t speak to each other. I know he would blame her for that.

He never apologised. He just came into my bedroom later and told me that everyone is allowed to have their own opinion.

He told me that I should learn to respect other people’s views, especially older people who know more than I do. Still not a good enough excuse to disrespect me in public, I don’t think.

I decided he is not worthy of my love, and he is certainly not worthy of my respect either

My mother agreed with me and confessed she had had to put up with similar comments from him that she had also found disrespectful.

But she did point out that she thought my reaction was out of line. ‘You should respect him, he’s your father,’ she said. She seemed upset about the topic, but looked like she didn’t want to get into a fight with him, so I let it go.

Part of the reason why I still remain on speaking terms with my father is the complications estrangement would bring to my mother.

I don’t know if it was my mother that sent him up to speak to me or if it was his own decision. I do know he did it because he had to. He thought he was right and has never apologised since. I’ll hold it against him forever.

There and then I decided he was not worthy of my love, and he was certainly not worthy of my respect, either.

Crossing boundaries is something very different from respecting personal opinions, and I realised he had been crossing boundaries all my life. Even when he was aware that certain topics or conversations made me uncomfortable, he would always be sure to mention them around me to make me mad. He justified it as ‘a bit of fun’, blaming me for ‘not having a sense of humour’.

On the rare occasion when his number does pop up, anxiety overwhelms me. Even before I answer, I know I’ll hang up feeling as if I’m not good enough, that I’m ashamed of myself – that I should be more respectful towards him. When actually, it has been me who has been disrespected my whole life on a regular basis.

Invariably, we speak about the weather, and he lectures me on how to live my life. He tells me that my job doesn’t pay me well enough; that I should be looking for a full-time position and not freelancing because that’s not going to give me a pension. I should be doing a masters so I can become a teacher back in my hometown.

Whether I want those things or not is never a question. I should just listen because he apparently knows better.

Truthfully, I don’t have the guts to cut him off. I don’t have the guts to stand in front of the rest of my family and say I will not speak to him anymore. But I wish I did.

I wish I could find the strength to walk away, like I did on that summer evening.

Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]

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