My dad doesn’t like me. I know he loves me— but like me—not so much. No, this is not a conclusion that I have come to based on the current state of our relationship. He actually said it. He doesn’t like me.
My parents weren’t married, but my dad was always in my life. When they broke up, no court ordered child support or visitation was necessary. We spent just about every weekend together. Summers were the best. We built sand castles at the Jersey shore while our skin fried in suntan oil. We played tennis in the park. We rode roller coasters and ate ice cream at Six Flags. I was always sad when it was time to go home.
My dad was my world. No one could tell me he wasn’t the coolest man on the planet. He wore the latest fashions, listened to latest music and drove the latest car. I remember when the show Knight Rider was wildly popular in the 80’s and my dad came to pick me up from school in his brand new Datsun 280ZX—one of the first cars that could talk. I was queen of the playground for the rest of that week! If you saw him walking down the street right now, I guarantee he would have on a neatly pressed shirt and a sharp crease in his pants.
When he started a new relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife, things started to change. I found myself spending more time with her children and less time with him. Even though I continued to visit him regularly, he seemed to become less interested in me. He was there, but he was no longer present. Over the years, we experienced the growing pains that come with blending a family. They took their toll on all of us. At some point, I guess he felt like he had to choose between her and me. So he chose her. The woman who took me along for rides that she took with men that were not my father (and yes he knew). The woman who would eat a slice of pizza in front of me and her 2 daughters as we salivated over crust that we would have to share. The woman who had me spend most of my weekend visit cleaning a house that I didn’t even live in. He chose her.
By the time I went away to college, we had totally drifted apart. We kept in touch, but the calls and visits became more sporadic. And when we did talk, the conversation was strained. I didn’t take it personally. He was never a man of many words and by now, he didn’t talk to the rest of the family that often either. Once my daughter, his first grandchild, was born I thought things might change. They didn’t. Still, I didn’t take it personally. That’s just who he is, I told myself. When my daughter started talking she called him grandfather, as she saw him so rarely, she needed to be reminded of who he was. That’s still how she indifferently identifies him. Grandfather.
When I found out that my dad said he didn’t like me, there was no major meltdown. I didn’t even cry. Instead, it was like a light came on. I felt relieved. I felt closure. For so many years, I never considered that his lack of interest in my life was about me. In my mind, I had decided that his life had simply led him down a path that didn’t leave much room for me and my family. That’s why I never took it personally, and as strange as it may sound, I had actually made peace with it. Or maybe I had become numb to it. Only to find out that it was personal, it was about me. He didn’t like the woman that I had become. The more I thought about it, the more I told myself that it was okay, I’m okay. He doesn’t have to like me. I like myself enough for the both of us. I know that who and what I am is not determined by him or his opinion of me. I don’t need his approval. He does not hold the piece of me that makes me whole. I am proud of what I have accomplished with and without his support.
I never had a conversation with him about what he said. Having this sort of conversation with your parents is pointless. They never remember things the way you do, they won’t acknowledge your feelings or your pain, they get defensive, and they will no doubt say “I did the best I could” at some point during the conversation. So there will be no epic movie moment where I shout through my tears, “How come you never told me that you are proud of me?” To which he responds, “Don’t you know that already? I did the best that I could to let you know how much I love you. You have made me more proud than you will ever know!” in dramatic fashion. Cut to the next scene of him playing catch in the backyard with my daughter as I watch smiling from the kitchen window. And scene. Ain’t gonna happen. And I’m okay with that.
My dad is not perfect. He has made mistakes. Who hasn’t? But rather than hold him to who I think he should be, I accept him for who he is. Rather than judge him for being what most would consider a crappy dad, I reflect on his successes and his struggles to try to better understand him. I remember all that he is rather than what he is not. I think about all of those fun summers we had.
So I don’t get sad when my daughter and I don’t get calls on our birthdays, or I don’t get a card on mother’s day, or when he misses a scheduled visit when I’m in town. I’ll still call on Father’s Day. We’ll have our usual strained chat. I’ll tell him I love him. Because I still do and always will.