My birthday is right around Father’s day so every few years it falls on the actual Father’s day holiday. Growing up, it was kind of neat though. On the years that it was the same we would celebrate both and I never felt like my birthday was upstaged or forgotten or anything like that.
For the past several years Father’s day has been completely different, though. It’s now a very confusing day, one where I reflect on past events and have a hard time picking the right card or saying the right things.
I remember reading a story about Jennifer Anniston in a magazine once, and the article mentioned that she was estranged from her mother. I thought to myself, how can anyone not talk to their parent at all? The whole concept of estrangement was so foreign to me. Until it happened in my family.
My parents were married for forty years when my dad up and left. Just moved out one day and in with another woman. It was shocking. My parents had always had a strained marriage, we kids knew that their relationship wasn’t what we wanted for ourselves when we married one day. They would go days without talking and he did even leave for about a week once when I was in junior high. He came back though, and my mom never questioned why he had left, she just took him right back.
We seemed to have the perfect family from the outside, and we did in a lot of ways. We genuinely loved each other and I knew that my dad would do anything for us kids. He was involved in sports, church and spoiled us with material things. I never doubted his love for us. I think because everything else in our lives was so good, we kind of pretended that the spirit of unhappiness my dad seemed to have, didn’t exist.
I am the youngest child and as I got older, I could see that things seemed to be deteriorating between my parents. I lived at home while in college so I had a front row seat to the impending train wreck. Dad had always worked a lot but now he would get up super early and stay away until late at night. When he was home, conversation was strained or non-existent. I remember going on a weekend trip and when I returned that Sunday afternoon, it was obvious something had happened. Mom could barely talk, she was so upset, and there was a new car in the driveway. (to this day, I don’t know what happened) The tension in the air was suffocating.
That was pretty much the last straw for me, I had to get out of that house. At this point, I was done with college and had a good job. I went out and found an apartment that week and moved out. I think in my heart of hearts I knew that once I left things could fall apart. I decided that I had to leave, regardless. It wasn’t my responsibility to be the glue that held the family together.
It was about a year later that he left. He didn’t even have the nerve to tell my mom to her face. He went to my older sister and told her. She had to be the one to tell my mom what was going on. Although my mom was absolutely heartbroken, I don’t think she was surprised. I think she had been praying for years that it wouldn’t happen like this. Within a week or two of him leaving, we found out that there was another woman involved. She had been married also, and had left her husband and three young girls for my dad.
My siblings and I were angry beyond belief. We knew that things weren’t right between my parents but the lying and adultery was totally shocking. It went against everything he had instilled in us growing up. As the months went on, we found out that he had led two lives for years. We immediately took our mother’s side. I wanted nothing to do with him. I was so mad I couldn’t even talk to him.
As the months went by, he and the woman holed up in a condo he had bought on the sly. His booming business fell apart, mostly because the whole town thought he was a lying scum bag. His sometimes aloof and flaky behavior was no longer tolerated for my sweet mother’s sake. People actually said to me “I always thought your dad was a big jerk.” I’m not sure if they meant to make me feel better, but it always made me feel worse.
The months dragged by and before I knew it, it has been about 2 years since I had spoken to him. He had tried maybe three times to get in touch. A random birthday card or a phone message at Thanksgiving. It was like he had decided that the previous forty years had been all of the time he was putting into us and now he was clocking out.
The foundations of my world were rocked even further when my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer. For a year and a half we shuttled to and from doctors appointments and treatments. During this time I did not have the energy to even think about my dad. I was emotionally drained. Caring for my mother and dealing with the grief that we all knew was coming was overwhelming. She passed away after eighteen months of fighting the disease. Three months before she died I gave birth to my daughter. Someone asked me if I was going to call my dad to tell him. I didn’t have the desire or energy and didn’t feel the slightest bit obligated to call.
Estrangement from my dad was a really weird feeling. I kind of knew that I would talk to him again eventually, and I’m glad that God gave me the chance to. It would have been devastating if something would have happened to him while we weren’t communicating. Forgiving dad was the key to getting past our estrangement. When you are hurt that bad, it’s hard to forgive. I wish I would have forgiven dad sooner. Even though he and my mom had such a messy divorce, he would have been supportive when my mom died. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Our estrangement robbed him of the opportunity to bless us and redeem himself a bit in our time of despair.
When my daughter was about eight months old, my sister decided to make peace with dad. I think in her mind it was better to have one parent, rather than none at all. Both of us decided that it would be better if we did it as a group. We met dad for lunch one day. It was awkward but pleasant. None of us made reference to the past four years. A few months later we even went to his house for a birthday dinner for my grandmother.
It’s been two years since we reconciled. Things haven’t always been great. One of my siblings still has major issues with dad and that has made it a little hard. I try to meet him for lunch every month or so and it’s not nearly as awkward as that first meeting. My little girl is always excited to see him and he seems genuinely happy to spend time with her. He’s not the perfect dad, but for a lot of years he was really close and I’ve decided that has to count for something.