real life

'When my estranged dad was dying, family begged me to reconcile. I refused.'

Content warning: This post deals with suicide and could be triggering for some readers.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

"You better reconcile. You don’t want to leave things unsaid and have regrets." 

"You’ll feel horrible if he dies and you haven’t spoken." 

"Don’t you think it’s time to forgive poor old Dad?"

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, those who knew of our estranged relationship were quick to cajole me into making amends, to re-establish a relationship before it was too late. Whilst well meaning, my general feeling toward these attempts of reconciliation was a simple: Why?

For all intents and purposes - now aged 34, married and with a baby - my dad had been ‘dead to me’ (said with all the dramatic poise of a The Bold and the Beautiful season ending cliff-hanger) for the better part of a decade.

Growing up watching Father of The Bride and The Little Princess, I remember sobbing as a seven or eight-year-old, even then achingly aware that the bond on the big screen was not mine. 

Years and years of neglect in every sense of the word: broken promises to come and watch me play hockey at school, decades of cheating on my mother, years of watching my little sister cry when he couldn’t be bothered getting off the couch to go play tennis with her as promised, countless forgotten milestones; even simple things like forgetting the names of boyfriends, or worse, meeting them, deciding he was bored and just getting up from a table mid conversation to go and find someone more interesting, had all added up.

At a certain point, isn’t the more mature and self-preserving option simply to say 'enough'?

Family is family, blood is thicker than water and all these similar phrases fail to capture that family is much, much more than those you share DNA with. In 2022, the definition of family is broader than ever. Why should you persevere with blood relationships if doing so causes more harm than good, all in the name of ‘family’?

If you have a snake in a bag, and you keep putting your hand in that bag and the snake keeps biting, is it your fault for continually putting your hand in the bag expecting a different response - or is it the snake's?

Sure, there were times - sometimes months at a time - where the relationship seemed to improve. 

When my first marriage broke down, ironically, my father became a good sounding board, simply being there at the other end of the phone. But as always, something - sometimes as simple as a disagreement about where to eat for dinner - would open from just beneath the surface and his true feelings toward me would spill forth.

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For years, I’d wake to find War and Peace in text message format. Dad had clearly been warming to his theme of "you’re a useless daughter" overnight and decided to text through his novel for me to wake to.

For anyone, never mind a daughter to start their day like this, it doesn’t take an expensive therapy session to realise that’s not going to lead anywhere positive. So you cut the communication. How can you trust the seemingly ‘good’ times when you know underneath that, put in simple terms, your dad just doesn’t like you?

Perhaps there’s a lingering sense of love and responsibility in the simplest biological terms inherited from the cave days: Me, Father/ You, Offspring. But in the modern world, why should every father and daughter relationship be one of love? Mine certainly wasn’t and I'd guess I’m not alone. We didn’t like each other, didn’t respect each other’s choices, and had very little nice to say to each other. Biology aside; why persevere with a relationship that is only pain and anger?

When my mother [my parents were separated] got the call that my dad had opted to take his own life rather than face a terminal cancer diagnosis, my only thought was for my little sister. I knew she would take the news badly.

There were no tears shed or beating of breasts lamenting my lost chance of reconciliation. And 12 months on, there still haven’t been. 

I didn’t attend the funeral. Being 38 weeks pregnant at the time, I wasn’t able to travel. Instead, I watched on via Zoom, which seemed a fittingly removed way to observe safely the man who had shaped my life with a hand of emotional cruelty and ambivalence. 

I am proud of standing my ground, proud that I put a line in the sand and would not walk back over it. I know my family sometimes question if years from now I will have a breakdown and feel regret. But I can honestly say that it hasn’t happened yet. I doubt it will.

Toxic is toxic, and although the experience of death is the ultimate reminder of our own mortality - I stand firm that it should not cause you to question decisions made in the preservation of your own self-worth and survival.

You will never regret having your own back.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14 - Crisis Support. Suicide Prevention.

Kid's Helpline is also available on 1800 551 800.

Feature Image: Getty.