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'My dad was "absent" for 20 years of my life. I only just found out why.'

As told to Ann DeGrey

Growing up without my dad meant my childhood was filled with a sense of an overwhelming load of unanswered questions. I loved my mother and I appreciate her now more than ever, but any happiness I seemed to enjoy in my younger years seemed to be overshadowed by my father's absence. Why didn't he live with us? Why was his work so important that he missed out on much of my childhood?

His on-and-off disappearances were never properly explained to me and left a sadness in my heart where there should have been father-daughter memories. For years I felt like I hated my father. But when I made the decision to forgive him, it was absolutely life-changing.

From the age of five, my dad left us for very long periods of time that, according to my mother and her half-truths were "unavoidable". She told me, "Daddy needs to go away for work; he'll be back soon." But as months went past, I always wondered why he never came to visit, why I wasn't enough to keep him close.

My school friends had their dads to cheer at school plays or sports carnivals while I only had my mum. If my friends asked me about my dad, I'd mostly be honest and say that I didn't know. Why should I lie? He was a man who was barely in my life; he appeared intermittently, draped in mystery and hasty departures.

Watch: One of the many effects of growing up with a single parent. Post continues after video. 

Video via YouTube/Psych2Go.

By the time I was seven, he finally came to live with us for a while and I remember feeling very happy that he was back. I remember asking him about his work and being told he was a tradie of one kind or another. But I never got a solid answer.

But the joy of having him home was short-lived because, six months later, he was gone again. And, once more, my mother told me he was away "for work". It wasn't until I was an adult that she told me the truth – my dad had been in and out of prison for several years due to drug dealing and other crimes, including armed robbery.

The impact of this revelation was devastating. Suddenly, all the memories of my childhood seemed to reassemble themselves into stories of betrayal – it felt like a double betrayal for me because my mother hid the truth from me.

I always felt so envious of friends who complained about their fathers' overprotectiveness or embarrassing dad jokes. I felt cheated out of a relationship that most of my friends took for granted. I resented my dad for his criminal behaviour – why the hell couldn't he just give up the criminal life and get a job like everyone else's dad? 

Eventually, he was released from prison after a six-year stint, and it seemed he'd left his previous life behind him. Sadly, for me, this coincided with me moving interstate to study and work, so I barely had time to re-establish my relationship with him. And so I remained angry with the man who did so little to raise me.

Yet, as the years went by, I realised that my anger was a heavy chain that not only weighed me down but also ruined my relationships. I'd become a nasty, temperamental person that nobody liked being around for very long.

So I spent a couple of years not seeing my dad and just keeping our relationship confined to phone calls.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I reached out to my dad again. My parents had split up by that time and my dad was in his 70s and living alone. I visited him for his birthday and tried very hard to stop seeing him as the man who'd failed me but as a person grappling with his own demons and regrets.

The change came gradually. I decided to soften my heart as I saw that he was just a human—with flaws and a willingness to change. 

Forgiving my father came as a series of small choices. I included him in updates about my life, sharing photos of my children, and eventually bringing my daughters to meet him. I began to see the joy in letting go of resentment and seeing my dad through my daughters' eyes – not as a man who had made stupid and hurtful mistakes, but as "Poppy" – a man who tells funny stories and sneaks them a bag of lollies when I'm not around to stop him.

Each step forward in our father-daughter relationship was all about establishing a new relationship, one built not on what I'd wished my father had been, but on what was possible to save from the wreckage of the past. My relationship with my dad will never be the storybook cliché, but I'm glad I mended things with him and I feel like a happier person now that I have him in my life; not perfect, but real.

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

Feature image: Canva.

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