My parents split up when I was 3 years old. I don’t have a lot of memories from back then, but I do remember the exact moment when I knew he’d gone and the abandonment feeling installed in my heart and mind. I was waiting for him, looking down the balcony at my grandmother’s apartment. I waited, and waited, and waited… But he didn’t show up. That was the same day I chose to live disconnected from others because “if I don’t feel, then I don’t hurt”.
To be fair, he did show up in other occasions and we shared ice creams, movies, songs, car rides. I grew up and spent some time with him at work, so I learned about TV and movies industry, from scripts to editing. I made friends with some of his friends, I got to meet interesting people and even got to officially work with him after I graduated college -totally unplanned but that’s how life works!
Yet, in all of those years, every time I tried to talk about our relationship, about what happened and how he lived through that, he’d blame my mother, my family, his youth, the system, the weather, the moon phase and, from time to time, even God. He blamed me too, for not having reached out when he disappeared, “you are my daughter as much as I am your father”. I bought some of his excuses and explanations but, as I grew older and had my own relationships, I knew I was looking for his version of the story to complete a puzzle that, until then, had been built with other people’s points of views: from my mom’s to my colleagues at work.
+20 years of therapy helped, of course, to cope with the anger and the frustration, with the sadness and the fear. If the one man who was supposed to love me unconditionally and stay with me didn’t choose me, then who would?
From time to time I’d see this feeling manifest in my relationships with men and, as much as I was aware of it, it was hard to stop it. I can only imagine how crazy I must have looked in the eyes of some of them, recriminating things that seemed more than fair and logical to me but objectively, were a bit too much for “us”.
Still, as I grew older and did my inner work, I was able to let go of my dad and the narrative of abandonment and neglect. I found a way to forgive him, even if I didn’t understand, or even know, his reasons. We started communicating less, and less, until one day even the emails stopped.
Then, on my 39th birthday, he sent a “Happy Birthday” email. Nothing too spectacular, just a standard one with good wishes and blessings and the “I hope you have a great time in spite of the pandemic” phrase that all of us who had birthdays between March and July 2020 received.
I wasn’t planning on answering back. As I said, I let go of him and that meant I had nothing left to say…Or so I believed, until a couple of days later, in the middle of a very, very sad episode of Grey’s Anatomy (no judgement, please!) I opened his email, hit Reply and wrote about my frustration of having spent lots of money to fix something I didn’t even break in the first place. I managed to ask him the exact same question that haunted me for years: If the one man who was supposed to love me unconditionally and stay with me didn’t choose me, then who would?
The episode finished. I washed my face and went to bed. My life continued. All these years taught me to not expect an answer and to worry if I got one, because that would mean a whole new (or old) set of excuses and blaming. Somehow I feel too old for that now.
A few days went by and a reply came. My brain, and then my body, reacted without even reading it. I got mad because I knew where this was headed. I got mad because I replied and of course, now he’d want to have the last word. I got mad because I’d want to answer back and say things I didn’t even feel anymore, just to have something to say. What part of “letting go” I still haven’t understood?!
I kept myself as busy as I could, and as away from my phone as possible. But my mind couldn’t stop making up phrases that sounded like him: “I divorced your mom, not you”, “You lived too far”, “You didn’t call me either”, “Ask your mom what happened”…
If I have learned something from all those meditation, mindfulness, self-improvement courses is that our mind keeps bringing patterns back to explain reality. And the one I was experiencing that day was too uncomfortable and distracting. It was better to sit down, read the email and let it say what it had to say. I was angry already so, what could he say to make it worse?
Some things you dream of your entire life, not knowing if they’ll ever happen. Some others, you expect -particularly the negative ones- and you think you know how it will feel when they happen. But life, and people, never cease to amaze me, to surprise me, and to take me off guard.
That email said some of the phrases I had expected almost my entire life to hear. It also validated many memories I had come to believe were phantasies, because if two people go through something but never talk about it, then maybe it never happened. In the end, it felt like something written by one of my best friends -a divorced dad who often doesn’t know how to handle the relationship with his kids because that means dealing with an upset ex-wife.
I had to read it some 3 or 4 times to believe my eyes. There is was, the version I had been missing: A 30 year-old divorced father who is scared, worried, disconcerted and sad because he needs to rebuild his own life and, also, his relationship with a kid who lives with his upset ex. A man who, through the years, had to learn to choose carefully what activities he shared with his daughter because she was growing at a pace he could not keep, because of distance and time and life. A dad who was proud of how his daughter turned out, even if that same daughter questioned him and faced him with hard truths.
The memories I had were very real and we had the same feelings: excitement and joy because we were together, a deep love for ice creams and music, respect and responsibility at work. We did things together and then we were sad to say goodbye. And I still am surprised I can write WE instead of Dad and I. Yes, there’s been a WE in our past.
What a gift to live to see a dream come true, specially when that dream involves someone other than yourself. What a privilege to read his words and feel compassion and gratitude and love. What a relief to have opened that email and not find same old, same old. But then, it hit me: the narrative of the abandoned child, the drama of the historic wound, the blaming I did, the Daddy Issues. It’s all officially over.
From this moment on, I am responsible for shaping my life, for rewriting that narrative and owning my fears, my obsessions and my needs. I am free to rebuild the story of my life and, at the same time, I have to make decisions based solely on what I know, feel and want. My past doesn’t define me anymore.
It kind of feels like the moment when you move into a new place. Boxes and boxes filled with your “old stuff” piled in a “new space”. Yes, those pans and pots used to be hanging next to the blender, the couch was against the big wall and the pictures were all over your living room and your bed was facing the big window you loved. But now, you have the opportunity to take all that and organize it differently, to leave the boxes there for a while until you are ready.
I have a lot of work to do and I am excited for whatever comes ahead. But right now, I am standing in front of my piled boxes, enjoying the peace that this email, those words and that truth brought to my life. I am celebrating the absence of negative feelings and the opportunity to fill that space with new ones, that I am yet to discover. And I am, above all things, grateful, because spending lots of money in therapy, lots of time meditating and lots of years crying made possible this outcome.
Nothing is a waste… Our problem is that we are too impatient, too anxious, to wait for the results to come up!