“I love you too Dad,” I respond while trying to actually mean the words coming out of my mouth.
Here’s the thing, I do love my dad, and I have developed a soft spot for him. Because even though our relationship has been difficult over the years, I know he means well, and he is my father.
But to be honest, throughout my life our relationship has been strained. I realize no one is perfect, but during my teenage years I started to notice exactly how human and flawed both of my parents are—but particularly my father.
I wasn’t completely oblivious in my younger days, but some of the behavior seemed “normal” or acceptable because he was my dad and I looked up to him as any little girl does. Like anyone, I trusted the environment my parents raised me up in, so even though things were definitely weird from the outside looking in, I was not on the outside—I was in the midst of it all, lost and not even aware.
It was hard for me to see his parental pedestal crumble when he abused and cheated on my mother and then, due to his grief, attempted to take his own life. I bottled it up and just let it sit. I even distanced myself from my father and his side of the family for a few years once these flaws really came to light.
For a long time, I never really dealt with these intensely formative and tragic moments of my life head on.
Even now it is not perfect. I would love to say that as an adult I have moved past and accepted all my father’s pain and errors. It would be an added bonus to say that we are all on the same page, comfortable with each other, or that his ways have changed.
But it’s hard when he hasn’t tried to get to know me, or my husband, or our son. Or when we have tried to have conversations with him, but he seems disinterested. It is also hard on my husband and me, as we try to raise his grandchildren by showing them healthy relationships. I think, how am I supposed to do that when he and his now-wife aren’t exactly healthy relationship examples for my children to be around?
Part of me has thought that it would be ideal to just cut ties completely again: Say that we tried, gave it a valiant effort, but life is too short to just waste time and energy sitting in uncomfortable silences or conversations just because we are blood. But then there is different part of me that says I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him—because, frankly, he is blood.
And not too long ago I realized something. If I never allow myself to forgive him, I will be the one who missed out on a potential healed relationship with my father. And I want my children to know my dad and to love him as a grandpa. And, you know, the funny thing is, now I am a parent myself who is flawed, human, and very aware that I am not perfect. And I want my own children to mean their “I love you’s” in spite of all of my shortcomings.