The Absence of

It isn’t any surprise that the word loss has synonyms like lack, and deprivation. Lack is literally the absence of.

So while I haven’t lost my father in the physical sense, he’s still alive and breathing, I lack a father. In my life, there is only the absence of.

There is a certain stigma to being estranged from immediate family members that is difficult to explain. Well we all have difficult relatives. A well-meaning response might begin when this topic is brought up. I often nod, if not smiling, than at least putting forth what I hope is an imitation of one. Wow, I could never imagine not being in touch with my father. They might shake their heads, pity apparent in their eyes. You should really reach out to him, you never know when it will be too late, is perhaps, my least favorite.

Let me tell you something about being estranged from your father, if you were me. You will spend every day for the rest of your life wondering if you will even know when he is dead, if anyone will be able to track you down to tell you. There is not a single person from his side that you are in touch with, he was never close with them, so neither were you.

He will have had a rough life from jump, abuse and poverty and not enough of anything good. He will marry and divorce with four kids before he marries your mother. He will be an alcoholic with mental sickness, and he will beat, yell and drink, then cry, apologize and clean up. For twelve years, this will be the cycle; never staying consistent long enough to get comfortable.  He will lie, and cheat, and steal. He will rip apart your family before he ever leaves. When he does leave, you are eight, and after gnashing his teeth and trying to come back, he will say you are too difficult a child to be in touch with, and he will leave for good.

He will visit a few times a year after a full years absence. He will promise to come to birthday parties and then vanish for weeks or months after he misses them. He will tell you he wishes you were never born, he will write you a suicide letter because you spent an entire phone call screaming at him for not being there enough. When you are mauled by a dog, you will wait for him to rush into your hospital room, where you recover for a full week afterwards. He never rushes in, he never comes at all.  You will belong to a Divorce Club in elementary school that discusses feelings, and you will word vomit through every session, never feeling any relief when you are finished. There is no end to the shame of being a daughter a father doesn’t want.

You will act like it doesn’t really matter. You remind yourself that You are lucky, because your mom is your best friend and she holds your hand through the wreckage of what he has done. You will spout sayings about your family being a triangle instead of a square, different but still good. Your mom will tell you to give her the crafts on Father’s Day that you make in school. But it matters. You will wrestle with your weight and your self-esteem from the year he leaves, stuffing in enough food to provide a balm for the gunshot wound to your life.

The Divorce, a water-shed moment in your childhood is a surprise to no one. He will not be a pariah to your family, instead, he will be erased from its history, which is worse, because you have to pretend he never existed. The hurt will breed anger, it will contaminate everything before healing over itself and becoming a sickly scarred mess that covers a bottomless well of confusion and pain.

You will spend years sorting through the debris and disengaging from him. You will cut him out at 15, and spend equal time hating, cursing him, and hoping he will try to come back into your life. Preferably on his knees, begging, apologizing.

You will be fortunate enough to have your grandfather walk you down the aisle on your wedding day,  but no one shares your first dance. The man you marry will be everything your father never was, and that will be the only thing you will thank your father for. For teaching you all the things to walk away from. Your husband is gentle and slow to anger, a hugger, quiet and funny. He would never walk away from his children.

There will be other men to hold your children at their bris’,  but they have no grandfather on your side. They will ask you if you have misplaced him, and taking the steps you use to help them remember where they have lost a toy, they will ask ‘Where was the last place you saw your dad?’ They will ask if he is dead, and you will swallow the knee jerk impulse to say ‘yes’. That would be better than the admission that you weren’t worth it. You will type and erase, then type and erase, then type, that you wish he was.

You know things about his life after he walked out of yours because once in a while you check on his public social media accounts, and there is more shame to that than anything else. That, like a kicked dog, you come back again and again. You assume he never knows, as you leave no trace but this. However, you carry away what feels like bricks in your stomach. There he is, smiling. The sun shines where he bike rides, and he goes out to eat meals with people he calls friends. You will drown in the embarrassment of partaking in this sometimes-ritual.

You will have a difficult relationship with your mother in law, she will die before it is repaired (if it ever could have been) and you will understand with finality, what it means to grieve without closure. You will circle the same loop in your head, wondering if it will be worse when he dies, knowing you will never know till you know. Knowing there is no other choice than not knowing. You will never reach out to him.

You will question whether his leaving broke the part of you that understands perseverance, if severing such a vital life line has opened the flood gates to walk away from anyone and anything that presents an obstacle. Your nightmares will be ones where dream-you wakes up with your fathers face and you cannot claw it off. Your waking nightmares will be sitting inside your head, listening to your yelling-voice climb louder and louder, the thumping of your heart and the rushing of your blood filling your ears until the yelling no longer feels good. You know normal people don’t do that. Whatever normal is.

You will make resolutions to let it go, and then exceptions that it is okay to hold on to it. You will hoard your grief for this person who is still alive and dole it out in small increments, the expanse of it is overwhelming.

You will write this up, and delete it. You will write this up, and post it. Either way it’s the same, the end is written, and now you wait for the script to catch up.  You pretend it doesn’t matter, but it does.



10 thoughts on “The Absence of

  1. Awful. And yet so painfully, beautifully expressed. Heartbreaking. All I can say is, I am with you, next to you, and you are one hell of a brave, beautiful woman. I don’t know if this was hard to share, but I am so grateful for this view into your beautiful soul.

  2. my heart aches for you as I read this. I am again stunned by your eloquence and your willingness to look within so deeply. AND, I am so admiring of the woman you have become in spite of/because of your pain.

  3. Sweet woman! Your thoughts, pain and survival moves me. You have used your loss wisely and have become a wonderful wife, mother and niece. Allow yourself to feel the sorrow of your loss and the joy of being lov d by so many. I love you. Susy

  4. I have a sister I haven’t spoken to in a decade. It is different than a father but people still sometimes ask questions as if they are entitled to information about one of the most painful relationships in my life. They see estrangement as a problem in search of a solution. They don’t understand that estrangement was the solution to a problem they can’t even imagine.

    Some relationships are malignant cancer and need to be excised. You can do your best to heal the pieces left behind but cancer doesn’t leave room for reconciliation. You either keep it and let it slowly kill you or you cut it out and live with the scars.

    I know you made the right decision, because it is your life and you get to be the boss of you. Sending you love and the absolute certainty that you have always, ALWAYS been enough.

    1. Thank you for sharing this with me. The response to this post in particular has been incredible. I never realized just how many of us have estranged family members. Sending you so much love

  5. Wow. What a powerful story. And the fact that it’s yours makes me ache in my heart for you. You are beloved by your kids, your husband, your aunt and your friends. And I love you, too.

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