I Wanted to Call This an Open Letter to My Dad but That Felt like a Lie.
Another public therapy session and narrative for those who may relate. Very slight trigger warning if you have experienced any abandonment or shame related to a parent.
I don’t even know how to address this letter. I could put “dear dad” but that feels like writing a letter to Santa. Like I’m wasting time sending a letter into a dark abyss because the addressee doesn’t exist. Even if I spent my whole childhood thinking they did.
I’m writing and publishing this letter on a public space that you may one day see. So I’m holding myself accountable to be honest and purposeful with my words. I have spent over a decade wrestling with the idea that I might hate you. I’m still not sure if I do, but I’m a lot closer to knowing than I was when I was younger. I have spent my entire teens and twenties walking cautiously through a haunted house of frightening and unanticipated emotions, all of which I can trace back to you.
I’ve been unsure. I’ve spent my adult life being so wildly unsure of myself. When I moved away from Michigan at nine years old, I cried less than ten minutes into the ride and told mom that I missed you. Every day since then, I have been unsure. Unsure about whether you missed me, unsure of whether I was worth missing, unsure about my place in your priorities, unsure about my ability to be loved, unsure about being a disappointment. I spent the next ten years chasing some sort of guarantee; a guarantee that I mattered, that I was worthy, that I didn’t fuck up. I chased it in food, in starvation, in love, in achievement, in smoking, in drinking, in self hate, in desperation. I chased it down every street I crossed and I still couldn’t find it.
I’ve been afraid. I’ve been afraid that I’ll spend the rest of my life in self pity. That I’ll spend forever trying to understand what I did wrong. I’ve been afraid that I won’t be able to know why I was unworthy and I will never be able to correct it. Or worse, I’ve been afraid to find out that I was born unworthy, that I’ve always been that way, and then I’ll never be any different. I’m still afraid. I’m afraid that anyone who reads this post will think that I’m dramatic, or that I’m writing this for reasons other than self healing. For attention or for commiseration. I’m afraid that they think I’m worthless the same way you do. I’m afraid that I really do hate you. I’m afraid that I have to learn how to live the rest of my life not having a father. I’m also afraid that I don’t hate you. I’m afraid that even though you don’t think about me, I still wish you did.
I’ve been worried. I’ve been so worried that I won’t ever be able to fix myself. That I will one day have a child and I’ll pass everything that’s wrong with me to them. I’m worried that I will forget to show my child that they are worthy and they are whole. I’m worried I won’t know how to do that because how can I do what I didn’t learn? I’m worried that I’ll never get past this. I’m worried that I’ll spend money on a therapist every day for the rest of my life only to be the same as I was the first day I told her about you. I’m worried that I’m wasting my time trying to undo what you did. I’m worried that I’ll realize it was my fault, and that I could have done something to stop all of this. I’m worried that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out, unsuccessfully.
I’ve been angry. I’ve cursed at you from across the country on several lonely nights. I’ve been angry at your for what you’ve made my think about myself. I’ve hated myself for being the reason you left me, and I’ve hated you for making me think that’s the truth.
But I’ve been trying. I’ve been trying so hard. In 2015, I had an awakening moment of realization with my therapist that sparked four years now of constant and persistent trying. I’ve learned how to trust myself. I’ve learned my worth. I’ve learned what my values are, I’ve learned how to create self-esteem from esteemable acts, and I’ve learned how to separate what I do from who I am. I’ve learned that I am not a product of how I was raised, but how I choose to understand and adjust my behavior as an adult. I’ve learned that I actually have a lot of confidence from my mother that I was dismissing out of guilt and shame. I’ve learned that I did not do anything wrong. I’ve learned that as a nine year old, you cannot act in any sort of way that would remove your inherent worth as a person. I’ve learned that I won’t find your acceptance, validation or love in anyone or anything but myself. I’ve learned that this is my experience and there is no wrong way for me to feel it. I’ve learned that not only will I know how to show my children their worth, but I will be exceptionally focused on this as a result of my experiences.
I’ve learned a lot because of you. I think if you prioritized me and our relationship, I would not have had to take the time to learn these things. But I also think that the process of learning these things has changed me in so many ways, and I am grateful for who it has made me become.
I still don’t know if I hate you, and I’m not sure if I will ever know. But I’ve decided to stop trying to figure it out. I’ve spent so long trying to find answers and resolve and some sort of “closure” I guess. But I don’t think I need that anymore. I’ve forgiven you for what you did and I think you only did the best you could do with the skills you had.
So I’ll continue to become the person I was meant to be, and I’ll hope you’re doing the same somewhere.