Parental Love (Or Lack Thereof)

I don’t love my dad. There was a time when I did, I suppose, but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is a constant discomfort around him, as if he were an inconvenient guest who had overstayed his welcome in our home. I never felt like I could be myself around him. If I was watching TV and he came into the living room, I would let him turn the channel and quietly leave, even if I really wanted to watch my show. I avoided the garage and the shed, both his territory. Even family camping trips felt odd, as if we (my mother, sisters, and I) were encroaching upon his domain.

My father was never cruel to us. He never hit or verbally abused any of us. Once, he compared my sisters and I to our much thinner, prettier cousins, which made me feel ugly and not worthy of love.

I don’t ever remember my parents showing affection to one another. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t. My memory is terrible, I will admit. Even though my life was relatively void of trauma until my miscarriage, I managed to block out quite a bit of my childhood. That said, I don’t remember my parents being very affectionate with one another, and I think that’s probably an accurate assessment. What I do remember is not arguments, but resentment. Lots of resentment.

My father resented having daughters. He made no effort to hide his disappointment about us not being boys. I guess it never occurred to him that he could teach girls to hunt, fish, and build things, just as well as boys.

That’s why it tore my heart a fresh wound to see his adult stepsons crying inconsolably at my father’s funeral. Having shed tears in mourning of my father’s emotional departure from my life, sporadically, yet fervently, over the preceding 10 years, I had none left to mourn his permanent, physical exit from my life.

My father had never taken an interest in me. He never attended a band concert or marching band performance (I played alto saxophone for 6 years), school play, science fair, or awards ceremony. Not a single one. I don’t remember having conversations with him about anything that was important or interesting to me. It’s no wonder I was struck dumb with how passionately his chosen sons mourned his passing. What had he given to them that he refused to give to us? That he couldn’t give to us? I couldn’t imagine that he was capable of having that kind of impact on someone.

As I said, I had already cried all my tears for the father I never had. I had forgiven him and moved on. That’s the only reason that my father’s suicide at age 57 doesn’t even come close to competing with my miscarriage as the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me. In fact, I don’t consider it a traumatic event in my life. It was a traumatic event in his life, in the lives of his wife and stepchildren. But not mine.

That sounds cold, I know. I know we’re supposed to love our parents unconditionally. We’re supposed to be sad when they die. I don’t believe that’s right. I struggled for years to try to build a relationship with him, only to be turned away time and again. For some reason, he didn’t have the capacity or the will to love me. I was tired of being hurt, tired of trying to love him, tired of punishing myself for not loving him. So, I stopped.

“They” often say that women marry their fathers. That thought used to terrify me to no end. In fact, for four years I dated a man who, apart from his college education and physical appearance, was the spitting image of my father. He withheld affection, yet I hung on for dear life. I’ll save the details for another post, but my point is that I came dangerously close to spending the rest of my (or his) life with a man exactly like my dad.

It sends a chill through my body any time I see in my husband even the tiniest speck of my father. It would kill me if my own children experienced the heartbreak of a father who doesn’t love them. I know that won’t happen, but the fear is still there.

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11 thoughts on “Parental Love (Or Lack Thereof)

  1. I just wanted to pop in and say that this was very brave of you to post. AND – that I have a similar relationship with my mother. I totally identify with you on this. My mother is still alive, but there is no bond between us (or as little of one as is possible – she would say there is and I say there is not) and I often times think that when she dies, I will be just fine with it. Which freaks people out.

    Unconditional love should be given from parent to child. When that does not happen (which is the case with you, and with me), that child cannot ever be expected to give unconditional love to that parent. It just doesn’t work that way.

  2. That was a very brave post. My father commit suicide too. I have written endlessly about how its made me feel. I hope one day I’ll get to a point where I can actually post about how he’s affected me.

    • Thank you. I’m still processing all the ways my father has affected me. He may not have had an active role in my life, but he sure did leave a dent. More like a crater. And lots and lots of debris.

  3. Well done you on breaking the cycle by casting the unaffectionate man to the side and choosing someone different. So many lack the courage, much less the understanding. You’re one tough cookie. 😉

    • Thanks. It didn’t feel very courageous at the time. I still kick myself that I wasted so much time with him and let myself stay in an unhealthy relationship for so long. But, like I said, that’s a post for another day. 🙂

  4. This was a brave post and you can’t imagine how helpful it was to me, a stranger almost a year and half later, to read today. Perfect timing. Thanks for being courageous enough to share.

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