A short family history

Apologies for those of you who tune in for political insight and witty comments on sport and books, this is another confessional outpouring. 

Today I received a parcel in the mail from my Mum. She often sends me things on a whim, mostly press cuttings from the Sunday Times, which is nice but weird, so this is not unusual. So I tear it open, and then as the envelopes inside fall out and I catch a glimpse of the handwriting I remember what month of the year it is and that my Mum likes to forward me mail from my Dad in time for my birthday / Christmas, even though I have asked her not to. 

So question number 1 I sense you asking is why is my Mum forwarding me mail from my Dad. Well, long story… and the story will answer question 2, which I imagine is why am I upset about this. Oh and hopefully it will answer questions 3 and 4 which I expect to be why don’t you ask your Dad to stop sending cards, and why don’t I do something to change the current situation. 

Or you can stop reading now and I’ll just happily witter on….

Growing up I was a Daddy’s girl. My brother was born when I was 3 and a half so I think my parents worked out I should have some kind of special Daddy daughter treat every year. My Dad used to take me on the train to London, we played cards, ate the sandwiches my Mum had prepared, and then when we got there we did touristy activities like watching the Trooping of the Colour, and then we went home again. I actually only really remember playing cards and watching the Trooping of the Colour but in my head it happened more than once, and we had super fun. In hindsight it may have been a one-off. And we may only have been in London for a few hours. 

Then when I turned 14 my Dad missed my birthday. Like he didn’t come home until long after I’d gone to bed. He’d promised he would be home, but he wasn’t. A few months later our parents sat us down at the kitchen table after dinner and Mum let us know they were separating. I remember very clearly peeling the paper off my yogurt pot at eye level so I could avoid looking at my Dad who said nothing throughout the whole period. This despite the fact the separation was brought about by his love for another woman. A woman who my Mum had invited into our home, a woman who my brother and I had accompanied to the pub with my Dad, a woman whose husband was working abroad and who had turned to my Dad when he came home and developed a drinking problem. (A problem he passed on to her). 

So Dad left to live with Linda. My brother was already troubled and ill at ease at school, so this did not sit well with him. Apparently my Mum had to sleep in his room for weeks. But we were trying to be a modern family and make the whole thing work out. Dad still took my brother to hockey practice, and we were working on what shared activity he and I might pursue. 

A wee diversion (it’s relevant, stick with me… or don’t, it’s up to you). My school encouraged us to undertake foreign exchange programmes, even at 14. So, I was due to receive a strange french girl in my house at some point during the year. (My exact memory is shaky, and actually most of the period after this next incident to about the age of 18 is misty). This was all good, we had a small spare room in the house and we had a plan. 

Until, a few weeks, days, whatever, before this French student was to arrive, Dad rocks up. He made a massive mistake, Linda can’t be rescued, it’s not working out (this after only a few months, not long), can I move home? Mum puts him up in the spare room, because she’s that kind of person. I’m still in shock about the whole leaving thing and am anxious about the exchange student (see me now in me then, ha!). I go and stay over with my best friend and in a moment of desperation tell her mother that I may need to leave home if my Dad moves back in. (My best friend’s older brother was leaving for university so I had even thought this through in practical terms… there would be a room available.) She must have taken me seriously because she called my Mum to let her know how freaked out I was. Dad was asked to move out. Oh, but, to a bed and breakfast in the next village that Mum arranged. And he stayed there for the next 5, 6 years… until he retired and moved to Yorkshire. 

Now I’m very prepared to admit my memory of this whole time is shaky, but I do not recall a single instance of my Dad sitting me down to explain his side of the story, to make an effort to find out what I’d been up to, or to even start to apologise. And he never has. 

He wrote me once, when I got married I think. And said he had treated my Mum badly, which was a refreshing admission. So I agreed to meet with him. Next time he was in Scotland. (He comes through almost annually for a thing in the Borders). He wrote me, and said this would be a good idea. And then suggested we meet in Aviemore. Because that’s where he was staying. 

So here we are, I haven’t seen or spoken to my father in I don’t know how long, but I’ve held out an olive branch. He wants my olive branch, but only if I’ll travel miles away from home and into an unknown situation in an unknown town. I declined. 

But I was still thinking I should try and mend fences. So I left the invitation to meet up in Edinburgh open. Which was a massive deal for me. I was really damaged by everything that had happened, and by his complete failure to seem to try and re-engage over the years. It felt like he wasn’t trying and didn’t really want to make the effort to be my father. 

And then I got home from work one night to find a hand delivered letter on the floor. My dad had swung by, just passing through, on the off chance. This was the scariest thing ever. I didn’t even know he knew my address. If I had opened that door, and was on my own, I can’t tell you how much pain that would have caused. So that was the final straw. When next we moved I asked my Mum not to tell him our new address, and when instead she sent me cards from him in December, I asked her not to do that either. 

I saw my Dad a few years ago, at my paternal cousins wedding. She and I get on really well, so well that she offered to uninvite my Dad if I was uncomfortable with him being there. I knew my Mum wouldn’t like that so I said I would get through it. And I did. Mostly because it turns out my Dad’s brother, his wife and their kids (my two wonderful cousins) actually thought I had a point, and had never understood my Mum’s attitude. They’d tried to reach out at the time of the divorce but had been discouraged. This when I was sitting in my bedroom reading Mills and Boon and not telling my friends what was happening. 

My Dad’s brother died a year or so ago. He had asbestosis caused by exposure in his role as a respected history teacher. I cried so much at his funeral because I had never got to know this fun, loving man and his awesome family before it was too late. They were take from me thanks to the divorce and my Dad’s attitude to family. At the wake I sat down next to a colleague of my Uncle who had a stroke a few years back and gets a bit ‘honest’ when his blood sugar levels fall. I like him. He turned to me slowly and said “The wrong brother died.”

He apologised immediately but I smiled and told him I was probably the one person in the room who agreed with him. It’s a horrible thing to say, but almost every day I think it. It’s nice to know someone else thought it, frankly. 

So that’s where I am. I have a great relationship with my paternal cousin, better than with anyone else in my extended family. My Mum and I are increasingly distant and I don’t know that I have the strength to fix it, or that she does. I think I am an enigma to most of my family, which was never my intention, I just followed my own path. Which is a credit to my mother, but I’m not sure she’d ever see it that way. 

Did that answer your questions?

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3 thoughts on “A short family history

  1. Desperately difficult, and the only thing I think I can offer advice on, is that going to see a trained professional to talk through your family circumstances may well be helpful to you. I’m constantly amazed when I find that my family isn’t the most dysfunctional out there, but even if there are others who re worse off, it doesn’t make your situation any better.

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