A piece on parental feels
As a child, hiding in dark corners, I used to imagine you living your life. I knew that it was incomplete, that I was not in it and so you would think of me.
At least, I hoped.
I hoped that you would be missing me, missing the idea of me existing in your life — holding my hand, helping me learn, teaching me about life.
I imagined what it would be like if things were different, if I lived in the far off land I imagined in my head. I would be able to go out in public. We would play at the park. I would be allowed to go to school. I would get medical care, the best around, for my illnesses.
Most girls think of their father as their white knight in shinning armor. For me, it was a necessity. I could never make it through my day — the abuse and hurt — without thinking you’d come save me one day. It was what kept me going when depression and anxiety and post-traumatic stress began to settle into my mind.
I’d hide and cry, wishing things were different — that I was there with you. I assumed you’d take my sister, too, despite the fact that she wasn’t your kid — you’d do it for me.
As I grew older, that hope and belief turned into hatred.
A righteous anger burned in my belly like a furious fire that could not be quelled. It was explained off as being older and seeing the world through new eyes. Still… This was more than the rebellion of teenage years setting in. It was a recognition of the negative feelings I had not let myself feel as a small child.
It was learning that you would never come, that I would grow into an adult without so much as a birthday card or phone call from my dad.
As I grew, we tried connecting a few times. It never seemed to last. There was always a reason why — things got busy or we only talked when something was needed via the internet.
We met. Your wife worked with me to get things going, no doubt thinking it would be good for you and me both. Y’all came to my wedding and we spent Thanksgiving with you.
Nearly three years later, we barely talk. I recently visited your town and didn’t even see you. I try to do things to be nice or supportive, but it comes off feeling like I’m trying so much.
I’m always the one trying. I was the one working — the one thinking of you, seeking you out, making meetings happen, etc. I’m the one understanding that you have a life away from me, away from pining for me or putting me up on a pedestal that I didn’t get to experience.
It hurts to feel like I’m intruding on you and your family. I was raised to not ‘be a bother’ to anyone, which means my inner child shies away from contact and making things feel awkward.
As much as it hurts when I say I’m essentially an orphan, that’s how I feel. One parent is abusive and harmful beyond measure, and the other isn’t super interested in a lot of contact.
That’s unfair to you to categorize it that way. Men aren’t in touch with their feels — society ensures that, especially in men with authority. Men who grew up without their own father figures may struggle with being a father to a kid they don’t really know… especially when that kid is an adult.
Lastly, there’s no manual for this, no how-to for establishing contact with grown children or with absent parents as an adult. I know that. I’m trying to be patient and try to give people the benefit of the doubt.
But it’s hard, too, when I know I’ll never experience those things I craved as a child — you wiping away my tears from a fall or holding my hand as we walk down the street — especially when you have a young daughter.
“It should be enough,” I tell myself, “to see that dad is so good with her.”
It can warm my heart. It can make me believe in what I did as a small kiddo again. But it can’t undo the hurt that’s burnt into my very existence.
And I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know how to stop being jealous of a child — a child whose gotten lucky enough to have you around the entire time.
What I do know is that I have plenty of people who want me in their lives and who fight to keep me in them. There are plenty of people I haven’t even met face-to-face who seem to care more about how I’m doing than you do after nearly 28 years of my existence.
I guess this is one of those times where the blood of the covenant is actually thicker than the water of the womb (or penis, as the case may be).
I know this — I’m in distress over the lack of communication we have. Last time we talked, it seemed to be put on me to keep it going, again.
I’m tired of always being the one to make this try to work. It’s like dating an on-again-off-again partner and remembering why things sting so much in the end.
I’m done believing in fairy tales and white knights and ready to grow up.
Kirsten is a genderqueer writer, sexuality educator, and chronic illness/disability activist in Wisconsin. She runs Chronic Sex which highlights how illnesses and disabilities affect ‘Quality of Life’ issues such as self-love, self-care, relationships, sexuality, and sex.