“When you tell your own story, you are in the midst of healing.” — Anonymous.
It was 2009 and I was walking off a Delta plane in Denver, Colorado when I powered on my iPhone. My parents (biological mom and stepfather) and I were flying in from Atlanta, GA to visit my brother and his family. A text that was received during the flight came through and it read, “I got your letter and I didn’t read it. I won’t read it. Have a nice life with your FAMILY!” It was from my biological dad. I was 13 years old and disowned by my own blood.
Have you heard that cliche but true phrase, “hurt people hurt people?” That’s what happened here. I won’t go into the traumas my dad had experienced in his own life to make him this way, but I will say that he was a hurt man pushing away his loved ones. My brother had this exact same experience of being disowned at age 13 by our dad. I never thought it would happen to me, but there I was in the Denver International Airport feeling rejected and abandoned.
As I have shared with you before, my parents divorced while I was very young and my mom had full-time custody of us three kids. I spent countless weekends of my childhood in the car driving back and forth from Atlanta, Georgia to Tampa, Florida. Although my dad and I had a fairly decent relationship for the first decade of my life, things began to slowly crumble. It was a pattern I had watched with him and my brother, and it was inevitable.
I never felt like I could be myself around my dad. He wasn’t ever physically abusive to me like he was to my two older brothers during their childhood. However, I did feel like I was mentally, emotionally, and verbally abused by him. He was manipulative, hateful, and filled with spite. In hindsight, I know that hurt people hurt people, but I felt responsible. I thought that if I could be the perfect daughter then life would just be peachy. I would have severe anxiety leading up to my monthly visits to Florida and once I was there I would often cry when I was alone. My mom says she can recount times I would call her crying from the bathroom floor begging for her to come pick me up and bring me back to Georgia. Once I returned from Florida, I was temporarily a different person. As a child, I couldn’t help it; I was simply a product of bouncing between stable and unstable environments.
Around the age of 11 or 12, I had enough and decided that I did not want to see my dad anymore. I ignored his weekly phone calls and I refused to go visit him. This lasted for about a year until my mom was served court papers and I was mandated to begin visitation again. I could see the pain in my mom’s eyes when she had to break the news to me, but she had no choice. She always made sure my cell phone had enough minutes to call her while I was gone and she tucked little love notes in my suitcase that I could read at night before bed.
We restarted the monotonous visitation schedule again. One weekend a month, at least two weeks in the summer, and every other major holiday. The first time I had seen my dad after a year of silence, he took me to see my grandma (his mom). She had been diagnosed with dementia during that time apart. On that drive in his white pickup truck, he made me, a pre-teen, promise to never ever walk away from our relationship again. I promised, although full of doubt, and suddenly and I felt responsible to keep our entire relationship intact.
A few years after that conversation, I accidentally stumbled across my dad’s marijuana stash and then hid in my closet, crying, and called my parents in Georgia. My mom, desperate for me to have my own opinions and relationship with my dad, never tainted the image I had of him. I can’t say that my dad did the same for my mom. But once I saw it with my own eyes, my mom couldn’t keep the secret from me. The floodgates opened and the secrets came pouring out. Turns out my dad was not just a drug user, but a drug grower and drug dealer. We saw it as a lifelong struggle; he saw it as a lifestyle.
My dad tried to reason with me, “it’s ok—it just helps me relax. Weed is no big deal.” I tried to reason with him, too. I never felt safe in that house, and this amplified that fear. One of the issues in our relationship was that I could never truly and openly voice my opinions or concerns. He always cut me off or shut me down. That is how I learned to bottle things inside for the betterment of others. My counselor at the time recommended I write him a letter explaining all of my fears and concerns. In this way, I could share my heart uninterrupted. Maybe then we could begin to repair our relationship.
I wrote a letter and dropped it in the mail. In the letter, I told my dad the truth about everything. I told him I didn’t feel safe or accepted around him. I told him that I was praying for his salvation (yes, I was a very intense child). I told him that I wanted him to make a decision: me or the drugs. I knew it wouldn’t be immediate, but I held onto the hope that we could begin to reconcile and heal together as father and daughter. But the text I received once I landed in Denver made his decision clear. I was not seen, or heard, or loved. Reconciliation was no longer on the table for discussion.
A few months later, I sent my dad a card. I think it was for Thanksgiving because I remember it being orange and fall-ish. I told him I loved him and wanted the best for us, and to me, it felt like the best thing was to communicate through letters. I got another text similar to the one I had previously received, “I got your card and I didn’t read it. I won’t read it. Have a nice life with your FAMILY!” From that point forward, I made the decision to never speak to my dad again because it was clear he wanted nothing to do with me.
It wasn’t an easy decision. In the beginning, I had guilt because I made a promise to him to never abandon our relationship. But a child can’t be held responsible for maintaining a healthy relationship with her parent. To be honest, it has been over ten years and I never looked back. He made his decision, and that left me to make my own. I am twenty-four years old and still have zero contact with my biological dad.
What about reconciliation? My dear friends, I don’t have the perfect answer for you, and I know that sometimes it is like that in our messy lives. Perhaps reconciliation will happen between us 25 years later. Or perhaps it already has happened and it just looks different than what I’ve made it up to be. But I do know that we must take care of ourselves, for ultimately we are the only ones with this great honor and responsibility. I tried to reconcile over and over with my dad. My reconciliation was met with rejection. Perhaps this has happened to you, and the rejection later transforms into reconciliation. Great! Other times, there may be no reconciliation. Perhaps it will not occur in the here and now despite the fact that you have done everything within your power to reconcile. That’s ok, too.
I remember sitting in counseling and thinking to myself, “I can’t keep going 150% when he will only meet me at 25%.” I made a difficult and healthy decision to put my foot down and set a boundary in order to take care of myself. You have permission to do that, too. Sometimes we may find ourselves in unhealthy situations or relationships. It could be with a parent, a friend, or a job. We owe it to ourselves to have healthy boundaries and take care of ourselves. So that’s what I did over ten years ago. I left and I got help. You can too, my friends.