Daddy Issues and Cake

For as long as I can remember, my relationship with my father has been strained.

This truth is challenged by a small collection of baby photos that suggest we didn’t start this way: young me handling tools next to him working on a car, me standing watching him cook in the kitchen, us playing on the beach at the cottage.. smiling. Even with photographic evidence, it’s difficult to accept that there was ever a point we enjoyed spending time together.

I don’t have positive memories of my father. I have memories of him blowing up at the slightest provocation – slamming things around, sometimes slapping or roughly handling me or my brother. I remember him being angry on every family vacation, seemingly inconvenienced about spending time together. I remember waking up startled as a child with him in my room, drunk and lost coming back from the bathroom. I remember him telling me I was too sensitive or otherwise belittling my feelings at times that, I understand as an adult, it was very reasonable to be upset. I remember him being generally disappointed with choices I made, achievements I earned, and people I chose to spend my time with. I remember feeling that I was never enough, by any measure, to the point that I couldn’t effectively tell when I was making a genuinely poor decision or a positive one.

I don’t remember my father acting in ways that the other dads acted. I can’t remember ever being excited to spend time with him.

When other people tell me about their fathers, I generally get the impression that they feel their dads protect and encourage them, that they always know and trust that their dads love them and have their best interests in mind. Not me; I generally feel that my dad regrets being a father and that I am fundamentally disappointing to him.

I was scared of him as a child. In my adolescence and early adulthood, I was angry and resentful at him for not being what I needed him to me. In my early 30s, I allowed myself to grieve the person I wish he had been. I let myself feel sad not only for the relationship I didn’t have with him, and likely wouldn’t, but also let myself feel sorry that he missed out on what a cool person he had a part in creating. I finally accepted that our lack of relationship wasn’t because of something I lack, but rather something in him he wasn’t willing or able to address.

This process of grief has gotten more intense over the last few years as he’s aged. He’s started to show the effects of a lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking. He’s changed from a strong and intimidating presence to a gaunt and sallow man. This shocking decline leads me to assume he’s not well given those types of transformations are generally only seen among the truly infirm. Truthfully, I don’t have the guts to ask.

This weekend we celebrated my son’s first birthday. My father came, looking sicker than ever. In the midst of all the joy and festivities I found myself overwhelmed again with grief. Not only for myself, but for my son, who in all likelihood will not have the opportunity to form lasting memories, impressions or his own relationship with his grandfather. I felt sorry for my father that his life would likely end alone.

And, if I’m honest, I suspect that I just need to be sad about this for a while longer.

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