I am not attending your Father’s Day celebration.
I am not because I do not want to reward you for the way you’ve treated me and my family. Sweeping all of the hurtful words, derisive glares, and contemptible stories told to extended family members under the rug and pretending that everything’s coming up Cunningham is unhealthy. I need to start teaching you how to treat me.
I wish that these feelings, and your actions, were limited to the last ten months, the time frame when the true dysfunction of our relationship came to light, but they’re not. In truth, while you’ve never raised a hand to me (or my sister), your abuse has been going on as long as I can remember. (Don’t you sometimes wish emotional abuse showed scars? It would be so much easier if you could point to a jagged white gash on your arm and say “this was from the time he called me ‘fat.’ I was ten.” If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.)
You wanted boys. It is so clear that you are disappointed that Mom gave you daughters. It was clear in the way you dismissed me, tried to create a “tomboy” out of my sister, and then, when that didn’t work out, lavished attention on our male cousins and your first grandson. It is still clear in the way that you almost completely ignore your beautiful granddaughters, and when you’re not ignoring them, you treat them as inferior, people you must put up with in order to see your grandson.
Of course growing up with you wasn’t all bad. You made us beautiful things, bed frames with bookshelves (because my sister and I have always been big readers), a closet-sized toy chest, and a stand-alone playhouse in the centre of the yard (which lasted one summer before the spiders took it for their own and we refused to enter it again). You took us out for sundaes at least once a month, on Fridays after school (of course you did neglect the opportunity to get to know your children by picking up a newspaper as soon as we darkened the doors, but we were always excited to get that ice cream). You made sure that we got out camping several times every summer, and packed canoe trips and hiking adventures by the dozen into our family vacations.
You just never seemed to buy in to your relationships with us. Maybe with my sister, with whom you seemed to have tried to forge a connection through organized sports and hockey fandom, but never with me. We don’t have any common interests, isn’t that the excuse you used? I always had my nose in a book, played music with a community band and was more of a dreamer than I was practical. Thing is, I also really enjoyed hiking, got into inline skating (you played hockey and really enjoyed to skate), loved to go for long walks and even took up an interest in war history movies (when I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai, I watched it for you. I did thoroughly enjoy it, but I was twelve(ish), it wasn’t in my wheelhouse to source late ‘50s Alec Guinness flicks in the ‘90s).
Later on, I followed your urging and applied for a job (I should never have applied for) in your company of employment. I hated that position with every breath I took (and I didn’t last long in it), but I relished having that little bit of something in common with you. I was over-the-moon when I had the chance to “talk shop” with you, but you were dismissive of and disinterested in that, too.
I tried, Dad. I tried really hard. The counselor I saw at the end of last year suggested that I have been seeking your approval for my whole life. That wasn’t something I had considered, but when he said it, a cartoon light bulb lit up over my head. He was right on the money.
I have been trying to make you see me for all of my almost thirty-two years of life.
I can’t do it anymore. You have said some heinous things to and about me, especially in the last year. You have ignored me, looked through me and glared hatefully at me. I understand that I have made decisions that you don’t agree with. I understand that I have done things that you don’t like. I even understand that some of these things may have hurt you, but this isn’t the way to deal with that. I am better than that. I am more than that. I am worth more than that.
I would love to have a relationship with you. I said to my husband just this morning that I wish that tomorrow was going to be a day of celebrating him, and his very first Father’s Day (he is an amazing father. So supportive, encouraging, devoted, and completely wrapped around our son’s tiny fingers), as well as a day of celebrating you. I wish I had a relationship with you to celebrate, but there aren’t enough macaroni necklaces in all of the land to sway your affection toward me even an inch, are there?
I hope that changes some day, Dad. I hope I can hug you, tell you I love you, and trust you again.