I am not one to hold much value on days like these. I think it’s a bit strange to celebrate your love or appreciation for someone on a designated day.
Equally I don’t grieve more on these days than any other, I say this, because my dad died at the beginning of 2020. Not anything Covid related, he died of alcohol addiction. He was a never-recovering addict and grieving a significant family member, where the relationship was strained, is one of the harder things I’ve had to do, to say the least. So when Father’s Day rolls around, it’s not as though I’m missing anything, we didn’t particularly celebrate it before. I don’t tend to get upset, it’s no more to tackle on that day than it is any other day. But this year I realised something.
It all began in therapy after my dad died; my therapist reminded me that we had been working through my issues with my dad and the consequences of growing up as the daughter of an alcoholic for the many years I had been seeing her. And I had gotten to a good place with it, but with him dying, all those issues would be reopened and I would have to process them again. She told me it wouldn’t necessarily be the same, which I was relieved about, but it could be tough at times and it could take a while, and, because grief isn’t linear or easy anyway, plus the complicated nature of my relationship with my dad, it was likely to be messy.
And she was right. Over the last few years, I have relived some really difficult times and remembered some more for the first time ever, but I also remembered the good.
I’ve always found this part of my life the most difficult to talk about, and if you know me, you know this is saying something. But this year, on Father’s Day, the kids spent time with their dad and I sat in contemplation of where I was with it, and I listened to some advice that you should write about the thing that scares you the most. So I sat down and started writing about my dad. I thought about how he died; just never waking up one day. How mad that is to even comprehend, and how it’s the very way he would have wanted to go, without fuss or care. I recalled how difficult it was to accept condolences from people because I felt like a fraud, this wasn’t the loss of a beloved family member, it was the loss of a man, who left my sisters and I with quite a lot of trauma. Who never showed us how to be in the world, like dads usually do, and who intentionally or not, made me feel unsafe in my home and in my own skin. It was the loss of a man who could be quite abusive and I can honestly say the effects of having him as my dad might not ever leave me. And it was the loss of a man who I know loved me and I loved too. Because life is messy and complicated like that.
The effects of growing up in that environment, with the most amazing Mum, and the most unpredictable dad, was quite the mix.
And I often discuss with my sisters, the anxiety and all sorts, that compassion is key because growing up in that environment has meant we are constantly having to re-parent ourselves, find our way in the world by ourselves and remind ourselves that we didn’t start at the starting block, like others did, we are catching up and that’s ok.
I have been very angry with my dad and had little patience with him, even when he was attempting to be nice to me as an adult, because too much had happened. But he did show up as a pretty decent grandad for my boys, and people would often ask if that was hard for me to watch, seeing him play and invest in these kids when he never did with us. But it wasn’t, they had a grandad who made them belly laugh and he got to play a role that maybe he had always wanted to. And I love my kids too much to be bitter about that. They never got to an age where they realised who he was or the damage he had caused, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
I think the moment where I became an adult was not when I turned 18, moved out, got married, had kids, got divorced, or bought a house. It was the moment I really realised that my parents were humans, they weren’t superheroes and you don’t pass all life’s tests and then become a parent. They were flawed humans, and they were as vulnerable to addiction as the next person. I thought about my dad's story and the thoughts he must have had, the things he had gone through and the little access he had for any kind of help. I thought about some compassion I had for people with addictions, that I could never quite muster up for my dad. And that one hit quite hard. Because it’s all very well holding certain views until it’s in your back yard. So I decided to give it a go, to show him the compassion, even the tiniest bit, if that’s all I could do. And it broke me.
It broke me right open, because whilst I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to articulate how I feel about my dad because it is a number of things, I came to understand that I wasn’t just grieving him as a person, I was grieving the life I think every kid deserves and the relationship we could have had. It all came spilling out. And in between those moments I remembered how he could tell a joke, how he made my mum laugh. How he could be too proud to ask for help and how he jumped into the air when he found out I passed my driving test. How he played card games with us and would find my intense strops about not winning incredibly funny. How his comic timing was pretty on point, how he loved my boys. And I reminded myself his addiction wasn’t all of him.
I’m at a place where I can say, it wasn’t good enough, but it was what it was.
And I genuinely know that his reluctance to change or recover isn’t, and never was, a reflection of my worthiness. I understand now that sobriety is a miracle that statistically not many people get to. My own family included, and that my dad was a human being who was probably suffering far more than I ever considered. And that one day he was here and the next he was gone and I don’t think I'll ever really recover from that. But I am at a place where I can let it go, knowing that it’s ok to feel all the feelings about him, the good and the difficult ones. And know, if he taught me one thing, it’s that when parenting these boys and feeling all sorts of guilt as to how I’m not enough for them some days, that I am human and deserving of compassion too. That I didn’t have to pass a test before I had them either, that no one knows what they are doing but the very fact that I’m showing up every day is enough. I know I have all sorts of issues as a consequence of this unpredictable and often unsafe environment. And those are the things which trip me up as a parent, those are the things that make me question my worthiness to be a mother to these boys. One day I told my therapist that very thing, it was painful and hard to do so, and she told me, 'Susie you are not your dad'. And she’s right, I’m not. I’m a mother, who is actively working through her stuff every day so she can show up as the best version of herself, and the best version of a mother she can be.
I often wonder if everyone finds it this hard to be in the world, to have to actively work on your stuff every day to make it through.
And I suppose in my writing about it now, I’m hoping that if they do, they feel a little less alone and know that they are seen, appreciated and loved, even if they were never made to feel like it as a kid.