Picture credit: Negativespace.co
A few days ago, I took a Rapid Transformational Therapy class online. During the session, I briefly saw a younger me who told me, “my daddy doesn’t come home after work. I don’t think he likes me very much.”
I’m not sure what I think about RTT or the validity of my experience but I chatted to my mum about it yesterday and she shared a few memories with me that have sparked a fresh understanding of what our relationship was like, particularly at the end.
When I was 15, my dad’s and my relationship deteriorated dramatically. Apparently my mum and I spoke to him about how much he was drinking and he promised he would cut down. A few days after that conversation, he arrived at my aunt’s (his sister’s) birthday party several hours late and absolutely hammered. The party was in a small space so everyone could see everyone else in the room. His late arrival and drunken state were obvious to all – no more so than when he came crashing down the stairs on his way back from the loo. That was it for me. I felt embarrassed and angry and I didn’t talk to him again.
He died a few days later in a car accident.
The night of the accident, I was at a party. I was sitting on a huge log next to a guy I had a crush on, unable to believe he was actually talking to me. We were talking about our parents and I told him what a jerk my dad was and how it wouldn’t matter to me if I never saw him again. I had no idea he was, at that exact moment, being operated on a few miles away, having been crushed inside his car.
At the party, a close friend of mine was practically hysterical shouting at me, “You can’t say that! You don’t mean that!” She already knew there had been an accident but had been instructed not to say anything because nobody knew how bad things were yet and they didn’t want to worry me. When we got back to her house that night, her mum told that my parents had been in an accident. Having just badmouthed him, I remember thinking “oh no! my dad!” but what I said, quite deliberately, was, “how’s my mum?” The answer she gave was, “as far as I know, they’re both fine.” I remember being so grateful to her for mentioning both of them despite my wilful omission.
The following morning I woke up to the news that my dad had died. It was Father’s Day. I hadn’t bothered to get him anything but found a card and gift in my mum’s cupboard as I gathered clothes to take to her in hospital. I remember a horrible mix of anger, regret and guilt.
I had no recollection of that last week before his death until my mum shared her memories with me. Now, little things are coming back in snippets and I find myself considering them through new eyes.
I think of my daughter’s disdain at the supermarket if I bought wine and I remember how wounded I felt when, tasked with “dress as the change you want to see in the world”, she said she wanted to go as a wine bottle. She said it could signify the end of adults’ drinking. Although I realise my daughter’s understanding of adults’ alcohol consumption has more to do with her previous exposure to drunk adults, I couldn’t help taking her comments to heart. Her words brought feelings of shame, regret and self hatred up to smack me in the face.
I can only imagine how my dad must have felt. So, here I am, 28 years later, saying I’m really sorry dad. I had neither the words nor the understanding to know that you and I were both hurt and we kept doing things to hurt each other even more. If you had lived, I have no doubt we’d have worked it out – maybe not for many years but we’d have worked it out. I’m sorry if I ever made you feel worse about yourself and I’m sorry for making so little effort to understand what you were going through. If I had the skills then that I have now, I would have listened so much more intently and accepted that you were just a man trying to do his best.
I’m not much of a believer in the afterlife so I don’t expect I’ll ever get to say these things to him. The best I can do is to offer myself the kindness and acceptance I never gave him and from there, to pass it on to my family, friends and anyone else who could do with feeling stronger and better so they can tackle the demons that threaten their happiness.