May 25, 2024

Why being estranged from my dad for 12 years saved our relationship

While I didn’t completely reconcile with my father, I take comfort in the fact that I was able to be there for him when it mattered most. I was the one who sat my dad down and gently told him that the doctors had diagnosed him with terminal cancer, holding his hand as we sobbed together.

I used all my annual leave on flights to Rome, where we’d sit in the hospice reminiscing about the time before he moved there – all memories I’d treasured over the years.

It helped to heal something in both of us. But the more I became sucked into his life in Italy, the more I realised that there would be no perfect Hollywood ending.  There were too many inconsistencies in what I was told about the time afterwards that posed a real threat to my wellness.

Instead I poured all my efforts into staying as emotionally neutral as possible and ensuring that the precious time we had left together wasn’t spoilt by arguments or rebukes.

The real struggle came when he died. I’d spent so many years grieving for my dad when he moved to Italy that I struggled to do the same when he actually passed away. I also didn’t feel like I had the right to public displays of emotion – to wail or pound my chest in despair – because of the self-imposed time we’d spent apart. Some of my friends assumed he had died many years ago; others that I hadn’t known my dad at all.

In many ways the funeral announcement confirmed my feelings of displacement and confusion. “He also had a daughter in the UK” it read near the end, as if I had just been a spare part in his life. Perhaps that’s what I’d become in other people’s eyes.

I have been condemned as selfish and uncaring by friends for my decision. These judgements were also inferred by the nurses each time I went to the hospital and they called my father’s girlfriend and daughters his «real family», leaving me to fight for a slice of the visiting time.

And yet, do I feel guilty for my decision to be estranged from my dad? Always. But do I regret it? No. Parent-child relationships can be wonderful but they are not sacrosanct. I’ve learnt that sometimes the only peace you can make with a situation is to accept reality, the fragility of your own mental health and that you’re not going to see eye-to-eye, no matter how much you love the other person.

All that’s left is to move forward in a way that feels right for you – and there shouldn’t be any judgement about that choice.

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