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Column: Love me the way I love you

‘I still needed him, even though it hurt to admit that to myself.’
Claire Delaire
“Did he really, truly not want me to be his daughter anymore?”

It’s typical for everyone to have a relationship with their dads; you see it in the movies, on the playgrounds and in stores. I know many people who grew up fine without their father, fathers who never entered their lives and made sure to avoid their child at all costs. But what about those who’ve drifted away? 

I often think about how it’s been normalized for fathers to drift away from their children, especially when we need them most. The moment we aren’t young and shiny like a brand new video game or a designer car, they leave.

For some, they leave physically through divorce or for work. For me? I grew up with him in the next room. I’d cry to myself, trying to think of a way to keep my father interested in loving me.

How could my own father not be interested in spending time with me? Was I not worthy of his precious time after work, or not special enough to fill a time slot in his weekend schedule? His excuses were always the same. 

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“Not this weekend, Pookie. Sorry.”

“Maybe next week, OK?”

“I don’t think we’d have enough time to do what you want.”

Disappointment settled into my stomach, my heart falling out of my chest hearing each and every excuse in the book.

Was I not important enough after turning 10?

Was my trauma too much, and he was now embarrassed to be near me?

I wracked my brain for years in an attempt to figure out why my dad held such distaste for me. Instead of being his daughter, I was a worthless pet. Only being kept up with because of sheer responsibility for someone else’s life. 

First came the confusion, pulling away from the situation and realizing maybe he didn’t enjoy loving me anymore. Next came the sadness, grieving the relationship I’d grown up watching on the big screens, going on ice cream dates and daddy-daughter dances at the local community center. Then came the anger, swearing I’d curse him out of my life if he ever raised his voice at me or running away from home just to get away from him.

I could sincerely say I downright hated my father for years.

I thought he was the worst person in the world, wishing he’d physically leave me as well, just to justify the hatred I held for him. 

The anger then turned into a mask for fear. Was he truly gone? Was I really going to be on non-speaking terms with him after I moved out of the house like I said I would for years? Did he really, truly not want me to be his daughter anymore? 

Was I simply not good enough anymore?

I couldn’t live with myself. Listening to friends and family members saying how I was just like my father. I hated it. I hated seeing myself in the one thing I swore I wouldn’t become. How could I be just like him? How could they say something like that to my face? How was this a compliment?

A year ago, I tried to kill myself. I hated everything about my life. My relationship with my family was rapidly deteriorating, and the realization that maybe I couldn’t recover any of my relationship had become too real. Time had passed, and I didn’t have much longer to decide the final verdict of leaving him forever, or allowing him to stay. My friends couldn’t possibly understand the impact of everything building up to now, they simply couldn’t.

I had to do something, anything. Suicide looked like my last option. Maybe Dad would pay attention to me after almost seven years of what felt like abandonment. He could feel what I felt. Sadness, anger, confusion. 

He could finally feel the guilt he caused. I thought it was a good trade.

My life for his guilt. Was that finally good enough for him?

Talking to my therapist was a blur. Admitting my plan to her face. Hearing the six words I wasn’t ready to hear from another soul.

“Do you want to kill yourself?”

It was quiet, and two sides inside my head screamed. Screaming that I needed to die, so the pain of my father’s actions would finally be free. While the other side begged and pleaded, convinced that it would be OK in the end. To continue fighting for my life.

“Yes, I do.”

We discussed facilities that would best support me. Medications I could be put on, and the recommended psychiatrist to receive medication management from. Deciding where I wanted to go, what hospital or treatment center would support my needs. How to tell my mother. 

How to tell my father.

I didn’t want to tell him. He couldn’t feel the way I needed him to feel if he knew in advance. It would ruin my internal deal, and I wouldn’t be satisfied. 

The car ride home was silent. My mother’s disappointment with my plan, ruining her warm Saturday afternoon with the idea that her daughter wants to kill herself over something so stupid like getting revenge. 

I felt stupid. Admitting to myself I wanted to die for the sole reason of receiving attention, and now I had to tell him myself. Tell him why I wanted to kill myself.

It took three days to finally admit to him about why Mom and I were acting out of place. I asked him to get a coffee as a way to catch up.

I admitted I was terrified of him for the past seven years. I admitted how much pain, anger and hurt he had caused all throughout my life. I admitted that despite everything, I still wanted my dad. I still needed him, even though it hurt to admit.

I watched his face fall, saying how I would be going to a psychiatrist at the end of May, completing an admittance form at an outpatient facility in a week, and would be on medication.

I told myself not to cry, that I was stronger than anybody I knew. But I wasn’t prepared for him to admit he missed me. How he missed being so close, spending time together. Just the two of us.

He felt jealous of my mom for being so close to me, wishing he could have a similar relationship with me.

It was so unexpected, completely out of the blue. That hid in the shadows of our distance, the mutual feeling of want and desire to be close, but too scared to physically close that gap and rekindle the relationship. 

He told me he loved me, and that he would support my decisions to get better. No matter the monetary cost, no matter what. 

It didn’t take long for my active suicidal ideations to become passive. Shrugging off the thoughts with a “thanks-but-no-thanks” attitude. I got on medication, and I wasn’t admitted. I’m still glad everything turned out the way it did.

Dad and I have our Monday routine set in place. It’s our time to go out, or stay in, and hang out together. Talking about what’s going on in our own lives, and shared interactions with other family members or whatever is the new family drama. Whether that be over a fancy dinner, take-out or our classic shoyu ramen place.

I don’t partake in hugging, or saying the infamous three words, but if I had to, I wouldn’t say “I hate you” like I would’ve said a year ago.

This story was originally published on Farmers’ Harvest on May 9, 2023.