After years of fighting, lockdown has brought my estranged father back into my life

Alison Jasmine
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Whenever I call my dad with a problem, I get the same answer: “Why don’t you just come home?”.

It’s not an endearing recommendation, but rather a reminder that he doesn’t understand or approve of my way of life: why I live abroad (I’m originally from Norway), why I’m not married at 28 and why I’m in a job that to him is strange and foreign (I’m a writer).

So his request that I pack up and head home is a thinly-veiled question: “What are you doing with your life?”.

When lockdown struck, I had barely spoken to my dad in over two years.

I had cut contact with him in 2018 after I suffered a bad injury during a work trip to Canada, for which I had to stay in hospital for several days

My mum, to whom I’m very close, called several times a day, worried sick. My siblings and distant relatives checked in, too – but there was no call or text from my dad.

This, along with the accumulation of years of awkward conversations, near-arguments and the fact he doesn’t know anything about my life (and doesn’t enquire much) was the last straw for me.

I rang him from my hospital bed, crying, and told him that since he had no interest in my well-being, I was no longer his daughter. It broke my heart.

Eight months later, distraught at the fact I had no connection to my dad (I still love him, despite his lack of parenting skills) I reached out, but it ended in yet another fight, and we cut all ties. He didn’t try to contact me once afterwards.

I have no doubt that my dad loves me, but he’s from another generation, an immigrant whose culture – where men are meant to look after women financially, and women look after their men by making their tea – is so disparate to what I’m used to. I can see why we clash so much.

Despite being an otherwise lovely person, those backward, anti-feminist beliefs are deep-seated in his mind. I imagine a lot of our arguments are down to him simply not being able to relate to my way of life.

Still, I have always craved my dad’s affection and praise, even though he’s not a big talker and he doesn’t give compliments easily. In fact, I can count on one hand how many times in my life he’s told me that he’s proud of me (twice, in case you’re wondering).

The lack of a connection to my father has undoubtedly messed up many of my romantic relationships – daddy issues are the name of the game. Unfortunately, I am a prime example, with severe trust issues in men.

I’m so desperate for a father figure that I can relate to, that I even have what I refer to as my “back-up dad” – a man who isn’t related to me but is a mentor of mine and, I hate to admit it, is the father I wish I’d had.

But, back to lockdown.

A few weeks before the government imposed the self-isolation rules, my dad’s wife (my stepmum) had a heart attack. There is an unspoken rule in my family: loyalty above all. This means that the anger I felt was trumped by the knowledge that my dad needed my support.

So, I called him; it was emotional. I could hear him choking back tears at the thought that his wife would die, and I broke down and cried after we hung up from the sheer exhaustion of it all.

We didn’t discuss our ongoing argument, and I doubt we ever will. This is a common theme in our relationship; we never talk about the problems between us, we simply brush them under the rug (which is already overflowing with anger and disappointment on both sides) and hope for the best.

It’s not healthy, but the alternative is to ask my dad how he really feels about having me as his daughter, and I’m too afraid to hear the answer.

After our call, we slowly started repairing our relationship.

I was stunned when, some time later, he rang me up for no reason other than to make sure that I was OK, and to check that I wasn’t socialising with others because he was afraid that I’d get sick. It felt amazing to know that he cared about me.

I followed suit by checking in once a week, and have done for the past two months, as both my dad and his wife are in the high-risk category. Dad has also lost a substantial amount of work – he runs his own business and all of his summer events have been cancelled. Regardless of our differences, I want to be there for him.

Our chats still only last around two minutes – after which we tend to run out of things to talk about – but it’s nice to know that he’s around and that lockdown has brought us back together.

Although I’ll never forgive him for the years of neglect, I have decided to move on from it and simply accept him for who he is, even if it’s not who I want him to be.

He will never be the dad who I can have hour-long conversations with, but he loves me and that will have to be enough.

The alternative is to have no dad at all, and I can’t go back to that.

This piece has been written using a pseudonym

Read more

Lockdown reinforced the bond with my son when we needed it most

Seven charts that show the true scale of the UK coronavirus outbreak

‘They can blame it for everything’: What coronavirus means for Brexit

The Americans who think that coronavirus is a hoax

Do you need a face mask and where can you buy one?

UK lockdown: Can I see my family and friends under new rules?