I remember the day he left. I don’t know if I’d rather not remember it, but there’s not much I can do about that. If I hadn’t remembered it, I might not be the person I am today.
I saw him every second Saturday between the hours of 10am and . Most of those hours were spent in a pub, watching him play the fruit machines, being taught magic tricks by the bar staff and being handed the odd 50p to go and “play with the jukebox”. They aren’t bad memories, but looking back on those times as an adult, it wasn’t exactly great parenting on his part.
My relationship with my dad ended when I was 11. There was a big family argument, some things were said as a way to hurt his feelings, and he took them as his opportunity to stop showing up. I never got an explanation as to why.
We live in a small town. We live in the same town. He lived a 10 minute walk from my school.
One day, at the age of 14, I finished school, and went and knocked on his door. Lots of tears and hugging, and a vague “this was all a big misunderstanding” conversation went on. I left, and he didn’t try to contact me again. I got an invite to his sisters 40th birthday a few months later, and I, trying to make up for lost years, went along. I watched him and his girlfriend get extremely drunk and not engage in much conversation with me at all, leaving me sat at an empty table and feeling totally detached from those who were supposed to be my family.
I turned 16. His parents cut me out of their life, deciding to move their blame for the whole mess from my mum, onto me. I found out through the “Family Announcements” section of the local newspaper that he’d remarried. A year later I found out the same way they had a daughter. To this day I still haven’t met her, and I doubt she is aware of mine or my brother’s existence.
The week before my 18th birthday, my mum remarried. My step-dad also had no relationship with his father, and before marrying made the decision to change his surname as he didn’t want my mum to have to take the name of someone he didn’t know, or even like. He decided to take his mother’s maiden name, and changed it by deed poll.
I thought long and hard this. It was an idea I’d thought about from time to time, when I was feeling particularly rejected for one reason or another, or times where I’d just spent too long with my own thoughts.
So, in the autumn of 2003 I did it. I changed my surname to my mum’s maiden name. I didn’t want to take my step-dad’s name, as I was 16 when he came into my life, so was never a father figure, and we also have a relationship that is more brother/sister than anything.
I was 18 years old and it was the first decision I’d made that was my own and not influenced by anyone else. I used it as a representation of my life being mine, and regardless of what genetics has given me (I have my dad’s looks, posture, and a few habits that I catch myself doing), what I choose to do now is because of the person I have become as a result of him NOT being around.
I’ve thought lots about who I might have been if he’d been in my life. But I can’t spend all my time thinking “what if?”.
I ran into him in Tesco 3 years ago. I’d moved out, was living with a boyfriend. I’d recently lost a lot of weight, I was feeling good and looking good. I was coming out of an aisle as someone walked past me quite quickly with their trolley. Just from the back of my head I recognised him. I have his walk. He didn’t see me.
He turned down the booze aisle. In a split second I decided to follow him. I walked right up behind him as he was loading multi-packs of Carlsberg (after all these years, and it’s still his drink of choice) into the trolley.
“Having a party?”
The double take was worth the somersaults my stomach was doing. He looked old, older than my mum, even though there’s only 4 years between them. He still had scruffy hair, still needed a better haircut. We had a slightly awkward “nice to see you, what have you been doing for the last 8 years” conversation. I found out my half-sister was now turning 5, he still worked in the same job he’d been in since I was 2 years old. He found out that his little girl was now all grown up, living on her own and doing just fine without him.
I’ve had more comfortable conversations with people who used to pick on me at school.
Anyway, this very long story brings me to last Tuesday, 8th June. I finished work, and popped into Sainsbury’s for a loaf of bread. We’re a little behind the times in our town and they only installed Self-Checkouts a couple of weeks ago. I grabbed a loaf, and joined the queue for the checkouts, which were all in use. I have a habit of people-watching in supermarkets, so I’m glancing around, I notice someone from work with their husband, a couple of people I went to school with, and someone else using the self-checkout who looked really familiar. It was only when I noticed that this person was singing to themselves as they scanned their items, which I also do, that I realised it was him.
In the last three years he’d gone completely grey, hair even more of a mess and looking about 10 years older than his current 48, a statement that pleased my mum quite a lot, as she looks about 5 years younger than her 45.
I didn’t approach him. I’d had a long day, I was feeling a little unwell, and I’m living back in my mum’s spare bedroom. I couldn’t be bothered. I’d have achieved nothing by doing so.
He didn’t notice me as I took over his vacated checkout.
I should think myself lucky that I know who he is, some people don’t. Some may think I should still try and have a relationship with him, because at least I know where he is and that he’s alive. But I don’t need him. If I managed to grow into the person I am today without his influence, what could he possibly do to help me now that I can’t do for myself?
The person I feel sad for most of all is his other daughter. She’ll be 8 this year. I’ll be 25. My brother is 22. She has family that she’ll never know.
I hope that she is a smart kid. I hope she figures out that her dad isn’t perfect. Or maybe he’s learning from his mistakes and making an effort with her now because he didn’t with me. Maybe she’ll turn out to be the person I’d have been. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not.
I hate that word.
I spent a lot of my teenage years being angry, trying to find someone to blame for my less than perfect life. After changing my name, I felt free from all of that. Of course I still think about it, who wouldn’t? I still have issues with men as a result. I believe he is the reason I don’t want to get married. I believe he is the reason I don’t want children.
Christ, I must be a psycholoigst’s dream.
While writing I listened to:
Kim Ferron – Nothing But You
The Goo Goo Dolls – Black Balloon
Black Eyed Peas – Where is the Love?
Incubus – Drive
Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
The Beautiful South – A Little Time
Natalie Imbruglia – Smoke
The Pretenders – Don’t Get Me Wrong
Bon Jovi – When We Were Beautiful
Phil Collins – Another Day in