The first time I have met my father face-to-face I was 27. It happened this summer, in the middle of a pandemic, after I have written him a message on Facebook, texting my number and asking to give me a call. He did.
It was the strangest conversation I have ever had.
Hearing my father for the first time in my entire life hit me pretty hard. I had no idea how you suppose to act in situations like that, so my voice trembled all of the time and I couldn’t form coherent sentences. It’s good that I didn’t cry. He was anxious as well, talking non-stop. At the end of the call, I said that I would like to meet him soon, and he agreed.
A couple of weeks after, we both have travelled to see each other, as we live in different states. As I was sitting down in a restaurant looking at a stranger with eyes just like mine, I didn’t know what to say. Or rather, where to start. Because boy oh boy, there were so many things I wanted to tell this man.
But after a few moments, I realized that most of them didn’t even matter because I did not come there to fight, I came there to meet my father and, if things go well, possibly form a connection with him.
That day was one of the most important days of my life. Now, looking back at it, I reckon it as a day I got my father back.
I know firsthand how hard it is to build a relationship you never had but always wanted, especially when you are an adult. Five months ago, I didn’t believe that was even possible because I thought it was already too late. Turned out I was wrong.
The bad news is that it’s quite the task. Fortunately, my father and I are doing pretty good because both of us have taken some important steps, and our bond is getting stronger every day.
So, here’s how we were able to forge our connection and build a strong foundation for what I hope will be a true daddy-daughter relationship that lasts a lifetime.
I left my fantasies about him behind.
When I was young, I often wrote about my father in my diaries, because it was the only safe place I could talk about him if not with mom. On one of the pages, I had written this about him, which, at the time, I believed can be true:
“I believe he loves me more than any of his other children and he wants for us to be a family, but the military duty forbids him from seeing me and mom.”
I knew, of course, that’s not what happened, but the little, naive girl inside of me wanted to believe it because other thoughts were much less bearable. Like, he never loved me. Like he didn’t care about me at all. Like I was a mistake.
So, I created this character of a brave soldier (he is retired from Air Force) who was called off to war (and might have even died there a hero with my mom’s name of his lips.) In that case, it wasn’t his fault, it was his duty.
When I found him on Facebook this summer, I knew it wouldn’t be something I will going to get. I knew I had to have more realistic expectations.
So, me, myself, and I had a very serious talk where we discussed our fantasies and dreams, defined them as such, and got a harsh reality check.
When I walked into that restaurant, I wasn’t expecting anything at all. I knew how he will look and sound, but apart from that, I had nothing.
I was open to the idea of accepting whoever I will see in front of me. I was eager to know him, not the picture of him that I had in my mind.
I admit that it is easier said than done. He is quite a charismatic guy and has unconventional views at some of the aspects of life that seem extremely bizarre to me. But I do my best not to judge and argue, instead, I respect his right to be the person he wants to be and do not hold him accountable for not matching some of my expectations.
He acknowledged that he hurt me. And I forgave him for doing so.
For many years, the only question I wanted to ask him was “why?”
Why did he leave my mother and me, his flesh and blood, with her ex-husband who he knew was a violent drinker? It was a question that ate me up inside since the moment I learned who my bio-dad was.
When I asked him, he did not start looking for excuses, just said that he made a choice to stay with his then-wife and their two kids because it seemed like a right decision at the moment.
I told him how the choice he made affected me. I told him about my severe abandonment issues and approval-seeking tendencies, which brought me into a train of abusive and toxic relationships.
He took my hand in his and said that he is sorry. That, if he had an opportunity to change it, he would do that in heartbeat. Said that he had no right to traumatize me like this.
He asked me for forgiveness. And I gave it to him because it was the only way forward for us.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but if I wanted to move forward, which I did, there wasn’t any point of holding on to my grudges. I had to let the past stay in the past, not define the future.
Yes, he hurt a little, innocent girl but I am not that little girl anymore. And I need to learn how to live with my trauma. Nobody can make it disappear but accepting that it happened, even though it’s not fair and I didn’t deserve it, is the first step to make myself be OK with it.
So, I let my resentment go and recognized my father as a flawed human being who can make mistakes, just like myself. After all, his departure from my life affected him as well.
He demonstrated respect for my mother.
We would never move past the first meeting if he didn’t.
Right away, my father said that he is grateful to her for raising such a smart and fierce young woman and that he would never be able to pay his debt to her.
During our conversations, he never once shift the blame to her, taking full responsibility for his choices and actions, which I greatly appreciated.
The respect he showed was the best proof for me, a child raised by a single parent, of a commitment to own up to your wrong-doing without blaming other people, which, I believe, is the foundation for our reconciliation.
It is a piece of advice I would give to any parent seeking their children’s forgiveness for leaving — respect the parent who stayed. He or she might not be the best mother/father in the world, but they did something, which you preferred not to — raised your child. Acknowledgement of their efforts is a demonstration of two important things:
Admission of your own mistakes and appreciation of the person who stepped up.
Respect for the child himself, his journey, and his feelings.
I am grateful to my father for treating the most important person in my life with dignity, and this gave me the sense of security to move forward with our relationship, as I now know that I will be accepted and respected as well.
We are taking one step at a time and not rushing anything.
When we reconnected, he was extremely hyped and started planning to introduce me to my half-brother and sister, his now-wife, and his mother, my granny.
To tell you the truth, these talks almost caused me a panic attack.
I wasn’t ready to meet the whole “one big happy family;” it was already enough pressure from the fact that my estranged father that I-always-dreamed-of-meeting-but-secretly-afraid was sitting right across from me.
So, I had to do the “whoa whoa whoa, let’s take it slow” thing.
It is important to take this newly-blossomed relationship at a pace that is comfortable for both participants. I wanted to get to know him better before I meet anybody else.
As soon as I voiced my concerns, he backed off, assuring me that it’s totally fine with him to wait until I would be ready (if I ever would.) He explained that rekindling relationships between him and me is his first priority, and if I wanted to meet anyone else from the family someday, they would be happy to welcome me. If not, he respects and accepts my choice and will not pressure me for doing something I am not comfortable with.
The take-it-slow thing is working well, and, as for now, I have met my older half-sister. We have started bonding over mutual interests, a similar outlook on life, and passion for singing. I have also spoken to my half-brother on the phone, and we made plans to meet up as soon as the opportunity arises.
We started to become more involved in each other’s lives.
We regularly talk on a phone, and get together as often as we can, even though we live in different states, and there are many travel restrictions currently applied due to the virus outbreak.
He is genuinely interested in everything that is going on in my life and he listens to my stories even when they take half an hour to tell. He asks about my husband, my cat, and my friends, checks on how my mother is doing, and tries to understand the specifics of my job.
When we found out that mom’s COVID test came back positive, he was the first person I wanted to call.
After I told him, he reached out to mom, offering his support and help, if needed, and I greatly appreciated the gesture. It was important for me to have someone to lean onto.
All of these shows that he cares about me and the things that are important to me. And I offer the same respect to him. I listen to his stories about his current and past life and the lessons he learned from it. He is an interesting man, though, a little weird at times. But I am getting used to it and try to accept his oddities as much as I can without being too judgmental.
Because for all his flaws, I enjoy having him in my life and want him to keep being around.
We show attachment with physical touch.
The first time we met he asked me whether he could hug me goodbye, and I said yes. Because I wanted to do that too.
Physical touch is the most important language of love for me, and it’s evident that the same goes for him as well.
At first, I thought that it would be weird to have him hug me, that I would feel uncomfortable. Surprisingly, I didn’t. I was a little tense, I admit, especially the first couple of times, but he was able to melt the ice, and I slowly lowered my guard down.
He also often says that he loves me.
Although, I am not ready to tell him the same, hearing those words, coming from my father is one of the most precious things to me, something I have dreamed of for many years. And it’s not only words, I feel his genuine affection and care, and it’s something I cherish very, very much.
Recently, I came to the realization that I want to call him “dad,” because he has shown me that he is ready to be the one for me.
I have not voiced this word to him yet, because I am a little scared that I’m rushing things. I am also afraid of him disappearing from my life once again. But it is the fear that slowly goes away, with every conversation we had, with every time he travels 14 hours to see me, with every time he calls me his daughter.
He showed me that I could count on him and could trust him. So, I do.
Previously published on medium
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