To my biological father,
It’s been very hard for me to grow up realising that it’s not my fault. Whether you meant it or not, I have been overshadowed by a sense that I have hurt you throughout my life and the guilt has followed me from place to place.
It’s only in recent years that I realise that it isn’t my fault and it can’t be. I have grown up feeling my own treachery in the pit of my stomach and tears stinging in the back of my eyes but it’s only now I see that it was mind games. I never did anything to warrant this feeling of guilt and it’s unthinkable anyway that a child could have done.
I am sorry that I had such an adverse response to you in the years following your separation from my biological mother; I remember wrapping the handles of cutlery with tissues (the first I would take would be the second from the box) and holding myself as far away from you as possible to avoid physical contact with your person. I remember the sense of contagion I felt sitting on your sofa and watching your television and if I am perfectly honest I don’t know if I would do any different now. But I am sorry nonetheless because I realise this was a profound statement to make as an 11 year old and I like to think of myself as the type of person to have a regard for the consequences of my actions and their impact on others.
People say that fathers fuck you up and I have been driven to the edge of sanity by you. Even after years and a harassment order I cannot sleep without you interrupting and violating my dreams. I cannot work or socialise the way my peers do because I fear your encroachment in waking hours and the phone calls or even your presence in my city. The feeling of being between sensations, not knowing if my reactions or emotions are right or wrong, haunts me more than any clear-cut recognition of a concrete feeling could. These thoughts have driven me to wondering whether my life should go on. They have undermined my concept of myself as a good honest person and as a person who deserves to live.
I want to tell you that many of the things you have done are unacceptable and that your ability to hurt and to maim people is sociopathic, maniacal and unforgivable. My mother, though I didn’t understand it in my childhood and I have a less than complete grasp of it now, was isolated by you and harassed and threatened and attacked and embarrassed and frightened. I don’t know what you did to your previous wives but I applaud them for escaping you especially in a culture where separation and divorce are unheard of. I have half-memories and confusions of you burning my hand and breaking my arm and invading my private space but I don’t have the capacity to ever understand or rationalise why a child could be deserving of this. The worst thing is that I keep pushing these memories away and trying to convince myself I have invented them.
Are you severely mentally ill? Do you really believe all the things you say about god and angels and my ‘sister’? The more hindsight I have about my childhood, the more I grow in conviction that you are either highly deluded or a manifestation of evil, the likes of which I have not seen in any human being, real or fictional, then or since.
It is hard for me to make a life without you because I have the humility and the respect for human life which does not permit me to draw clear lines of demarcation and gain closure between myself and those who hurt me. I wonder silently whether I am to blame or whether the episodes I encountered were my fault. I try to think of my father the human, as someone who once too had a dad, who went to school, worked hard, cared for family and friends, was endangered, was vulnerable, but I have never seen evidence of this man in my lifetime so it is hard to let those be my prevailing thoughts.
As you are an elderly father it crosses my mind whether you will pass away any time soon: you frequently held myself and my mother, and possibly others, ransom to the fact that you were soon to go ‘up there’. I wonder what kind of despicable person I am who would not communicate with their father, in the full knowledge that he is of old age and might never have the privilege of resting under my forgiveness. But I don’t think you want my forgiveness. I find it hard to imagine that you want anything other than to control me. To blackmail me and those around me, as you did with my ex and his father, my mother and her friends, my friends, to endanger and control and manipulate and violate and observe that to which you should lay no claim. It is my life and I intend to live it without fear and encroachment.
I hope you can fully comprehend what you have done. I hope you can understand that I live in the shadow of a fear so great I wonder if I will ever see a living relative again as long as I live and how hard it is to make it in the world as a traumatised woman. If there is a next life I hope you can get help and learn to live mindful of the fact of the fragility of human life, the vulnerability of children, and your responsibility (and boundaries) toward others.
To my biological mother,
In the contrast to the letter I wrote to my biological father, I am far more pained, I am embittered, and I am still often tearful over the horrendous physical and emotional blackmail and abuse and neglect and terror to which you subjected me.
Up until the age when I considered you my friend at the ripe old age of six, I was attached to you like no other child. Your beautiful face was a ray of sunshine which illuminated my life and your kindness was tangible and huge. I was proud of your beauty and youth and vitality and kindness and I was happy and felt safe in the warmth and comfort of your friendship. I felt protective of you and cried when I was far away from you. I felt happy and blessed to be with you. To this day I cry wondering what I did to deserve you and why it all had to change.
The difficulty of growing up is that my memory of you is a pendulum which swings between two, maybe three versions of you. The first and my favourite is this one which I have described, my beautiful youthful mother in leggings, heels and a baggy shirt at the door of my primary school, raven black hair blow-dried and pushed back against your sunglasses, smelling of leather handbags, peppermint gum and a faint sophisticated perfume.
This lady was soon replaced by a zombie-like mother who spent days and nights, weeks and months and eventually years lying, vegetative on the sofa and paralysed by depression and a never-ending headache. As though lobotomised I remember you lying transfixed by the television under blankets, always in aged greying pyjamas and forever insisting I refrain from conversing with you and go and do my homework.
The final and the longest serving memory I have of you is of the controller and shreiker and bully. I was, to you, from a young age, selfish, hateful, a trap, a punishment, a gift gone horribly wrong. You never allowed me my youth. I’m 26 now and I’m starting to feel youthful but it’s a little too late for me to regain my childhood.
What I did to you to deserve all this must have been my mere existence as an easy target. Not one for argument I was frequently the object of your throws, punches, catalogues, hot cups of tea, insults, threats, and I felt you were trying to squeeze the life out of me. When I was severely sick and I felt, on my deathbed, you ignored my cries for help and chose to glower at me in the doorway as though I were repugnant. When I burned my arm and my skin began to melt and slide off under the pressure of the cold tap you told me to switch the water off and not to go to hospital. When my school called you in to discuss my rapidly descending weight and the visible bones on my chest and the cuts on my arms you blamed my depression on myself and told them there was no compromise. Rather than the desired effect I felt punished for an intervention I had done everything in my power to avert. The names I have been called by you and the mockery still rings loudly in my ears and won’t go away. Did you realise when you said all those things I would carry them to my grave?
For all of the hateful, disgusting things you said and did to me when I was vulnerable in my care, the simple fact of your mockery of me after the day I attended my friend’s wake pulled me to consciousness that I would have to leave forever and there was no boundary you wouldn’t cross. Having lost your mother at a young age, I thought you would find more to ask me than what my friend’s dead body looked like, more comforting words to offer me than insisting I switch the light off and laughing at my evident fear and distress. Here we are today. That was the last day I saw you. I hope you have thought again since about what you said meant to me.
How on earth I survived living with you, I do not know. Every minute was pain. When I returned home from university, depression set in on me like a sickness, and I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was not wanted there other than as an object of your control and abuse.
I feel sorry for you. I don’t know how you managed to hurt me so much. I forgive you. I know somewhere you are a beautiful person. I hope you know I forgive you. I miss you, but not that version of you. I deserved more but I can’t get closure. I hope you can because I have learned to fear hurting other people more than anything else.