Choosing Your Stuff or Choosing Your Kids
A Daughter’s Letter to Her Estranged Father
Divorce is messy. Messier still is a divorce with children – even teenaged ones! Custody, asset division, child support, it’s a stressful time for everyone. Depending on your situation, you might think this is the time to get back at your ex.
Before you decide to make it ugly in court, consider your kids. You and your ex may not be together anymore, but your children will always be a part of your life – at least they should be.
The events leading up to your divorce can be traumatic enough on kids of any age. You’ve been fighting. Perhaps, there was an affair or abuse.
Regardless, your children are watching. Even more so, they are watching how you act during the divorce proceedings. What they see will affect how they respond to and feel about you for the rest of their lives. Consider what it says to them when you decide to fight for unreasonably low support payments or to keep the family house more than you fight for joint custody.
I’m not a psychologist, but I am the child of a Dad who chose his stuff over me. My parents’ divorce became final in 2009. I was 17. It wasn’t just in the divorce that my siblings and I were an afterthought in comparison to my father’s material things. It was the norm of my childhood.
Since then, I’ve excluded him from my life. I haven’t spoken to him since.
I am breaking my silence just this one time. Here’s a letter I wrote to my father telling him how it all made me feel.
I hope you can glean some insight from it.
My Letter to My Father
I haven’t spoken even one word to you in five years. I have ignored every text, voicemail, friend request, email, and card. I have gone about my life as if you were never even in it, because if we’re being honest, you weren’t. I can hear you now saying it is my mom’s “brainwashing” at the cause of it, but that just isn’t it. As an adult, now I am realizing that maybe, just maybe you’ve never connected the dots. So, I’m going to lay it out, one last time for you.
I remember sitting in one of the endless family counseling sessions, being asked to record a happy memory with you. I couldn’t. It’s not that there weren’t any good times, it was that I had begun to understand the circumstances of them all.
Yes, we went to the park, but never because you wanted to spend time together. Your behavior, your attitude, and demeanor made that clear, even to a small child. You always made it known how inconvenient having kids was for your wallet and your time.
I can’t speak for my brother and sister, but I can tell you that in the back of my mind I knew. I knew how much we didn’t mean to you at the time. I knew how much more you cared for your stereo, car, wine tastings, and bank account. After all, those were the things you spent time on.
Do you remember the time Jessi stood on the hood of your car to get her bike off the rack? She must have been only 40 or 50 pounds, but you yelled at her for hours when you found out. Not out of concern for her safety, but because the tiniest of dents may have been left. I remember it so vividly, standing between you two. I remember walking her to the bus stop and feeling the eyes of our neighbor’s pity us. Your car was fine, but she cried for hours and felt guilty for weeks. This was a normal occurrence. It seemed like anytime we wanted to be kids, it interfered with your lifestyle.
When the divorce settlement came around, and you didn’t even ask for custody or visitation, I wasn’t surprised. I was angry – but not at you. I was angry that I allowed myself to hope you would do otherwise. It is the only thing kids want to hear; our parents love us SO much that they are fighting to be with us more. You didn’t. So, I did what every angry teenager does; I cut you out of my life entirely.
It was easy to do, because since you had fought so hard to keep your money and things, I had to help pay the bills and put food on the table. It actually took a few months for you to realize I had cut you out. When I did, you became almost stalker-ish, but it didn’t mean anything. You tried everything, even bribery. Did you even realize what you were doing?
You kept the huge house I grew up in, you disputed paying support, you even stopped paying them to fund the happy-go-lucky divorce’ life you wanted. Never once did you think of the multiple jobs I worked while in school and college to help make ends meet. When you refused to help with my schooling, because in your opinion it was a waste of money, I relied on scholarships just to cover the cost of community college. Your actions contradicted all of your requests for me to speak to you.
No matter how many times you said you wanted me to let you back in, all I could see was the hardship you forced upon us. Before you think I am writing to scold you, I’m not. I want you to understand why.
At the onset, I believed I was punishing your selfishness, but over the years it has changed. Once I was done finding justice, I wanted to prove you wrong. I wanted to prove to the world that not only did I not need you, but also that your words and actions were wrong.
Every paycheck showed that I didn’t need your money. Every dean’s list letter told me I would be much more than you ever told me I could be. Looking back, I can clearly see that I was masking the wounds left by you. Even now I can feel myself pridefully trying to deny that your choices hurt me. The reality is they did. When you decided that keeping your stuff was more important that our well-being: it cut deep.
I went through phases trying to deal with this. First I was angry, then I denied it, but then one day I woke up and something was different. Disproving you wasn’t my motivation to get through my five classes and three jobs. I went weeks without even thinking about you, because I had forgiven you. I had forgiven you for 20 years of bad parenting. That is when things really got interesting.
Call it karma, call it the cosmos pushing you down, call it what you want. Hardship began falling on you. You struggled to keep a job, the house started falling apart, and your revolving door of girlfriends halted. Don’t get me wrong, your unemployment was not good news for us. It meant even more long hours to scrape by without support payments. Unlike you, even in hard times, we were at peace. We were happy.
We had nothing – at points we were faced with living in our cars, but we were happy. We didn’t need assets, big bank accounts, and a showy lifestyle… we had our relationships with each other, our friends, and we were okay with that. Even though I didn’t respond to you, people always made me aware of how poorly you were handling it. I am certain that it was because you had no one by your side.
Fast forward to now. I look around at my life and at any given moment, I am incredulous at how far I’ve come since the divorce. I married a good man, who is so unlike you and so devoted and so matched to me that I think I am dreaming at times. We have successful careers, a dog that is too smart for his own good, and together we are tackling our goals. I am closer than ever with the mother who walked through hell with me. My brother and sister and I have overcome all of our baggage. I have friends who stand by my side through the best and worst points of my life. I wouldn’t change anything from my past, including cutting you out. It’s no longer about proving a point or being angry or not forgiving. My life is whole without you.
This is not to say my life was not hard without you. I have always watched my friends with their dads. I’ve wondered what might have happened if you were different. You weren’t though, and that is 100 % okay with me. All of this has taught me the simplest of lessons:
Assets, money, things are not worth the people you sacrifice for them.
No, I don’t want you back in my life. At this point, it just seems unnatural. I do hope that you’ve also found truth in this lesson and that going forward you change your behavior.
- Like most details in dealing in a divorce, child visitation, and visitation rights, come with their own pitfalls. Thankfully, many of those are explicitly spelled out, if your state has set Child Parenting Time Guidelines (as my state calls them), or an equivalent thereof. These are set guidelines to give…