A Letter To My Daughter, M; Parental Alienation Is The Worst Part Of Breaking Up
The Elations and Anxieties of a Failed Marriage- Part 3
I have so much I want to say to you, that I need to say to you, really. I don’t even know if you’ll read this but, if you do, I think it’s best I start here:
I love you, and I miss you terribly.
I know that the separation between your mother and I has been hard on you. Harder than I’d ever thought, and I’d been through this from your vantage point.
The biggest reason your mother and I held off on our split was to prevent you and your brother from going through what you’re experiencing now. I went through this as a kid, at around 12 years old, and your mom went through something similar, although her parents eventually got back together, which is a rare thing.
If I had it to all over again, I would have chosen to leave earlier, when you and your brother were much younger. I think that would have been better because I could have made sure that you and he spent equal time with me right from the start, and this distance between us might not have happened. Hindsight is like that; you only realize you’ve made a mistake once the bad things have already been produced by your “good idea.”
A lot has been said between us since April. I’m not going to dwell on what, or why you’ve developed the feelings towards me you have. I’m sad that you feel the way you feel, but I can’t really speak to those feelings because I’ve realized in the last few months that, somehow, I’ve lost track of who you are now.
That’s partly because, for most of the last two years, we haven’t spoken to or seen each other much; at first because I was trying to give you space to adjust, and because your mother told me that I shouldn’t try to insist that you visit me (both good and bad advice), but as time went on it became obvious that you didn’t want to speak to me, and I didn’t know what to do with that, and so I left you alone and just waited.
Unfortunately, eighteen months is a whole pile of time for a teenager and I’ve missed the steps that came between who you were, and who you’ve become. Of everything I’m sad about, I’m saddest about that.
Since I can’t talk to you about what you’re feeling right now, and since I don’t know the person you’ve become and so don’t really know how to go about repairing the rift between us, I thought a good place for us to start would be if you got to know me better. Kids don’t really stop thinking of their parents as fixed points in the sky until they’re much older, but I wanted to give you a tiny glimpse into the person I am when I’m not your dad.
So here’s three stories. Two involve you, and one might help explain some things that you might be wondering about and so, is also kind of about you.
When you were born, I was living with the woman I’d moved to Edmonton from Winnipeg with. She and I (let’s call her Dawn) had a comfortable relationship. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible, but we cared a lot about each other and, eventually, getting married and having kids seemed like a thing we’d likely do. Those weren’t things I super wanted to do at that point in my life, but I was comfortable with the idea.
We hung out with your mom a lot (she and I had been friends for a few years before you were born and had reconnected when I moved to Edmonton). The three of us weren’t besties or anything, but movies together and coffee at my place weren’t uncommon. Dawn even worked with your grandma for a little bit.
One night, the four of us, Dawn and I, your mom, and you, were out driving. I don’t remember where but I do remember that Dawn was sitting in the back seat with you. And I remember that you started screaming. Your mom and I kind of laughed at the noise while we drove; you were a baby, babies cry. But Dawn, man, she freaked out.
At first your mom and I thought she was kidding. No one was that spazzed out by a baby. But after suggesting to her that she try giving you your bottle or soother to calm you down and Dawn getting ever more panicked, we realized she was genuinely not ok with being that close to a crying baby. That realization was hammered in when Dawn, at the top of her lungs, yelled “make it stop!!!” You were the “it” in her wail of torment.
Dawn and I didn’t last long after that. We didn’t break up because I’d suddenly realized that she probably wasn’t ready to have kids and I definitely was. It was way more complicated than that, as is usually the case. But that realization was definitely part of the background as she and I began to realize that we probably shouldn’t be together.
Fast forward about 18 months.
I was dating someone new. Your mom and I were closer friends than we’d been before, and I got to spend a bunch of time with you and her.
The girl I was dating then, Clara, was lovely. Truly. You met her a couple of times as a toddler and loved her. Everyone loved her. I loved her. Head over heels, big romance, movie love. The kind I hope you find someday and that you can make last. The kind I have now with my new partner, Bea.
We were great together. We were the couple that other couples got puking sick around. We had shared dreams, and big plans. She bought me comic books for presents. I chopped wood for her. Everything was amazing. She was the girl I should have married.
But she was years away from wanting kids, and I wanted to be a dad. And I knew it wasn’t fair to put that pressure on her, and every time we’d hang out with your mom and I spent time around you, I wanted to be a dad even more.
And so I ended things with Clara. There was a lot more going on in my head at that point than that one thing, but that one thing was a huge part of my thinking.
In hindsight, I would have been happier if I’d stayed with her. She was great, and I could have built a happy life with her and just had kids later. That would have been fine. I’d probably be living somewhere else now, which would be glorious because, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve hated it here forever.
I’m incredibly grateful that I made that mistake. Your mom and I didn’t get together because we thought she and I were perfect for each other; we weren’t. At all. We got together because your mom didn't want to be a single mom anymore and because you were perfect, and I didn’t just want to be a dad, I wanted to be your dad.
And I got to be that. And I got your brother. And no matter where things sit right now, or what happens in the future, and as much as I can know in my head that my life could have been happier at this point if I’d stayed with the girl I had the big movie love with, I wouldn’t trade being your dad for anything in the world. Not for all the money there is, not for all the time in the world to read, and not for a life without any fights and that’s filled with comic books and camping trips.
Being your dad has been the highlight of my life and, even if you never let me in yours again, it will have been worth it. Even with things as bad as they are between your mom and I, even with all the madness we’re living through right now, I have no regrets. Being your dad has made me the best possible version of myself and nothing else matters even a bit.
Which brings us to the last story.
When I was a couple of years younger than you are now, I found out that my dad wasn’t my biological father. I found out because he a) told me this in the middle of a fight he and I were having and which he was telling me because b) he didn’t want to be my dad anymore. He was moving on. New wife didn’t want me around taking up resources from her kids (at least that’s the sort of thing my mom would tell me, or say to her friends in front of me, which, as an adult, I wish I’d listened to less), and he didn’t want conflict at home, so out I went.
This was, ultimately, the thing that made me, me. Being unwanted by someone that was that huge a part of my life, being cut off from the rest of my extended family because he didn’t want me around anymore, feeling like my brother was everyone’s favourite and (remember this was in the 80s when this kind of thing was a much bigger deal) out of nowhere having my friends and other parents start referring to me as a ‘bastard’ or illegitimate, left deep scars.
It left me with huge issues trusting adults, and shaped most of my relationships with women. It broke me, more than a little. But it also made me determined to be a better parent than what I’d experienced growing up. What my dad had done was the worst thing I could imagine an adult doing. I was thrown away and, worse, my brother, and my former extended family, made me feel like I’d deserved it somehow. Like I’d chosen, at age 12, to be tossed in the trash by someone I’d loved unconditionally.
When your mom and I got together, we talked a lot about whether to tell you that I wasn’t your biological father. I told her what I’d gone through, and she, and your grandparents, agreed that it would be best if you just never knew. There were a whole lot of reasons, but the biggest one was that we never wanted you to feel different.
That was a mistake. A huge one. And I’m so so sorry. We lied to you. I lied to you. And it doesn’t matter that it was done to protect you, and out of a fear that went all the way back to when I was a kid. It would have been better for you to know that I’d picked you. I chose to be your dad. You were wonderful, and I thought I could be better than my dad had been, and I was ready, and so I chose to make you, and eventually your brother once he came along, the center of my life. You’d be better off having known that all along, instead of finding out however you did.
The difference between what happened to me, and what’s happening to us right now, is I still want to be your dad. I will always want to be your dad. I can’t force you to let me, and I won’t ask the courts to make you, because that kind of thing is just broken. If we’re going to have a relationship, it’s going to have be your choice.
I hope you eventually make that choice. Because I love you, and miss you, and every day that I don’t get to see you hurts. But I’ll wait for as long as it takes. Because you’re my daughter and you’re worth it.
In February of 2021, my daughter, M*, asked me if she could move in half time at my house.
This was huge for me. I cannot overstate how happy I was.
In the year prior M and I had had a strained relationship at best, but it had been on the mend since early fall. I’d been unwilling to demand equal visitation from Sasha, despite our prior arrangement guaranteeing that scenario in the event of a split, because I didn’t want to force the kids into an arrangement they weren’t happy with. My son, B, and I were close enough that the split didn’t really damage our relationship. We both looked forward to our weekends (and any other time Sasha gave us) together and, because the time was so short, we always made sure to spend as much of it as possible doing the things we both loved together.
M, though… She and I had started drifting apart a couple of years before her mother and I split. Partly because she’d become immersed in the same youth group that Sasha had been in as a girl, Sasha was an adult volunteer with that organization, and I hated everything about the group, which made it easier for M to bond tighter with her mother. Partly because Sasha had started a campaign of intervention anytime M’s behaviour prompted any kind of discipline and would threaten to divorce me (in front of the children) if I carried through on punishment suggestions like barring M from group activities for a weekend (as an example, and for behaviour like outright lying to us, stealing money from us, or having full on tantrums when asked to do anything, or when we looked at her the wrong way).
But, I think, primarily that distance happened because I made a mistake. I thought it was more important to have a daughter who was functionally prepped for the world in terms of responsibility and accountability and character, and Sasha understood that it was, in the face of a marriage that was imploding, simply more important to have a daughter that loved her.
My single greatest regret as a parent is that I didn’t work harder to shield the kids from the chaos that began to emerge in the relationship between their mother and I, as it became more and more obvious that the marriage was going to fail. My second is that I let myself get thrust into the role of disciplinarian by a partner who refused to help in that end of the pool.
(It’s notable that, the spring that I moved out, one of the very few calls I received from Sasha for help with the kids was to “get our daughter under control” one morning, when M had shoved her into a wall during a fight.)
The night we called the family meeting to let the kids know what was going on, M flopped in a chair, crossed her arms and, before I could say anything, asked “So, who’s moving out?”
I didn’t know it at the time but, because I’d allowed our relationship, which had been so close when she was younger, drift, when I moved out M was planted firmly in the camp of Team Mom, despite us reassuring the kids that the split was no one’s fault**.
So, when M asked to split her time between my place and her mom’s, I was elated. We’d started to gently reconnect, and I was feeling like my life was coming back together again, at least as far as finding my footing with the kids went.
That lasted five weeks, during which time M went from complaining that her mother was yelling at her over the idea, to calling me up randomly to accuse me of parenting war crimes (with weird long pauses where she was muting herself and then coming back to ask me new and ever more articulate gotcha questions) to her finally telling me she didn’t want to visit me anymore at all.
Over the course of five weeks.
In one of those conversations, when I gently suggested that maybe I wasn’t actually talking to M, but rather to the coaching she’d received from her mother and her grandmother (the drive-by Nazi of last week’s instalment) I got hit with this statement, “I wasn’t coached! I just told mom that I wanted to live with you and she explained all the reasons I shouldn’t want that!”
I love that my son is with me week on week off. I’d take more time if I could; I didn’t become a parent to do it part time. But our visits, for both or us, are sometimes bittersweet because of his sister’s absence, and we both talk about how much we wish she was here. Because we both remember a better time and the special bond the three of us had and, as wonderful as our time together every other week is, we both know it would better with M in the mix.
The letter above doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I want to say to my daughter. I could fill novels.
But there are a few tensions at play. I can’t tell her all the ways she’s been lied to about me without explaining how awful and abusive her mother and grandmother have been. She’ll get the broad strokes through these pieces if she chooses to read them (now that someone has helpfully shown a 14 year old where her father is working through his emotional baggage after enduring years of mental and financial abuse). But even here, I won’t go into all the details because I’m trying to hold myself to the standard of only writing what I can prove (or at least what Sasha can’t disprove; turns out hindsight really is 20/20 and I didn’t start keeping every communication until after we split).
Also, how do you look at a kid and tell them that the person they love most is actually a monster? And not even a good one, like Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but a third rate, almost blasé one, like the asshole driving down the street with testicles hanging from his bumper and a Confederate Flag in his rear window. You can’t, really. Because we live in a world where abuse is only taken seriously if it involves bruises or physical trauma. You can’t tell a kid her mom is the most terrifying monster you’ve experienced in real life, when all the monster did was lie so much she made you doubt your sanity for the biggest part of a decade.
So…Yeah. There are other things to say to M that will have to wait until she asks to hear them. But I think she might someday. Because I eventually did.
In the summer of 2020, six or so months after I moved out of mine and Sasha’s home, I picked up a phone and called my estranged adoptive father for the first time in 29 years. I’d seen him a few years earlier at my brother’s wedding and had been struck by how he’d been with my children; warm, playful, enamoured even. It didn’t square with my memories of him which, upon reflection, were at least partially informed by years of exposure to my mother’s naked hostility towards him.
We had a nice chat about music, and film photography, and getting kids to appreciate the classics. It was nice. Inoffensive.
I don’t know whether he ever felt the anguish I feel at being away from my kids when he, three decades ago, decided I wasn’t going to have anything to do with him anymore.
I do know that I decided, after that call, as pleasant as it was, that I wasn’t interested in pursuing any kind of reconciliation. There were too many things that I remember happening when my dad and I fell out (like the adults of his family; my grandma, uncles and aunts etc. refusing to take my calls because they didn’t want to upset him) that I would never, as a parent who loves my kids, have tolerated. That’s enough to satisfy me that he isn’t good people.
And the same could happen with M and I. Our stories do seem to be generational, unfortunately.
But I doubt it. M is, at core, wonderful. And she’s surrounded by people who aren’t. And I think she’ll see through the bullshit and realize that the person who’s being described to her isn’t the person she remembers or who her brother comes to see every week.
I will continue to have hope for reconciliation with my daughter, always.
*I’m not giving my daughter a pseudonym here, or in any of these pieces, but have chosen to refer to her by her first initial. There’s nothing she’s done through all this that’s her fault and, due to the malicious actions of an adult who should have known better, she’s seen at least the first of these pieces, so my efforts to shield her from the drama at play have failed utterly and there isn’t really a point to trying to hide her identity from her.
**I maintained this stance, and still do when B asks me anything about it. But I’ve come to find out that there’s been an intense campaign waged by Sasha and her mother to erase that initial impression and paint me retroactively as a villain and Sasha as a victim. More on that in another entry.
A note on why I’m doing this:
Beyond the desire to, in a therapeutic way, process all the things that have happened since my marriage imploded, and to share my side of a story that I’ve been fundamentally silent on with friends and family for the last year and a half, there is an ulterior motive to the writing I’m doing here.
This platform, Vocal.media, pays me a teeny bit of money each time someone reads these articles. Given that things are getting extremely intense on the court front, and given that I don’t qualify for legal aid, but also can’t afford an attorney, this is my way of generating the revenue I need to prevent Sasha from stealing my children from me, along with the better part of my adult life that she’s already used like bargain toilet paper.
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