When I was in nursery school, kids seemed to pull dads out of everywhere like toys out of lucky packets. Wherever I looked, little girls were wandering shopping malls and playgrounds with a father in tow. I always seemed to be waiting for one: standing at the front door with a suitcase packed with a multi-coloured spade set waiting for dad to pick me up for a promised holiday; standing outside nursery school waiting for him to fetch me for a birthday lunch, a sleepover, a visit.
Standing, waiting, sitting, waiting, hunching, waiting, waiting, crying. I was the cheated kid who got the booby prize lucky packet.
In my six-year-old imagination, fathers were a happy concept, like the puppy my friend had asked Santa for. I already had a dog. I knew her notion of them was flawed, that she’d find out puppy had to be fed every day, walked, bathed, trained. She would never have the puppy in her head. She’d have a real dog with problems.
As for me, I asked for dad like I asked for him every year.
My mother divorced me from him when I was seven. She’d decided his pittance of a presence was more damaging than his permanent absence would be, and with that, his weekly rejections were replaced with one constant piece of neglect. He never met her decision with anger. He barely noticed it had even been made, and so followed 15 years of fatherlessness, during which I learned the art of being abandoned.
In adulthood, the lack of him was a crevice I kept falling into. When I was rejected by a lover or a friend, I’d think, “It’s only natural. There’s a reason dad doesn’t want his daughter.” And that’s how ordinary failures were sewn together with a common thread called “unwanted” until I eventually knotted myself up in worthlessless.
I was thirty when I got my Santa wish. I decided to earn back dad and, in so doing, earn back my sense of value. Inexplicably, he responded. I now knew my father, but even those many years later, his greatest talent was disappearing. Every vanishing act felt like an entirely new rejection.
Five years later, I received the call: “Your dad’s been admitted to ICU.” Only those words and my world dissolved in the concept of an absence more permanent than I’d ever imagined.
He died the year I chose recovery over trauma and anorexia. In being given a new life, I was abandoned by dad irrevocably, but it wasn’t the last time—Sometimes I still feel myself waiting, his abandonment having become a part of me that even his death can’t mend.