I loved my dad. I was a serious daddy’s girl until he died when I was 13. Even though I only spent a little more than a decade with him, he was a perfect father. I know he loved me so much, and I was proud to be his daughter.
The memory of him was always so dear to me. Sometimes, I wished that he were still alive so that my mom didn’t have to be so lonely at this stage of her life. I wanted to honour and dedicate my life to making my mom and my dad proud, hoping that he’d still look over us and love us.
But now everything has changed. A couple of days ago, I found out that he had an affair. Unfortunately, I had to find out through a third party and not my mom. In fact, she doesn’t know that I know about their rocky marriage.
According to my source, my mom confronted him, but he only shut her down saying: “She and I are together because she thinks I’m somebody important. I’ll end the relationship when I feel like it.”
Now, my memory of my dad is tainted. I feel sick in the stomach thinking that his blood runs in my veins. My skin crawls when I think that I’m part of his legacy, what he left in this world. I feel like an infinite loser when I think that I’m related to a man who was so heartless and abusive to someone who married him, loved him, and remained loyal to him. I want to somehow escape my body when I look in the mirror because a lot of people used to say that I remind them of my dad.
What’s worse is that I can’t confront him myself because he’s dead. I have this incredibly dark thought – I’m actually glad that he’s dead. I even once looked down and cursed on the ground, hoping that maybe he’s suffering in his afterlife.
I know it’s horrible to think this, but I can’t help it. I’m too afraid to talk to my mom about it because I don’t know how she’d react. What if the memory of him just pains her? It might not be worth the trouble if all I do is bring up a sad phase of her life.
I want closure with my father and to move on. How can I do this without hurting my mom?
Your real-life relationship with your father ended when you were just 13, on the brink of adolescence and becoming a young woman. Still at the adoring, father-can-do-no wrong stage. So this news – which would have come as a shock anyway if you had no idea – would have been extra painful.
I consulted Jan McGregor Hepburn, from the British Psychoanalytic Council (bpc.org.uk), whose first question was “Who told you and why – what was their motivation?”
We do have to wonder what possible reason there would be to tell the daughter of a man who has died (I don’t know how long ago) that he had an affair and treated your mother so – apparently – callously. McGregor Hepburn wondered what made you believe it so readily. I felt your father fell from grace very quickly from hero to villain in the space of one conversation.
I asked McGregor Hepburn what could cause such extremes of emotion and she wondered if perhaps you couldn’t see your father “as ordinary”. This may be because you are stuck in the idolisation stage, or it could be because, actually, you know your father wasn’t perfect (no one is) but for some reason you are protecting yourself from that.
McGregor Hepburn was “concerned by the level of self-loathing [you] began to speak of. There must be a long root to feel like that about yourself.”
You say you can’t talk to your mother about this. But I wonder if you should. By not talking about it you are not getting her side of the story and given that you can’t ask your dad, hers is a valuable viewpoint. I worry that it will become a “thing” between you. But if you really don’t feel you can talk to her about it yet, I would recommend you talk about this to someone you trust (not the person who gave you the news), as internalising it is making it toxic and potent.
We wondered how old you were. You sound quite young. When I was younger, I thought being unfaithful was just the worse thing someone could do – so greedy, so weak. But as you get older you realise that perfectly nice people make mistakes. I hope you realise that whatever your dad did was no reflection on how he felt about you.
I wonder how fresh your memory of your dad is? I wonder if you could imagine what he’d say if you could ask him?
I also wondered if you actually felt angry with your dad before this news – angry at him “leaving you”, angry, perhaps, because now you feel you have to look after your mum, and this news came along and, bam, you had a reason to be angry with him now.
Do you think that loving someone is only blind adoration of them? McGregor Hepburn pointed out that “good” grieving is actually seeing that person as they were – ordinary, flawed, but loved.
This column first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 25 November 2017.