How being abandoned by my Dad shaped my life

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The last time I saw my Dad was 25 years ago. I was 15 years old, a hormonal, confused, growing teenager that needed a father figure more than ever. I needed someone to talk to about the ever increasing and scary changes I was experiencing both physically & mentally. I needed someone who had been through it and could tell me it was normal, and everything would be fine. I had my Mum, she was always there for me, but I needed my Dad too.

So what happened? Why did my Dad suddenly decide he didn’t want to be a part of his sons life anymore? Well honestly, I don’t know. That’s the hardest part, not fully understanding why he made that choice.

Background

My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. My younger brother was 8. I still remember my Dad telling us that he and Mum had separated. My brother and I were playing, being silly, being happy. My Dad called us in the living room and we sat down on the sofa. I can’t remember what was said exactly but my brother immediately started crying but I had an almost uncontrollable urge to laugh! I don’t know why, coping mechanism maybe? I don’t think it really sunk in, the reality of it and what it would mean for my brother and I going forward. One thing I do remember though, is that my Dad didn’t give me a hug and in that moment, I felt very alone. In that moment, consciously or unconsciously, I chose to hide my emotions. My brother was crying but I didn’t feel like I would get the comfort & support I needed from my Dad to express my true feelings so I didn’t, I boxed them up and threw away the key.

‘One thing I do remember though, is my Dad didn’t give me a hug and at that moment I felt very alone’

From 10 to 14 everything is a little blurry. That box I created in my mind, not only suppressed the bad memories from that day but a lot of my childhood got caught up in there as well.  I struggle to remember large parts of my childhood, especially when it comes to time spent with my Dad. After my parents separated we lived with my Dad initially, I don’t know how long for, could be months or a year, no idea. I don’t remember this part of my life. I don’t remember getting ready for school in the mornings, having dinner in the evenings. I can’t remember having fun, playing, laughing. I’m sure I did, but it’s all just lost. There are no special moments that come to mind. No father son bonding moments.

After that initial period living with my Dad, we moved in with my Mum and saw my Dad at the weekends. I don’t particularly remember enjoying that time spent with my Dad but I don’t know if that’s a true reflection or just another coping mechanism making it easier for me to come to terms with his abandonment.

When it comes to the period of my life when we stopped seeing my Dad (or he stopped seeing us) it’s even more blurry. At 15 years old you’d think I’d be able to remember everything. It’s not as if I was young after all! But no, when I think about it I just get fragments that I can’t make sense of. A conversation here and there, a game of pictionary where I remember actually laughing with my Dad, an argument with my Mum over renewing passports so my Dad could take us on holiday and then that was it. The weekend visits just stopped.

I don’t think I ever really processed any of it. Time spent with my Dad was never the most fun as I’ve already said, but he was still my Dad. It wasn’t as if we knew we’d never see him again. One week turned into two, two weeks turned into a month and that turned into a year. It just happened, slowly and without explanation.

Where I am today

Fast forward 25 years and here I am. I’m almost 40, I am now a Dad myself with three beautiful children, I’ve been married, divorced and now married again, and for the large part I’ve put the thought of my Dad to the back of my mind. I’ve been happy, I love being a family man and being the best Dad I can be to my kids. My boys have asked my about my Dad and I’ve told them what I can whilst making it clear that what he did was a horrible thing and that I would never do that to them. My experience with divorce as a child means I know how much it can effect young kids, so when I got divorced, the boys emotional well-being was my priority.

Being abandoned at a young age has effected my self esteem, actually to be more precise, being abandoned without a proper explanation, effected my self-esteem because you question how your own Dad could leave you, am I that unimportant that my own Dad could leave me?? This lack of self worth made me overly needy and attention seeking. It made me view other people and other peoples wants and needs as more important than my own. I wanted people to like me and this led to me becoming a doormat. I’ve been taken for granted, especially in relationships, because people soon learnt that they could treat me like shit and I’d still come running back because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I would often see people for who I wanted them to be as opposed to who they really were. All because I didn’t want to be abandoned, but guess what…those relationships didn’t last and instead of blaming them, I just assumed it was me. But low self-esteem isn’t the only difficulty I’ve faced. Below is a list of commonly experienced difficulties as a result of childhood abandonment. I’ve highlighted the issues I have faced over the years:

  1. Abusive relationship
  2. Anxiety Disorders or symptoms *
  3. Attachment Disorders*
  4. Borderline Personality Disorder
  5. Care-taking and Codependency
  6. Chaotic Lifestyle
  7. Clingy/needy behavior*
  8. Compulsive behaviors may develop
  9. Depression*
  10. Desperate relationships/relationships that happen too fast*
  11. Disturbances of mood, cannot self-regulate and experiences emotions in extreme*
  12. Extreme jealousy and possessiveness*
  13. Lack of confidence, self-esteem issue*
  14. May be poor at self-soothing
  15. People-pleasing behaviors to detriment of self.*
  16. Poor coping strategies*
  17. Promiscuity
  18. Relationship problems*
  19. Trust issues*

So as you can see there are numerous issues I can attribute to being abandoned at a young age. But the question is, what have I done to overcome these issues?

Overcoming my abandonment issues

It was only after recognising the issues I had and why I had them, that I could start to focus on overcoming them. This took years. Years of making the same mistakes. Failing relationships, people pleasing, being needy, trust issues and depression. It was a viscous cycle and one I didn’t know how to break. To be honest I still haven’t completely overcome them all. My self-esteem is still low, I still suffer from anxiety & depression but these are aspects of my life I work on constantly. I am learning to deal with them and keep them under control so they don’t have the negative impact on my life like they used to.

I’ve always said that my Dad taught me the best lesson. How NOT to be a Dad. But that’s not how it should be, I shouldn’t have to learn from what I wasn’t taught. There is still a part of me that wonders if I would be a better person had he stuck around. Would I have learnt more? Would I have been a more emotionally stable person? Would my relationships have been different growing up? Who knows and honestly, what’s the point in asking these questions? Is it going to help? No. I’m married to an amazing woman, I’ve got three beautiful kids, so I’ve not done too bad.

I don’t know my Dad but I know me. I would never put my kids through what he put me through, and even though it’s been a tough journey and I’ve made mistakes, I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that I am proud of who I am and how I’ve turned out. I am a great Dad, I am kind, thoughtful & loving. I am everything I need to be for my wife and my kids.

Would I ever want to meet my Dad?

I’m going to end this with a question that has often thought about. Would I ever want to meet my Dad? And the answer…? No, I wouldn’t. I have heard arguments from both sides of the story over the years:

Yes – Go for it!

  • He is your Dad after all
  • He is 70 now, he’s getting old
  • You will regret not meeting him if he passes away
  • You should put the past behind you
  • Everyone deserves a second chance

No – Don’t do it!

  • He abandoned you, he doesn’t deserve it
  • He hasn’t contacted you
  • It will complicate your life
  • It will complicate your children’s lives
  • He might not want to be contacted

There are times when my Dad doesn’t even cross my mind, then there are times when I can’t stop thinking about him. I think about reaching out, but every time something stops me. Something in the back of my mind that says, no, you don’t want to do this. I think it’s a combination of fear, and the unknown, but mainly it’s self-preservation. I am in a good place and for the sake of my mental health, I’m not going to risk that.