What’s it like to be estranged from your father? To not talk to him for years at time? Karen and her father haven’t spoken in four years. This is their story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Karen. I’m a musical theatre student currently studying in the UK but I’m originally from Belgium. I love to read – currently reading Walker’s Vivien Leigh biography and the fifth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire – and listening to music.
But most of my time is spent in college rehearsing or researching songs/monologues for my rep. Basically I’ve managed to make the things I love most into what I do every day.
Growing up, how was your relationship with your father?
I loved being around him. He’s a great father for young kids: very imaginative and creative. Bedtime stories were always a highlight for me. We had these two volumes of fairy tales and stories for every day of the year. He did all the voices and was (is, I presume) a very good storyteller.
My parents’ divorce came as a bit of a thunderbolt right before I turned twelve. I do not know the full details but from what I’ve been able to puzzle together he sat her down one day and just said he was leaving her for another woman.
We didn’t hear from him for six months. After that I kept visiting him until I was eighteen. He often claimed to not have enough money to have us over for the weekend or just not show up. I did not understand that: I did not require fancy meals or expensive days out. I just wanted to spend time with him, something in which he did not seem very interested.
What lead you to break off communication with him?
My first year of college I decided not to go visit him on weekends anymore. I was swamped with work and needed a stable environment to study.
A few years later, after some business with money and bank accounts I told him that I did not want to see him again. He would occasionally try to call or text me.
Right before I came to the UK in January of this year was the ‘official’ talk though. I had gone to the bank to sort some things before I moved and it turned out he had still been receiving my bank statements and my new bankcard.
When I rang him he refused to give me either and said we ‘had to talk about it’. We first arranged a meeting the next day but then he changed it and said he wouldn’t be home. I wasn’t convinced so I went to see him the next day. He didn’t answer the door so I figured I might as well see my grandparents and say goodbye to them.
It turned out that he was indeed home and after my grandma suggested I go say hi I knocked on his door. He was livid. When I asked him for my papers he still refused. I finally told him he could keep them and went back upstairs. He raced after me and kept shouting about how badly I treated him.
I’m still really proud of myself for standing up for myself at that moment. I very clearly and calmly told him that I did not want to see or speak him anymore and that I did not want him to contact me. He did try to sway me by playing the victim but I had made up my mind.
Since you’ve stopped talking to him, has he tried to contact you?
He would occasionally text and email me. For my 22nd birthday I got a page-long email detailing why I was a childish coward for not coming to see him. Charming.
Since I moved to the UK I have not heard from him or seen him, luckily. He did try and follow my twitter a couple of weeks ago but I blocked him.
How have the people in your life responded to your decision not to talk to him?
When I was still underage my mum made sure I visited often. Once I decided not to see him anymore she supported me all the way, especially during those monetary episodes.
My close friends are very supportive. I wish I could say the same about my father’s side of the family. They know that I do not visit and don’t want to speak to him. Unfortunately his oldest sister took it then upon herself to become the one person to ‘bring us back together’. She actually sat us next to each other on my eldest cousin’s wedding. Not my best family memory.
Do you think your lack of a relationship with him has affected other relationships in your life?
Definitely. Before that whole episode in their house I hadn’t seen my grandparents for a while because I didn’t want to run the risk of bumping into him.
I do not really see his side of the family any more. The fact that they don’t know everything that happened between us makes it awkward and I do not think it is my job to tell them.
I think it has made me very conscious about finding the right person to share my life with. I find it hard to trust people and let them be close to me. I made the conscious decision to take care of myself so that has become my default setting. It’s hard to break that and be vulnerable.
Has it affected your feelings about having a family of your own?
I do want to have a family of my own somewhere in the future but as I said I am very careful when it comes to relationships.
What are the benefits of not having a relationship with your father? Are there drawbacks?
The biggest benefit was a big cut in the daily drama. Life is a lot less stressful and painful when I am not constantly reminded of everything that has happened.
As far as drawbacks go I think not having that father figure in my life that I can rely on was/is hard. I love my mum very much but we are so similar and would often clash. It would have been nice to have a third element there to sometimes help smooth the waves as it were.
Is there anything your father could do that would make you want to have a relationship with him?
I’m afraid not. It often feels as if now he no longer has to take care of us and I am doing well in life he wants to see me and be the father of a successful woman. It does not work like that for me.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of breaking off communication with a family member?
Tell all of your family that you are breaking contact with them and why. You might hurt their feelings but if they do not know why they will probably try to convince you to reconsider which is a very exhausting conversation to have.
Trust yourself and your judgment. It’s a pretty big thing to break off communication with a family member and not a decision you will have taken lightly. Do not let them talk you out of it or make you feel bad about it. You are not weak or a coward for not speaking to them and not giving in to them. You are not a bad for breaking off communication with someone.
Change your phone number. I did not do this while I was still living in Belgium but in hindsight it could have saved me a lot of trouble. However do keep their number in your phone so that you know it’s them when they call and you can just screen the call.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Karen. Have any of you broken off communication with a parent or family member? How have you dealt with it?