I got a letter from my father today. Instant dread sinking into me when I noticed the handwriting on the envelope. Could be my grandma, could be him. Very similar style. I closed my room door behind me to open it, just in case. (In case of what? Probably in case of me not being able to hide what I feel from my flatmate. Closing the door so I can sit down when my knees shake or when my anxiety goes through the roof and my face shows it, or in case I start to cry. All possibilities, only partly depending on the content of the letter.)
So I open it, and read it, every emotional and physical muscle tense, braced for whatever may hit me. Nothing scary in the letter. He’s telling me a bit about what’s going on in Germany, and expresses some interest in what’s going on here. He wants to show he cares, maybe, he wants to connect, maybe.
He’s not asking for anything, no requests or demands.
Apart from the fact that I haven’t been for a visit in two years, and I’m sure connecting with me always carries the hope that I might decide to do that.
I can see all that. I can appreciate the fact that he is trying to do something good here.
My emotional reaction is still one of feeling overwhelmed and scared, anxiety and tears and all the rest of it. Needing to remind myself that his letter being here is not like him being here. I’m safe, I’m in control of how I respond to him, I’m not there. I have a choice.
It’s scary that all of this still lives in me, and leaps into panic mode. Survival mechanisms of a kid, really. Stay away. Not safe. Exclamation marks.
There is nothing I want more than family.
It has cost me a lot to look at the reality and accept that my family is not what I imagined it was. I had to hurt a lot to accept that.
I wish so much that we could come to a place in which we can live with that, with ourselves, as we are. More at peace for having taken that long, hard look and seen what has been and what is. Truth sets free…
I would occasionally hazard a guess that all of us in the family want similar things. But to say we want connection is a very different thing than to work towards it.
There has been no conversation at all, none, between my parents about the past. None.
That is how they live together.
And that is the family they want me to “come back” to.
I want real connection. No surface swimming. I cannot live with this silence. Nothing is changing underneath this silence. It’s a dark pit of all things unsaid and terrible. I do not know if my father is any safer to be with for my nieces than he was for me or my sister. And nobody talks about it.
I don’t think this ever was who he wanted to be.
But this never was what I imagined my life to be either.
And I had to deal with the fact that it is what it is. And I will have to deal with these facts again tomorrow. Again and again, whenever some button is pushed in me that makes me jump-start into panic.
That’s where I am. And I don’t hate him for it. Not anymore. I wish he was able to sit down and talk with someone about his life and himself. I wish things were different for him.
I wish my family would not pretend that all is fine now.
Nothing has been talked about. It’s not fine.
My sister said a few years ago that there’s an empty room in her where the relationship with our father was. Swept and dusted, with no hope of every being lived in again.
Now she’s moving into our parents’ house. With our parents.
I don’t think the room is empty in me. If nothing else, there’s a lot of longing in it for the father I didn’t have.
And for my parents, I think there’s a locked room full of things too fearful to look at or talk about. They’ve thrown away or hidden the keys, each in a different place. And they pretend that they can’t see the door. Or it’s just for decoration. Nothing there. Nothing mentionable at least.
If I could see a hope of truthful relationships, no matter how painful or angry or sad that truth might be, I would try. At any hint of it, I would risk it. But I cannot take the risk if it is me who wants relationship, and them who maintain a status quo that has never meant family and never will.
We stay connected on a very thin surface, by not rocking the boat. Nobody knows if they can swim. But we try and make the surface nicer?
I want them to know me. I want to know them. I want family. I want depth to our relationships. I still want what I always wanted. (So from time to time, I rock the boat. Every so slightly. Even though it’s likely to hurt me in some way. Hoping that one day someone will jump into the water with me, wanting to know what they are really made of, underneath all that fear.)
I want to be able to accept my father’s letter as something good. I want to be able to accept it as I think he meant it, without fear running the show in me.
Lord, hear my prayer.
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.