Social commentary and think pieces

01 April 2020

"broken home"

My parents split when I was four. I scarcely remember a time when my family was "whole" and even the few memories I do have, I'm not certain if they are legitimate of false versions of reality, constructed around familiar family photos. My brother was too young to remember at all. They split on his second birthday.

Whether its fortunate or not, I remember very little about the period of time before my parents split. I don't remember much arguing, just the occasion when my Dad shut the fridge door on my Mum's wrist - of that was intentional, I don't know.
I remember my Dad sleeping on the sofa. I remember, when they eventually did break up, going on holiday to Wales for the weekend so my Dad had time to collect his belongings from our Flat. I remember that he took the TV.
I remember receiving special treatment from the teachers at school. I remember a teacher telling me she would take me in her "secret rocket" to get some new reading books. I remember feeling deflated when I saw that it was just a lift.
I remember going to see the school councillor but not knowing why. I remember wishing I had never told her anything because it just made my relationship with my Dad more difficult. And that difficulty would last for years to come.
I remember screaming and crying every other weekend when my Dad came to collect me for my fortnightly stay at his house. I remember, on those days, hiding from him in the garden whilst, inside, my parents argued about it. I remember pissing in the front garden because I was too scared to go inside, even just to go to the Bathroom.
Even now, twelve years on, when visiting him - an event I'll admit is conspicuously rare - I get the train home early because its  just too difficult. That's not to say that I haven't tried to make our relationship work. I've tried tirelessly for years on end but with so much work and such little result, I've given up.

Attempts at days out rather than weekend stays at his house ended abruptly with me walking home from the Tube station on my birthday, alone and in tears, after my Dad stormed off on hearing that I had not yet bought my Grandma a birthday card, with two weeks to go until her birthday.
Ferocious arguments have emerged from nothing. I don't want an Ice Cream and I'm accused of being a stupid teenage girl, too conscious of her weight. In reality, I just don't like Ice Cream.

Still, I don't fail to recognise that he isn't intentionally horrible. Rather, he is unable to emphasise, and though his inability to do so is alien to me, I have learnt to accept that the ability is simply beyond him. He can consider how he would feel and react in a situation if it were happening to him, but its not the same as empathy.

That tendency to consider things from the perspective of "what would I do and how would I feel if ti happened to me?" make him also, entirely unable to understand peoples differences. If my brother and I don't enjoy something that he does, its "but why don't you enjoy it? when I was your age I loved this!", seemingly oblivious to the fact that when he was our age it was the early 80s and he was growing up in suburbia with two very conservative and old-fashioned parents. My brother and I are growing up in 2020, in London with one very liberal Mum. But, aside from that, he is oblivious to the fact that we are different. 
Despite this, his inability to understand me is not something I would complain of. I wouldn't expect him to understand me, I gave up trying to make him understand years ago when it became painfully obvious to me that - that too - was beyond him.

He doesn't know me at all. Over the years there have been re-runs of conversations, each time the same thing said yet each time its as though he's hearing these things for the first time.
Last summer, my cousin died suddenly at the age of twenty-eight. It was an event that forced my family together and on the car journey from London to Leeds for his funeral, I bought with me a Smiths CD, hoping it would be, in some ways, a peace offering. Something that my Dad and I could bond over I had thought, remembering the time that he had played How Soon Is Now? to me in the car, with such great enthusiasm at the overwhelmingly depressing lyrics. As I revealed the CD to him, a look of surprise crossed his face.
"You like The Smiths?" he asked, excited.
I nodded, remembering the time we had had this conversation before. I inserted the disc into the CD player and he laughed "better hope Girlfriend In A Coma isn't on there!" - my cousin was in a week-long coma before he died. Nobody laughed.
But, my Dad was pleased that we had something in common, a shared love of The Smiths, and for a moment, though a fleeting one, I thought maybe he was beginning to understand me. I had a glimmer of hope that we could, at least, get on for the weekend of the funeral. But, since June we've had this conversation - "I didn't know you liked The Smiths?!" - at least five times and so I've started to think that maybe he doesn't listen, at least not as closely as his excitement at our shared interest that time in the car had fooled me to believe.

I   K N O W   I   H A V E N ' T been the easiest daughter, though I am conscious that putting the blame on myself for my relationship with my Dad, which has been anything but smooth-sailing, is wrong.
I stopped going for fortnightly visits years ago, though my brother - F - still goes, for which I feel immense guilt. I know he struggles with their relationship too but F is far more easy going than me.
When he feels he's been treated wrongly by my Dad, he has the ability  - an ability which is beyond me - to block it out. Whereas, when I feel I've been wronged, I won't hesitate to, politely I might point out, stand up for myself. Though this angers my Dad far more, which I why I think I have been treated with more cruelty than F.

But, I do feel an immense sense of guilt as my brother now carries all responsibility towards my Dad. Note my use of the word 'responsibility'.
A child should not be made to feel responsible for their parents general happiness, but this is not the case for me, and its certainly not the case for F. My Dad may have accepted that my relationship with him isn't great and likely never will be. But, for F there is a pressure to be there, which come with an immense sense of guilt as we - or he - is part of the little life my Dad has left.

You see, my Dad lives a very sheltered life. After my parents broke up, twelve years ago, he moved back to the suburban village in which my Grandparents live and has remained there since. Likely, because he is extremely emotionally dependent on my Grandparents. He hates where he lives and he hates his job, which he has been working for the best part of thirty years, but has made no effort to change this. He has few friends, a distant school friend and a cycling partner, and a girlfriend who he rarely sees as she lives in Spain. They have been together for about ten years but have never closed the distance, likely because both are so emotionally dependent on their elderly parents, who they live so close to. He also has two children who he rarely sees and a daughter who he believes to hate him.

When someone's life is so seemingly empty, and when that person tells you their life is empty, its hard not to feel some form of guilt for their unhappiness when you are so distanced from them. Especially when what that person says to you exerts that guilt and especially when that person is your Father. This is why I spent so many evenings after being dropped home, after another argument, worrying that my Dad would kill himself. Because, if you are made to feel that you are all that person has, and your relationship is so clearly that of an unhappy one, you wonder what they're living for now?

A T   T H I S  P O I N T,  I think I've made it fairly obvious that, though my Dad is my biological Father, I've never seen him to be a Father-figure to me.
Something I vividly remember is a car journey back home from spending the weekend at his house when he complained - not for the first time - of a man he worked with. He said the man he worked with had been complaining to him that week of the stresses of taking his children to and from there various different extra-curricular activities. My Dad told us how he would do anything to have that kind of involvement in the lives of F and I and asked us to involve him more, to give him the opportunity to be a Dad to us.
Even at eight years old, I could see fault in this. I could see that my Dad seemed to misunderstand that parenting is far more than taking your kids to and from football practice, and that doing so doesn't make you the father-figure he had requested we let him be.
Now, in hindsight, I am able to critique this further. Asking your child to provide for you the opportunity to be paternal, completely defeats the notion of being paternal. A child should not have to to give opportunity for parenting, a child should be parented unconditionally.
At the time, I wondered, if he truly did want that kind of involvement, why wasn't he making the effort to arrange it with my Mum, rather than my brother and I who, at ages six and eight had little control over who took us to and from school? He never did, and the topic was never bought up again.

More than anything, this is a prime example of the complex roles of mine and my brother's relationship with our Dad. Yes, he is our parent and we were - and still are - merely children. But, more often than not, these roles seem to shift and it feels he depends on us for reassurance as a child depends on their parent for reassurance.
He often gets annoyed with my brother for not responding to texts immediately after receiving them, or for not wanting to FaceTime, not quite accepting that at times F is busy and not available as a constant source of entertainment for my Dad. "But why don't you want to FaceTime? I never see you!" he'd ask, in the same way that a small child might ask their parent "But why do you have to go to work? I want you to play with me!"

L I K E  I  S A I D, I don't see my Dad as a fatherly figure in my like, and I think at this point its clear to see why. I've already said that fathering is a role that delves deeper than simply providing for your children. But, aside from the legal cost - a monthly £200 - that any split couple has to pay to the primary carer, and the weekends I have spent at his house, my Dad has not provided and has no such involvement in my life. Financially, my Mum does it all. She is a single parent working part time as a primary school teacher, a role notoriously underpaid, but a job she has chosen in order to be a present and involved parent.
For twelve years, my Dad has had little involvement and has seldom been present. For him to think that, at this point, his input is wanted, at least by me, would be delusional.

With his lack of paternal nature, and lack of involvement in my upbringing, I found it infuriating the other week that he texted me - after months of silence - to remind me that it was Mothers Day the following Sunday, as though had he not reminded me, the date would have gone forgotten.
I was - and stil am - angry that he deems it reasonable to pick and choose when to be fatherly. After years of such little involvement, he cannot simply adopt a fatherly nature and think it something I will simply accept, especially considering the cruelty I have endured from him. He reminded me of Mothers Day as if he were an involved and caring parent, which he is not.
I typed out a furious reply, telling him of his nerve to remind me of Mothers Day, like the involved parent he fails to be, but quickly deleted it, thinking it better to let my silence speak volumes. I didn't respond.

I N   T H E  P A S T, I may have longed for a family that mirrored that of my friend's. A family with two parents. I may have felt shame and embarrassment for my three-person family. When friends who came round after school asked, I may have told them that my Dad was at work, to mask the shame I felt that we didn't live in the same home. I may have been ashamed of my family, which I did not conciser "whole".

But, now I realise that though I certainly haven't had an easy ride in the family department, I do not come from a "broken home". Perhaps, the cracks that appeared in my parents marriage over time were what was "broken" and in splitting those cracks have been filled and maybe, that is what has "fixed" my home?
Thats not to say I haven't been affected by what I have endured. Though I have, for the most part, come to terms with the fact that I will likely never have a good relationship with my Dad, I still wonder how I will ever be part of a healthy marriage, when I don't truly know what a healthy marriage looks like?

But, though my family may not resemble a traditional set ip - a mum, a dad, and some children - we are a family all the same. Because a family is not simply a married couple and their kids, it is a unit of unconditional love. And that, is what my Mum, my brother, and I have.


  1. it looks interesting =)

  2. Wow thank you for sharing this. My husbands parents divorced and it was always hard for me to understand some of the things he's told me, and how he feels. I really enjoyed reading your blog and your writing.

    Stephanie |

  3. Always interesting to learn about the lives of other families. Thank you for sharing

  4. Wow. This was truly a heartfelt read. It felt like I was reading a chapter from a book. I think that one thing that some fail to realize is that not everyone gets along with their parents sometimes. I hear people say, "family is everything" but in fact, not everyone may agree to it. Sometimes, people just don't get along and that's the end of the story. I'm glad that you gave it as try with your father and gave him a chance to perhaps redeem himself but if that didn't work out, it's okay. The main thing to remember is that you tried. And you're very brave for that. I don't know you but I'm proud of you for sharing this story. Your writing overall is beautiful; you truly know how to tell a story. The ending, when you said, "Because a family is not simply a married couple and their kids, it is a unit of unconditional love," I felt like it was the perfect way to describe your entire situation. It was a sad story, but you made it very beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

    Salina |

    1. Thank you so much, that means a lot to me xx

  5. Thank you for this post. I appreciate it.


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