When I talk about my Dad, I always say that he and I never had a bad relationship. We did not have a good one either. We just never had a relationship at all. Nothing ever bound us together. Most of the time thinking about him reminds me of the bleak and emotionless atmosphere of an airport, which is the second thing, after my Dad, that I anticipate and dread the most. It took a lot of courage and almost two decades to accept this fact and move forward. The spiritual outcome of this journey against all odds felt like walking on Mars without a safety suit; the boldest thing I have ever done.
For most of my childhood, I would spend a few weekends at my Dad’s. More precisely, at my grandmother’s house. I would see him and we would exchange some polite salutations and then, a sterile and silent void. The afternoons with my dad felt like waiting for a delayed midnight flight in the aforementioned, metaphorical empty airport. This was when I was between the ages of six and sixteen, a long decade of silence, questions, anxiety and observations. I guess I was always a lonely child and I would describe myself back then as a bit of a nerd, not very courageous but very introverted. At the time, I knew nothing about my father, apart from his name, job and essential life facts even though we would see each other every two weeks for years. I still do not know anything about him. I do not know what he likes to eat or drink, where he likes to go on vacation or what his favorite color is. My mother told me, a few months ago, that they used to have a favorite song, « Les Yeux Noirs » by the French band Indochine. This was the first time in years that my acceptance of the void between us had been challenged and now, my memories of loneliness in that deserted airport have background music.
I was never brave enough to ask questions or confront anyone, let alone my father. I never enjoyed confrontation and was actually quite afraid of it. I now understand how fear has been the worst enemy of my identity for so many years. Sometimes I would wonder, while seated on my great grandmother’s time-worn chair, what it was supposed to be like to have a dad. I would think about a movie I had seen on TV where a girl and her Dad have tons of fun, go see a baseball game, eat ice cream and microwave some popcorn then watch an action movie. As an adult past thirty years old, I still wonder what my life would have been like if I had created memories like that. One thing was certain: when I was home with my mom, I was filled with creative energy and an ambition to change the world but when I was with my Dad, everything felt deaf, flat and lonely. Life was suddenly devoid of love and energy. Was he a bad father? Was he a good father? Both are bold statements that used to evoke insecurities and dread in my heart and mind. There I was, a teenager stuck in an imaginary airport, with the same song playing over and over again, trying to define fatherhood and the meaning of fatherly love. It could easily have been the synopsis of a Sofia Coppola movie but at the time, it was just the slow decay of a young woman’s trust and sense of self.
In my twenties, I gave my relationship with my father a negative meaning: I started to consider it a failure. For unknown reasons, I decided that it was my failure. I was convinced that I did not give him enough chances, that I did not make enough effort. So I would try to reach out more, show an outstretched hand and meet with the whole family, including my Dad. When I think about it, retrospectively, this was one of the worst things I have done to myself. We would go to a restaurant, go visit one of my half-siblings for coffee and every time, the void was back, darker and scarier than ever. Each experience was draining my energy to complete exhaustion, both physically and emotionally. I would cry, then sleep for twelve hours after each of these lunches.
I could not fathom how it was possible for a father to ignore his daughter this way, how it was possible to be so inexorably neutral.
There was no love, there was no hate, there was nothing. Each chance, each risk I would take would extend this void. The volume of the waiting room in this airport was now gigantic, empty, completely mute and time felt suspended. It felt like I was being suspended in weightlessness in a monstrous, sometimes amorphous dimension, hearing my thoughts and only my thoughts on repeat. It suddenly became obvious that I was running after something that I thought I remembered and wanted to get back. The truth however came like a bombshell: I was pursuing something that never existed.
The courage to let go
As I am writing these lines, I am in a completely different state of mind. Over the past months, something happened in me that I could probably accredit to an awakening of sorts. After visiting my mom in June, as I was about to get married, I realized that I could not share this with my dad even though I really wanted him to know everything about my spouse, my wedding and my life. So one last time, I reached out and told him that I was returning to the United States and that if he wanted to see me, this was a great time and that I would come by. To this day, he has never answered the message I sent. For me, that last message, that last chance was closure. It took immense courage for me to send him that message, I actually shook while writing it and even held my breath. Deep down I knew I might face a silence that would speak a thousand words. A silence, once more, that would answer twenty years of questioning. The difference was that, in this moment, I decided to trust myself and to trust my strength.
I decided to believe that I was brave enough to face whatever would come out of this experience and grow from it.
This courage, and probably the most meaningful act of love I was about to accomplish, put things into perspective. Here I was, finally, grabbing my carry-on and my trench coat, walking towards the exit of this cold, impersonal and grey airport. As I push the door, I do not look back, powered by the divine courage to let go. Walking away and towards my renewed empowered soul, I salute the phantom of the father that I leave behind.