First of all, I would like to thank you for bringing me into this world. Without your contribution, I would not be alive and as happy as I am today. Secondly, thank you for your last decade of absence. Without your toxic presence, I am starting to regain the self-esteem and trust that you cruelly crushed. Lastly, this is also a letter to inform you that I am engaged, and you are not the one I want to walk down the aisle with.
I loved you. I idolized you. You were my hero. 10 years ago, I was too young to realize the damage you were doing to our family; I was blinded by the little girl’s love for her daddy. When my mother divorced you and moved me half way across the world, I hated her for it. I hated her for tearing our family apart, for snatching me away from you, for selfishly destroying my old, familiar life and throwing me into the scary unknown. I continued to hate my mother and defended you until one day, I was old enough to be told the truth.
It wasn’t as if I knew nothing before that point. Looking back, I think I knew the truth but couldn’t cope with it. I couldn’t deal with the fact that my daddy was not the hero I expected him to be. So I suppressed them, and I was left with the few happy memories I had of us. When my mother told me the truth, I wasn’t shocked, nor surprised. There was nothing but a dull sense of acceptance.
Where shall I start? The day of my birth? When my mother spent 24 hours in labour and you were out drinking and watching a football match with your mates? Or when I was 3 years old, and you slapped me for accidentally breaking the TV remote, because you couldn’t finish watching the World Cup final? Or maybe when you threw a chair from the kitchen into the lounge during a heated argument, while I was sitting on the couch? Or the fact that you brought home another woman you met online, and turned the argument on my mother when she caught you? Or maybe I should start with your smoking and drug addictions. The way you used to carelessly light up a joint and smoke it in front me. The way you used to lash out at my mother when she tentatively asked you to take it elsewhere. The way you used to shout and smash the kitchenware when you ran out.
I remember one time you went too far. My mother grabbed me and headed for the door. You were on the floor, begging, crying. I remember distinctively what you said. You promised to quit. You promised to be a better husband, a better father. You said that you would never put your smoking habit in front of me. My mother softened. She always forgave too easily, always saw the best in people. It’s why she married you in the first place. You didn’t know that, did you? She married you because you said you were going to kill yourself otherwise. Because she felt trapped, and she hoped that in time, you would change for your family. Women are naïve like that. They think that with enough love, they can change their men. That he would change for them. Because love is all powerful. Love conquers all. That’s what those fairy tales we grew up reading taught us.
Luckily for my mother and me, she realized the cold truth that men cannot change before permanent damage was done. The time when I had a fever so high it was life threatening, you were too stoned to even call the ambulance. It was only when my mother got back from work, seeing me lying unconscious on the bed, that her maternal instinct finally overcame her fear of you. After I recovered, she filed for divorce. Within a week, we moved out. Within 3 months, we immigrated.
Before you say my mother made up those stories, I remember how you were when you couldn’t get your fix. The younger me simply learned to suppress those memories. As Freud said, suppression is a defense mechanism for when the truth is too terrible to bear. The distance from you enabled me to understand what I couldn’t before. I grew to hate men. I envisioned them all to be like you. Even now, when I’m engaged to the man I love, a part of me is still distrustful and afraid. You did more damage in me than you could ever imagine.
I first met him soon after I graduated university. We hit off right away and I started to think that maybe not all men are like you. I started to open up my heart, and slowly learned how to love another man after you. But life doesn’t always go as planned. Just when I thought the damage you did in me was finally healing, he told me about his smoking habit.
My mind went blank. It was as if history was repeating itself. At that moment in time, I saw you in him. I hated you, and I hated him by association.
He couldn’t understand why I was making it a big deal. In reality, I know it’s not. It’s not as if my friends aren’t experimental. But it was hard for me to separate the action from the person. When I attempted to let him understand why I was so distraught, I tried my hardest to stay calm, to explain it in a rational way. The past came flooding back; and when he repeated the same words I had heard you say so many years ago, “I will never put it in front of you”, I broke down. Each word was like a knife stabbing at my heart. I wanted to believe him so badly, but after you, after being second best to some plant for a decade, I couldn’t. His eyes were red as he apologized, and told me in a quiet voice that he doesn’t want to quit, but he doesn’t want to lose me either. I was angry. I wanted him to quit. But I didn’t want to hear it from him, because empty words like that mean nothing to me anymore. I was a contradiction. The one thing I cannot allow myself to accept, I found it in the man I fell deeply in love with.
He agreed to never smoke in front of me, and has since kept that promise, unlike you. There were times when he almost gave in, but no matter how close he came to breaking his promise, he never did. He respected me enough to know what it would do to me if he turned out just like you. It still bothered me though. After the experiences I’ve had with you, I thought that smoking must have been something amazing, otherwise you wouldn’t have put that above me, your own daughter. So with that mind-set, I always thought that given the choice, he would almost definitely choose that over me. If I wasn’t important enough for you, then I’m definitely not important enough for him.
Months of our relationship went by, and I gradually began to understand that it wasn’t one or the other. It wasn’t that or me. He’s different from you. It was never the smoking that caused the problems in our family. It was you. It always comes down to the person. Drugs may reinforce what was already there, but it didn’t make him the same as you. Slowly, I started to accept him, and gained a little more self-respect and feelings of self-worth. I expected too much from you. I thought that you would be able to change for your family. I now have no expectations. It is his life, and I have no right to expect him to give up anything for me. What right do I have, when I can’t even ask my own father the same thing? When I finally understood that this doesn’t have to be the deal breaker, our relationship became happier. He never once broke his promise, and I will continue to trust him until proven wrong.
My mother always supported me to my surprise. When I asked her how she can be fine with her future son-in-law having the same habit as her ex-husband, she smiled, hugged me, and told me that the way he treats me is the completely opposite to the way you treated her, and that I shouldn’t compare myself to her, and him to you. He is not possessive, nor violent, and above all, I don’t feel like I’m being compared.
I can only move forward by confronting the past. I remember calling my mother in the middle of the night, sobbing, telling her that I had not heard from him in days, and maybe he’s having too much fun getting stoned to want to spend time with me. Just like you, who couldn’t even be bothered to send me to the hospital. She listened, and always told me that I am letting my past get in the way of the present. “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one”. So this is me, letting go of the past.
Looking back on those rocky days, I understand now that I always blamed you for everything that went wrong in my life. I blamed you for making me generalize men; I blamed you for the lack of trust I have in people; I blamed you for ruining my childhood. But I will never be able to move forward and become who I want to be if I keep blaming you for who I am now.
Deciding to get married was a risk. Especially since a part of me is still worried that this might end up just like my mother and you. But he taught me there are some risks in life that are worth taking. Leap of faith, he called it. He knows where my line lies, and he will not attempt to cross it. Instead of worrying about everything that could go wrong, I want to just focus on the things that could go right.
Finally, I want to tell you that you will always be my father. I will always love you still, despite everything. But I do not want you to give me away on my wedding day. No, I have reserved that space for another man. My mother’s husband. My step-father, who has done everything for me a father should for his daughter. Everything I am today, I owe it to him. He was always there for me, cared for me as if I was his own. And above all, the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. He loves her. What they have together is what I want to have with my fiancé 30, 40 years down the line. On that merit alone, he has earned every right to be the one walking me down that aisle.
There are things in life we don’t want to happen, but have to accept nonetheless. There are truths we don’t want to know about, but have to learn anyway. And there are people we think we can’t live without, but have to let go.
Just know that I don’t blame you anymore. But you will not be, and never will be, the father walking down the aisle with me towards my future.
Your daughter. Always.