Author’s Note: I normally welcome open dialogue here on Endo Strong, but I have turned off comments for this post. This subject is intensely personal for me and while this post was important for me to write and share, I do not want to open myself up to further trauma at the hands of insensitive comments.
I talk about everything on my blog. It’s important to me to be open about my experiences, so as not to give the sugarcoated impression that my life as an influencer is “perfect.” But the truth is, there’s something I’ve never written about on my blog before. I’ve alluded to it, but I’ve never acknowledged the truth of it on paper (on screen?). So, here goes nothing.
I love my dad. I also haven’t spoken to my dad in two years. I get his “happy birthday” and “merry Christmas” texts, with the occasional picture of our dogs thrown in. But I never reply. I haven’t picked up the phone and talked to him in over 730 days. He wasn’t invited to my college graduation. When the day comes, he won’t be invited to my wedding, either. Someday, I will have children who will never get to know their grandfather. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t speak to him, and never plan to speak to him again. But those reasons are the one thing — the only thing — I will not talk about on this blog.
I rarely talk about what it’s like to be estranged from a parent. My closest friends know I don’t talk to my dad, but they don’t know all the reasons why. Only David, my mom, and the various therapists I’ve had over the years know the full story, with no details omitted. And it’s going to stay that way. It’s not that I’m ashamed or afraid to talk about it (although I know that choosing not to talk to a parent makes me the villain in a lot of narratives). I just don’t believe that everything belongs on the internet. Once it’s up here, you can’t erase it. I don’t talk to my dad, but I still don’t think he deserves a permanent reminder of all of the mistakes he made. Not having me in his life is reminder enough.
But while I’m not going to tell my life story and all of its gory details, I believe in breaking the silence. As an estranged daughter, it’s difficult to vocalize how it feels when other people find out that I don’t talk to my dad. The media paints people like me as selfish, naive girls who are too young to understand that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s true that I don’t have children of my own, and that I can’t understand what it’s like to make mistakes as a parent — a fact that older folks have pointed out to me time and time again. Yet I can’t begin to tell you how many people — even people my own age, people who I’m close with and know well — have told me, “I could never stop talking to a parent, no matter what they did.”
Honestly, I’m happy for those people. People who say that can’t begin to imagine a world in which their parent could do something so hurtful that they would never speak to them again. I wish that were true for me. Nobody wants to stop speaking to their parent — or worst of all, feel that they can’t talk to a parent because of something they said or did. But because most people can’t imagine that kind of life, it makes being estranged from a parent feel lonely as fuck. To those of us who don’t speak to both our parents, finding someone who understands and listens without judgment feels impossible. Thankfully, I have my mom, who went through similar experiences when she was married to my dad.
It’s difficult to find people like me online. Plenty of people who have been through what I’ve been through exist, but very few of us talk about what that experience is like. And I understand why. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to communicate such a painful experience, only to be met with anger or misunderstanding. Yet I firmly believe that when people don’t talk about what they went through, they send the message that to do so is somehow shameful or wrong.
I get that not everyone in my situation is going to want to talk about their experiences being estranged from a parent. I fully support whatever decision you choose to make. You have to protect your own mental health above all else — and if talking about what you went through doesn’t serve you, or puts you in physical danger, I don’t think you should do it. But to me, what helps the most is to turn what I went through into something useful. If even one person changes their mind because of what I have to say on the subject of estrangement, I will think of it as a job well done.
The thing is, not everyone has been through what I’ve gone through. So few of us are out there, and if none of us choose to talk about it, then no one will understand. That’s why I’m sharing the things I wish other people knew about my decision not to talk to my dad. I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation, but I do think that educating others will help people understand how to better engage with someone they know who doesn’t talk to a parent, without unintentionally doing more harm than good.
Before I get into the things I wish other people knew about my decision not to speak to a parent, however, I want to lay bare the fact that everyone’s experience with estrangement is different. By no means do I speak for an entire community of people when I share how I feel about my journey — but if even one person can relate to what I have ot say about it, it will have been worth it to speak (write?) what’s on my mind.
1. I would not have chosen this.
People like to assume that I “chose” this, as if I was looking for a reason to rid myself of all obligations to my father. If I could go back and choose my family, I would always rather have a happy, functional relationship with both of my parents. But that’s exactly the thing: we can’t choose who we are born to. That’s why the term “chosen family” exists.
It’s true that I chose, and continue to choose, not to speak to my dad. He is not a part of my “chosen family.” What isn’t true, however, is that this was my first choice. As things are, I don’t want to speak to my dad. But if there were a hypothetical scenario in which I could have chosen a parent I would have wanted to speak to, I would have taken it every time. Nobody wants to be estranged from their parent. It just got to the point where I felt I no longer had a choice.
2. A single event did not cause this.
When people find out I don’t talk to my dad, the first question is usually, “What happened?” I never answer that question honestly, because it’s never that simple of an explanation. People are looking for a neat, tidy answer that will help this strange situation make sense to them. For most people, this takes the form of some single, unforgivable event in which their parent committed something unspeakable.
In reality, a lot of people, myself included, can mark the day they stopped speaking to the parent they are estranged from — but that doesn’t mean that day is the singular reason why we no longer speak to that person. The “event” I can pinpoint isn’t a grave, grave sin that incited the choice not to speak to my dad, but the boiling point. Thousands of tiny, collective abuses bubbled over that day.
However, if I were to explain everything that led up to that point, the person listening would probably become bored or horrified by what I went through. I’m not exactly looking to draw more attention to the situation, so usually, I simplify my answer by telling people it was that one day that did it all. I may choose to explain my trauma in a way that’s easier for other people to understand, but it’s important to recognize that there’s much more to it than what I choose to share on the surface.
3. I am neither a victim nor a villain.
For some reason, people are always looking to take sides in a conflict, even when that conflict doesn’t concern them. When I tell people I don’t talk to my dad and they ask me why, I get the feeling they want an explanation so they can suss out whether I’m in the right or the wrong; whether I’m deserving of their support or not.
Some people inevitably come to the conclusion that it’s always wrong to stop speaking to a family member — “blood is thicker than water,” and all that bullshit — while others have become enraged on my behalf upon hearing the things I went through. But truthfully, I’d rather people didn’t comment altogether.
The thing is, if I’m talking to you openly about what I went through, it’s not because I’m looking for validation that what I did is right. I’m not asking you to pass judgment on my decision or take my side over my dad’s. I’m simply telling you because I trust you, and a burden shared is a burden halved.
I get tired of being made out to be the villain, but I also hate being treated like a victim. I don’t think my decision is right or wrong. I’m not saying that the fact that I did something means anyone else should do it. It is what it is, and I’d rather we didn’t analyze it further than that. That job is reserved for my therapist. Talk to me about Hamilton or something instead!
4. Respect is earned, not owed.
If there’s a commonality between all of the stories I’ve heard about children who no longer speak to their parents, including my own, it’s the role that our cultural beliefs toward elders play in justifying toxic behavior.
I would argue that most, if not all, human cultures hold the belief that elders are deserving of respect because of their lived experiences. We are meant to treat them as if their longer lives are synonymous with a deeper sense of right and wrong than ours. That’s why it’s so difficult for so many people to understand when people choose not to talk to their parents. To many people, “they’re your parents” is reason enough to maintain a relationship with someone.
In any other relationship, however, you’re expected to earn respect. Most people would not stay with an abusive spouse only because they are wearing a wedding ring. Why do we treat family differently, simply because we share their DNA? And contrary to popular belief, I don’t say that because I don’t value family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me, precisely because I choose only to keep people in my life who are deserving of my respect.
While I am grateful to my parents — both of my parents — for raising me and putting a roof over my head, I don’t believe that gratitude needs to be synonymous with a deep and pervasive sense of respect. In the wild, animals raise their young only to the point where they are old enough to survive on their own. Among other species, feeding and housing a child is treated as a duty, not an accomplishment.
As someone with a toxic parent, it’s difficult for me to understand why so many people think I am “supposed” to put up with certain behaviors as “thanks” to my parents. Thanks for what? I wonder. For not putting me out on the street as an infant? To me, conceiving a child isn’t a feat worthy of respect. The way you raise them matters much, much more than the fact that you brought their life into the world. While I understand that life is a spiritual thing for many people, my spirituality forces me to acknowledge that conceiving and having a child isn’t an accomplishment of your own. God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it — these forces came together to bring life into the world, not your sheer force of will.
When people say that you owe your parents respect because they are your parents, I can’t help but feel that they are confusing respect with love. You love your parents simply because they are your parents. You can’t help it. But love is not synonymous with respect. Love is not a choice, but respect is. Love is not earned, but respect must be. I love my dad, but that doesn’t mean that I owe him the privilege of being in my life.
5. I may be sad, but I don’t have regrets.
I mentioned previously that a lot of narratives paint me out to be the villain — the selfish, naive daughter who will inevitably come to see the error of her foolish ways. But I feel it’s important to recognize that regret and remorse are not synonyms. I regret that cutting my dad out of my life felt necessary for my physical and mental health. That does not mean that I am sorry for doing what I needed to do to protect myself.
When making a case for me speaking to my dad again, people often cite the milestones I’ll miss without a father in the picture: I won’t have a father-daughter dance at my wedding. I won’t be given away. I won’t celebrate Father’s Day until I have children of my own. And believe me, I hate that. Knowing that my dad won’t be there for all those moments that he should have been there for hurts like hell.
Yet I don’t owe anyone an apology for making that choice. If the pain of missing out on so many important milestones hurts less than the pain of continuing to live with my father in my life, that alone says enough about my decision not to speak to him. I do not feel guilty for choosing a life of happiness over a life of pain.