Blood is not always thicker than water.
Content warning: abuse
I don’t consider my father to be my dad anymore.
Wrong. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of tears to realize that, actually, blood is not thicker than water. It takes much more than shared genes to be a dad.
In his own way, my father loved me, and I have many happy memories of him. He did everything for me; cooked dinner, stitched together Halloween costumes, brushed my hair, and occasionally made me pick out which stick he was going to hit me with.
I wasn’t the only one subjected to this kind of treatment. He didn’t treat my brother well either, and eventually his relationship with my mother dissolved into constant tears and animosity. As my parents’ relationship worsened, I started to realize that there was something wrong with Trevor.
He didn’t act like all the other dads I knew. They didn’t smoke marijuana everyday, they didn’t drink and break things, and they didn’t smash their children’s heads together in punishment. But he was charming and boisterous, so acquaintances became friends and only realized who he really was after he had integrated himself into their lives. After dinners spent cringing in their seats while he swore at the wait staff, or school events listening to him fight with teachers, they would leave our lives. I used to make excuses for him to avoid their pity—our waitress was rude, my teachers were prejudiced against me. I tried to tell myself that Trevor knew better than all of them, and that the people who left him were the ones at fault.
It was different for my brother and I though—we didn’t have the option to leave. If we disobeyed my father in public, or did something he considered wrong, the charm would turn into cruelty in the blink of an eye. He was good at coming up with unusual punishments, seemingly to make himself feel better. He didn’t like seeing us cry after he hit us, and to this day I’m not sure if our tears made him feel guilty, or he just enjoyed watching us fail. I still associate hiccups with the times I would try to suppress my tears.
I don’t know at what point my loyalty wavered. As I started to become a teenager, the pedestal he had put himself on began to crumble, and as it fell, he changed. I realized that I had been living in his fantasy world, where he was always the victim, where the world was always out to get him, and anything he did was right. He had created a bubble to protect himself from his own parents, and never broke out of it. If his bubble pops, Trevor will be forced to face his feelings, and that is far too frightening a concept.
I realized this around the same time that my mom did, and encouraged her to get a divorce. I needed to step out of his world. It was too dark, filled with barely concealed self-loathing and so much insecurity. I did not want to live there anymore, so I left with my mother.
In his mind, I betrayed him. He used to tell me that I owed him my life, and there I was, choosing what he thought was my mom’s side. Suddenly, I was against him, and I was on the other side of his bitter words, of the insults and vitriol spat across the chasm that was quickly forming between father and daughter. He has sworn at me, made me cry, walked out on me, and hung up the phone more times than I care to count.
He taught me how to fight, how to fling poison at the people you love. I know that my father loves me in his own, twisted way, but I also know that he is too caught up in his private world to show it. He never grew up—he has, and probably always will have, the emotional capacity of a child, and a child cannot be a parent. It’s taken me years to realize that it is impossible to reason with someone who refuses to take responsibility for his or her actions.
Some days I want to pick up the phone and scream at him, tell him how badly he hurt me, but I don’t, because I’ve realized you can’t blame your parents forever. Maybe he did try his best, but sometimes, your best just isn’t good enough.
I do not owe my father my life—the similarities in our blood do not entitle him to my love. Although you cannot pick your parents, you can choose your family. My mom is my family, my father is not. He will always be my biological father, but he is no longer my dad.
Tessa Knight is an outspoken vegan, a pole dancer, and a Kurt Vonnegut enthusiast. When she has time off from her consistent existential crisis, this South African spends her days delivering pizzas to fund her travel dreams. You can visit her site here.