In the name of the father

In year ten we read Looking for Alibrandi. Talk about an identity crisis. The lead character had the same name as me, and her boyfriend had the same name as mine, and she was meeting her father for the first time just as I met my father for the first time. I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories but you have to admit, the similarities were striking.

My relationship with my father, is the direct result of his relationship with my mother. You see, had they not been married, and had some children, I wouldn’t know him today.

Growing up, I was aware that this man existed. And that at some point, his chromosomes played an important part in my existence. I even knew some more trivial details. That he and my mother had been in love, and that in some peculiar distant way, she still loved him. I knew that he made boats for a living, and that he lived a couple of states north. And I knew that my mother covered for him a lot.

In primary school, I’d make fathers’ day cards while the children asked me why? Even at such a young and delicate stage of life, I knew how to answer them. That I had never really known my father, and that I liked it that way. I’d tell them that never knowing him made it hurt less because I didn’t know what I was missing. Sure, I have memories of waiting for him to come home, and of bitter realization that I’d been forgotten. I remember lying to my sister just as our mother lied to us, assuring her that he still loved us very much. Call me cynical, but I can’t conceive how a person could disappear for more than a decade and still remember how to love their children.

I say that my relationship with my father, is mostly about his relationship with my mother. This statement holds a lot of truth. I made the decision to meet him, because my mother loved him, and I wanted to know what kind of man my mother would love.

My father, until this point. Was an untold story. Obviously, he had done something to upset the extended family. But I really didn’t know what. My whole life, I’d been so frustrated with how my mother defended him. How every time someone tried to criticize him, she would tell them to be quiet. She’d tell them that we have the right to meet him when we were ready and find out for ourselves what we think of him. She’d be passionate in protecting us from their bias. The children of annulled parents rarely know the ‘other’ half of their family. But we had a full family. Albeit I don’t know my father’s side that well, but in the very least, I knew and loved both sets of grandparents.

Whenever someone asks me about the person I most admire, most respect, most appreciate, I say my mother. To bring us up, on her own, loving our father, knowing his family and protected from the family politics is beyond anything I could ever expect to achieve myself.

And then came year ten.

At 16 years old, as with every birthday, my mother asked if I wanted to meet my father. For the first time in all the years she’d been asking me, I said yes. And true to her word, as soon as she’d saved up enough money to get me there, she put me on a plane. Off I went to search for whatever might fill the hole which was “my father.”

I found, in the arrivals lounge, a man who resembled the photos I’d seen, and who hugged me with tear filled eyes. I went to discover a new man, and found one bound by the past. Where I had moved on, he still felt the need to reminisce and regret. I saw some stark similarities, raw wounds and hidden truths. At sixteen years old, I realized how adult I was, and how transparent the past could be.

A fragile ego masked in charisma and uncomfortable humor retold the half stories I’d listened to through muffled walls as a child. His words now committed to my memory. I’d expected to hear his side of the story – an equal and opposite force. But instead I heard what I already knew or had pieced together, defensive and cautious at every turn. And I realised my father was exactly the man I expected him to be, and that despite loving him, I didn’t like him.

The paradox was love itself. Because I loved him, it hurt being apart, and that hurt made me feel further away. I learned that no amount of regret could rewind the past, and that I’m still not humble enough to forgive. With these lessons I march through life, eyes forward, arms strong, in the name of my father.

In the name of the father

Jo O'Brien

Melbourne, Australia

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