I’ve flown back to Nashville to visit my dad 5 times in the last 6 months, which is kinda crazy now that I think about it. I spend the majority of my time here just sitting in a chair next to him, watching football while I play on my computer or swipe guys left on tinder. My dad will say things on a loop, which is super common in Alzheimer’s patients. Sometimes it’s “Your feet are big” (they aren’t that big!) or “My ass hurts” (he literally sits on it all day long), but no matter what he’s looping on that day, he always tells me, like every five minutes, that I’m a good daughter. And I have no doubt he means it. Cuz he never used to say that.
Because I haven’t been a good daughter most my life.
I was at first as a kid. I’d sit next to him for hours on end, watching a sport I hated with a passion. I still hate football to this day and I have no doubt it’s because I competed with it constantly for my dad’s attention. But I pretended I cared about these dumb brutes and their silly cheerleaders because I wanted to be next to him. What choice did I have? He wasn’t interested in playing catch or tossing me around in the pool or doing much of anything me or my sister wanted to do as kids on the two weekends a month he got to see us.
But then as a teenager I stopped trying so hard to be more important than football and booze. Because that’s the age when you realize just how imperfect your parents are and how much more important your friends will be in your life. He also did a lot of fucked up shit I won’t go into. But to give you an example, when I was at a bulimia treatment center in Florida at age 17, I asked if I could stay an extra few days. “Find your own fucking way home!” he yelled over the phone and then hung up on me and didn’t speak to me again for months. Until I sent him a Father’s day card. No apology from him. We neve spoke of the incident again. My mom had to drive 26 hours roundtrip to come get me cuz she couldn’t afford to fly down. That’s just one example but you get the point.
Drama. Lots of drama between us two!
As a young adult and all the way until about 30, I would dread coming home and often times binge and purge the whole time I was here (lotta good that treatment center did!) because I was scared of his temper yet so desperate to be close to him. I finally said “fuck this noise” one day and just cut him out of my life entirely for over a year. Surely he was the problem, not me of course. It’s never us, it’s them, right?
And yet despite how mad I was at him for past mistakes and current indifference, I just couldn’t stop wanting this man in my life.
A real mind fuck you guys!
And then two things happened that forever changed the course of our relationship. For starters, I grew the fuck up. (This took awhile!) I realized I didn’t have to be afraid of him anymore because I was an adult now, not a little girl. I had a voice and I could use it, like telling him he couldn’t hit on my friends on family vacation, even if he was joking. And I could tell him it bothers me when he makes comments about my weight. But I picked my battles. I let some things go, laughing it off when he called me and my sister hookers as a joke (cuz that shit IS funny), and called him on things that were worth it, like when he hurt my feelings.
But the most important thing I did was get a mentor (years of therapy NEVER freed me of this crap). With her help, I realized I was holding onto a story I’d created that was complete bullshit- this narrative that my dad was a shitty dad and that I was responsible for him. Neither of those things is true. He’s a grown ass man responsible for himself. And, more importantly, he actually was a great father in a shit ton of ways. So I set out to stop being so fucking codependent and to start focusing on the stuff he did right. For starters, he paid for college (SO MUCH MONEY!), my first used car (with water damage but whatever! It ran!), all of my treatment for bulimia (so much money!), and he tells me CONSTANTLY how proud he is of me. He’s always encouraged my writing career, unlike my mom. She’s had a hard time with that one. And he introduced me to international travel, even encouraged me to study overseas. Those 9 months in Europe changed the course of my life entirely.
I’ve been telling this new story for over five years now and it’s been a real game changer. Other than getting a little bit more sentimental (and recently getting Alzheimer’s) my Dad is mostly the same. And yet he treats me differently. Why? Because I stopped being such a childish codependent dick to him. People pick up on your quiet rage, believe it or not. When you stop hating someone, they can’t help but treat you differently. Our relationship has grown into something quite beautiful now and it’s a miracle. Especially since his mind is going fast and I have such little time left with him.
I’ve talked about this a lot on here (sorry for the overshares!) but everything really boils down to the stories we tell ourselves. When I ditched the story about my dad being a shitty dad, I started to notice all the ways he wasn’t a shitty dad. Not at all, actually. And every time I visit him now, I make sure to tell him that he gave me my two favorite things about myself- my love of travel and my fucked up sense of humor.
How quickly things have turned around for us and all it took was people calling me on my shit and helping me see how fucked up my story was. I like this new story. It not only saved my relationship with him, but it also made me datable. Cuz that shit is true, yo. You will bring all your daddy and mommy issues into every single relationship if you don’t face that shit and let go of it. Hence why I don’t date men who hate their moms or dads. They’re surely gonna take that shit out on me at some point.
Instead of avoiding my dad at Christmas time or being a puking, childish, mess of a daughter when I do come visit, I am happy and loving and come here as much as I can now. Cuz I really love spending time with him, even if it is watching this sport I hate. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be right now than here, watching ogres throw a ball and girls in stupid short skirts cheering them on as my dad bitches about his ass hurting. Cuz it makes him happy. And being near my dad makes me happy.
I guess maybe I am a good daughter.
(I wrote this a couple weeks ago in Nashville).