A 'Broken Home'

I was four years old when my family broke, split in two by my parent's separation. My dad left our tinny North London flat one morning and moved back into his parents' home in Surrey, taking his belongings with him. I scarcely remember a time in which my family was 'whole and the few memories I do have are tainted with uncertainty; I don't know if they are legitimate, or false versions of reality constructed around familiar family photographs.

What I do remember is the endless fame of to and fro that would become of my weekends, from the point of my parents' separation onwards. The tiresome exchange from one parent to another, round the M25 and back again. Though I have very little recollection of my feelings at such a young age, I know that I struggled. I dreaded my brother's and my fortnightly visits to Surrey; my stomach lurching at the ring of the doorbell all those Saturday mornings. If my dad called to say he was stuck in traffic I was flooded with relief, delighting in the extra twenty minutes spent at my mum's house; the house I considered home.

Most times, when the doorbell sounded, I kept a firm grip on my emotions, walking out of the front door without a falter as I left my mum behind. Other times, my grip loosened and I screamed and cried; hiding in my bedroom, refusing to leave.

This is the hardest thing I have ever written and probably always will be. The emotions here on this page are far more raw, far more fragile than any others I have ever felt before because I don't understand. I don't understand my dad's blindness to the realities of who I am and what I need from him. Growing up, I understood bullies and cliques. The girl who bullied me did so because she was insecure and unhappy. She tried to deflect those feelings away from herself by picking on other people. Of course, it wasn't as simple, as black and white as that; it never is. But, understanding, if only superficially, proved crucial in how I coped with such situations. 

My dad, however, is far more complex a puzzle. I never have, and perhaps never will, understand exactly how to piece it together; to see the picture in it's entirety. The confusion, the lack of understanding, the whys: Why is he like this? Why am I like this? Why has this happened? makes it all the more difficult. Over time, I feel that my anger is dispersing and that I am clearing the fog that had clouded my vision, allowing myself to see it better, to understand it with greater clarity. I don't know if I ever will, but I will try.

Over the years there have been re-runs of conversations; each time the same thing said, yet each time it is as though my dad is hearing these things for the first time. In the summer of 2019, my cousin died suddenly at the age of twenty-eight as a result of a brain haemorrhage. It was an event that forced my family into each other's company, and on the car journey from London to Leeds for the funeral, I bought a Smith's CD with me. I hoped it would be some kind of peace offering - something that my dad and I could bond over, I had thought - remembering the time he has played me How Soon Is Now? in the car with such great enthusiasm at the overwhelmingly depressing lyrics; There's a club if you'd like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you, so you go and you stand on your own and leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die. As I pulled the CD from my bag his eyes lit up, a look of surprise crossing his face.
"You like The Smiths?" He asked, his voice bubbling with excitement.
I nodded, thinking of the time we'd had this conversation before, wondering why when he had been just as excited to discover our shared interest the first time, it had slipped from his memory? I inserted the disc into the CD player and he laughed.
"Better hope Girlfriend in a Coma isn't on there!" - my cousin was in a week-long coma before he died. I said nothing.
But, my dad was pleased that we had something in common,  a shared love for The Smiths, and for a moment, though a fleeting one, I thought that maybe he was beginning to understand me. I had a glimmer of hope that maybe we could get on, at least for the weekend of the funeral. But, at the time of writing , we have had this conversation over and over and so I've started to think that maybe he doesn't listen, at least not as closely as his excitement at our shared interest that time in the car had fooled me to believe.

When I was eleven my dad found one of my first bras in my suitcase during a holiday in Spain. I was on the shower at the time. My dad sent my younger brother into the bathroom, wearing my bra, as he howled with laugher from the other room. I was mortified. But, I laughed along as I knew I should, though far more out of embarrassment than any kind of amusement at the situation. I pleaded with him not to tell my grandparents about the bra, though I knew deep down that no matter how desperately I pleaded, he would, and he did.

When I was eight, on the car journey home to London from his house in Surrey, my dad told my brother and I of a work colleague who complained constantly of the stresses of taxi-ing his children to and from their various extra curricular activities. He told us he would do anything to have that kind of involvement in our lives. He asked us to include him more and to give him the opportunity to be a real dad to us.
At eight years old, this unsettled me. If he really wanted this, why didn't he talk to my mu about it? Why did he ask me and my brother who, at eight and six years old, had very little control over who took us to and from school? Of course, at eight years old I was unable to articulate exactly why I found this so unnerving. I simple recognised my dislike for it, and very little else.

Now, with the benefit of both hindsight and experience, I can understand my feelings at that young age. I can see that what my dad didn't seem to understand is that a father's role extends far deeper than merely taking your child to and from football practice. And that doing so doesn't make you a father, as my dad had misguidedly believed. Asking your child to provide you the opportunity to be paternal completely defeats the notion of being paternal. I don't know much about parenting - I cannot hope to at this stage in my life - but I know that a child should not have to facilitate parenting, they should be parented unconditionally.

In the midst of my teenage years, my relationship with my dad worsened, becoming far more fraught. Tense. His belief was that I was being a typical moody teenager; hating my parents as any right-minded teenager should. 'They all despise their parents', he thought; excusing the damage our relationship had endured as something that would soon pass. 
I'm still young and accept that I cannot see the faults in out relationship in their entirety yet and that maybe I never will. I live in a bubble - I'm young - too far away for the 'bigger picture' - revealed through adulthood and experience - to be within my view. I know that. I know that had this happened in ten years time, I would have dealt with it differently. I would have been better, as everyone is with a greater realm of experience.

The older you get the more refined your perspective of the world around you becomes. You see things you didn't see before. You grow into your own person. Inevitably, you begin to recognise a world outside the constraints of your family. You begin to recognise yourself as someone more than your parent's child. My dad and I have lived drastically different lives. We adopt drastically different views. This has become more and more apparent to me as I've grown older. I've begun to see our differences at higher resolution, the faults of our relationship with a sharper focus. That's what changed our relationship; I've grown up. I've begun to see what kind of a person I will become, and that person doesn't fit into the mould of my dad's expectations. I've begun to see that, short of re-moulding myself, there is very little I can do that will stick us back together.

I do not hate my dad, nor do I love him. I've come to realise that, more than anything, the years of failing to emphasise with him and to understand him are what have hurt me most. I've accepted that our relationship is unlikely to be as I had hoped and that in order for me to see him in a positive light there needs to remain a level of distance between us. Not because I seek to punish him, but because I seek to protect myself. Because I need it, not because he deserves it. 

Despite all this, my home is not 'broken'; a phrase I've heard used countless times to describe families like mine. 'Broken' implies that my family is faulted and in need of fixing. It is not. Sometimes two shaped simply do not fit together, and to force them into place would be to fracture them further. My dad and I do not fit together; a fact that I have now come to accept, however painful the process. 

In the past, I may have wished that my family were 'whole' and that our set-up mirrored that of my friend's families; a mum, a dad and some children. But, though this may seem a family family set-up on the surface, this is not what a family is at it's core. A family is a unit of unconditional love. That is what my mum, my brother and I have.