Over 5 years ago my dad started seeing this new woman. Things moved pretty quickly between them and she was living with him after 6 months, while he was still legal guardian to my underage sister and our other sister was living there, too. His new girlfriend's sparkling personality aside, we were concerned she was taking advantage of him (he had a house, a successful business, and was financially comfortable, while she owned very little and wasn't making much money - when she moved in she lived rent free, which is something his daughters weren't allowed to do). Our dad had a track record of falling for women who used him and he has never been the one to see a relationship for what it was, much less break one off.
In one instance, his girlfriend made a list of rules for my sister to follow if she was going to be living in "their" house. The rules were absurd, and one was medically irresponsible, so I agreed to be there for that conversation. I had a pretty good relationship with my dad. We had what I thought was a great talk, where a lot of issues were brought to light and my sisters and I walked away from it feeling much better. Now that we were able to talk openly about the rules and some other lingering issues, things were looking up. However, a few days later my dad called me to ask me to never do that again. He said by being there I was both robbing my sister of the ability to speak for herself and disrespecting him and his girlfriend. I told him I couldn't agree to that – if either of my sisters asked for my help or presence when confronting him or his girlfriend, I would do it. I suspect that his girlfriend had a private conversation with him after we left, because he seemed perfectly happy with my presence and what I said at the time. Only later did he change his mind and claim to have felt disrespected.
The next time I was in my hometown I asked him to have lunch with me so we could talk about things. I told him about my concerns about his girlfriend and suggested he could do better. He reaffirmed his love for his girlfriend, told me how the life he had had when he was married was never what he had wanted, kids were never what he wanted, and essentially that he had the chance to live the life he felt he always deserved. I was given the option of getting on board or not.
A couple months later I turned 25. I spent it with my best friends on vacation, my sisters called to wish me happy birthday, my mom, a few relatives, and I got lots of texts and messages from friends that day. When I woke up the next morning I realized my dad was the only one who missed it (and it's not like he forgot, my mom and I share the same birthday, that date is engrained into his head). I was pretty crushed.
Several other birthdays came and went without so much as a text from him, and multiple holidays, too. A few times he would group text us to say "merry christmas, love dad and [girlfriend]". And it was fine, after a while. I accepted that this was the way he wanted it and watched my dad alienate his own siblings, close friends, and other family members. Turns out I wasn't the only one who brought up concerns about his girlfriend, because many were because he felt forced to choose between her and his family.
Could I have done more? Absolutely. I could have promised my dad I would respect his authority and not support my sister if she asked. I could have apologized for even hinting that his girlfriend was not the most wonderful partner he thinks she is. I could have sent him happy father's day wishes anyway. But those things were never going to happen. I would never choose my father's ridiculous need for approval over my sister asking for support. I would never sit by while I thought my dad was being taken advantage of and say nothing. And I'm just not the type of person who is going to force another person to have me in their life.
I've been hearing a lot from other relatives who have still been trying to make amends lately. Apparently he married his girlfriend. He also had a medical scare, which may be ongoing. My dad has chosen to not share these parts of his life with any of his daughters. But something made him reach out to our mom (I'm guessing it was the increased contact from his siblings after his medical scare). To be honest, I was hoping he wouldn't do this, and after the following texts from him I wish he hadn't. To be cut out of someone's life because you said your piece and meant it is one thing, but to be cut out because someone has delusions about what actually happened is another.
The gist of our conversation was he doesn't want to acknowledge (or doesn't remember) any of the things he said to me, but by not reaching out anyway this is my fault. He's only interested in starting over if it means he doesn't have to take responsibility. The only apology in here was sorry for being wrong about me not wanting him in my life. And the shitty thing? I don't want a relationship. It would be shallow and fake and I couldn't trust him and I don't think I could be civil to his new wife. So what's the point? And I still don't know why he suddenly wants to start over. I only responded because all of the relatives who have cared about me for the last five years will be disappointed if I completely ignored this.
But I can't just start over. If this were anyone but my parent no one would be asking me to give it another shot. I know what my part is in this, and unless his demands have changed I stand by what I said and what I did. I hope my relationships with my aunts, uncles, and cousins isn't damaged, and I'll still be there to support my sisters if they decide to reach out.