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 own daughters weren't even allowed to do). Our dad had a track record of letting women use 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 a conversation between my sister and our dad. 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 in any issue, 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 my sisters and I 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 several other family members. Turns out I wasn't the only one who brought up concerns about his girlfriend, and he responded to them the same way he responded to me.
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. I could have sent him happy father's day wishes even when he wasn't speaking with me. But I'm a pretty strong and often headstrong person with solid self esteem and an undying loyalty to my sisters. I would never choose my father's ridiculous need for approval and authority 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. To he honest I'm not sure what is a rumor and what is fact because my dad hasn't told me anything, even through all this texting (below). Apparently he married his girlfriend after being told he had cancer (or a non-carcinogenic tumor? Honestly I don't know). My dad has chosen to not share these parts of his life with any of his daughters, but he reached out to our mom. 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 anymore. 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?
A few days later he started up again.
And again a few days later. I'll give him the persistence award, but god damn at this point he's beating a dead horse. I've explained in direct words exactly what happened, twice. If he doesn't remember or won't believe me I can't help him. If he doesn't believe me and doesn't remember (or is choosing to remember a version of events that doesn't make him seem as shitty), then what's to stop this from happening again? This is not how a fresh new relationship is made, dad.
After that he texted on my birthday. I didn't respond.
Bullies don't remember the things they say to others, but the people who get bullied sure as hell remember what was said to them. The simple reason is because you remember how you feel when hurtful things are said to or about you, but you don't remember saying hurtful things to or about others because it didn't impact you. If this were anyone other than a father saying these things no one would be encouraging me to bury the hatchet (after taking it out of my own back, no less). I think that's an awful double standard. What sort of message does that send? That it's OK to say hurtful things and tell your kids they're less important to you than your new girlfriend as long as you give a half-assed apology later? No gracias.
Maybe one day I'll forgive him but for now the anger is a good reminder to not get into a situation like this again. Feeling used sucks. Feeling unwanted by your parent sucks. I have wonderful people in my life and I'd rather not have a superficial relationship with someone who wrote me off for five years for apparently being late on a father's day wish.