At 29, I broke contact with my father. Less than a year later, he died.

All I know about dad is what I’ve seen in other people’s fathers, how I’ve seen my husband behave with our children, what I’ve read or seen in movies. My own story never really had a father in it.

My parents separated when I was 2, and although my dad and I often spent vacations and summer vacations together, the relationship we had started to unravel. It’s not the details that matter – the drinking or the certainty that being with him meant I was putting myself in a position where I would be hurt. What matters is that I lost him – or, more accurately, I lost the idea of ​​him – and never found him.

Over the years there have been glimpses of a man I could look up to. My father was a wonderful storyteller. He was spontaneous, adventurous, funny and charming. He was the kind of person who partied. But this man was for everyone, not for his daughter, once the trust between us was gone.

When I was in high school, I wrote him a letter. I knew I wasn’t brave enough to tell him what I wanted to his face, but I was naive enough to believe that I could put words together on paper in such a way that it moved him enough that he exchange. The letter was vulnerable and honest, and even though everything up to that point had told me not to, I allowed myself the one thing I shouldn’t have: hope.

After posting the letter, I checked the mail every day while waiting for his response. A few weeks later, it happened. I don’t remember much of what he said except two sentences: “You could learn a lot from a dog. Don’t shit where you eat.

Those words confirmed to me that change was not going to be an option for us and told me to never open up to him again.

It wasn’t long after our first separation began. It went on for many years – all through my college days, into my early 20s, and after I got married. A few years after my marriage, he sent me a letter. He had remarried (for the third time), finally quit drinking and wanted to try to fix our relationship.

I was reluctant, but he said all he asked for was a chance; I told him I would try.

What I remember most from that time is its quirkiness. Dinners at his house, chatting with his new wife, swallowing all the old feelings while awkwardly trying to manufacture new ones. We were strangers playing the roles of father and daughter. After the meetings, he walked me home, hugged me and said he loved me. I would say it even if I didn’t want to. He would feel better; I would feel worse. Each visit was like giving another piece of myself.

“My father was a wonderful storyteller. He was spontaneous, adventurous, funny and charming. He was the kind of person who partied. But this man was for everyone, not his daughter, once the trust between us was gone.

A few months after our reconciliation, after two years of battling infertility, my husband and I began the IVF process. That’s when I started ignoring my dad’s calls. I couldn’t bear that he was part of it. The experience was too personal; I was too raw. My body was bruised by endless gunfire, my emotions dizzy with hormones. I didn’t have the strength in me to continue the charade in the midst of it all.

Although the procedure was successful and I became pregnant with twins, the relief was short-lived. The pregnancy quickly became high risk when a medical emergency left me bedridden for several months. From the depths of my bed, I wrote him a letter saying that I had to cut the communication again.

My decision was met with anger; I didn’t have time to worry about it. The first few months after the twins were born were a blur. My days consisted of round-the-clock feedings, crying babies, and walking circles around the house as I bounced them around in my arms. But in this sleepless and exhausting cycle, as my heart exploded with love, I knew I had to focus on where my life was going instead of getting back to what it had been.

Less than a year after he last stopped talking to my father, he died. A call informing me of his illness had come from my sister a few months before. “Dad has cancer,” she told me, “and it doesn’t look good.”

I struggled with what to do. Could I walk into a hospital room and play the part of a devoted girl? Could I say I loved him when in reality I felt like I barely knew him? But what else to say to a dying person? Especially when that man is your father.

I decided that I couldn’t. I received updates on the progress of his disease, but never went to see him myself. Sometimes I think about this fact. Often I don’t tell people this fact. Almost always, I don’t think anyone would really understand unless they had a childhood with a man who may have been a father but never was a father.

Yet the choice I made haunted me for most of my adult life, revisiting my thoughts in unexpected ways. Would I do the same again today? The answer, like so many things in life, is layered and messy.

As a young girl I wasn’t as aware of what I was missing because I had never known anything else, but as I got older and had my own children I started to understand. I watched my husband adore our children, and it confirmed that they were in a relationship that I had never had. The emptiness of not having a father was deeper.

Today, my children are the age I was when the first falling out with my father began. I think about how different their life is from mine.

When my father died, I didn’t cry. In some ways, instead of grief, what I felt most was a sense of relief. It was finally over and he could never hurt me again. I went to the funeral a few days later and sat in the back of the church, doing my best to go unnoticed while people I had never met stood up and talked about a man I I had never known.

The loss of my father will always be part of who I am. It will always make me think of what could have been. But what I’ve come to realize is that my grief didn’t start with my father’s death. I lost it at eight o’clock. And it was often harder to be with him and feel that loss when he was alive. His death didn’t change that.

Cutting it was like taking over the narrative that I had rarely had a say in before. It was not a decision that I made easily. It’s not something that happened after an event. He came after dozens and dozens of them. It came after so many broken promises.

I gave my dad a lot of chances, and in the end, I chose to protect myself instead.

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