My Father Calls Me Every Day But Has Refused to Visit Me for More than a Decade

My father is going to India for three weeks. His last trip was to Spain; the time before that, he spent ten days in Morocco. He goes there yearly. The previous trip was to Turkey, and honestly, I can’t keep track of all the countries he’s visited over the last decade. 

I can tell you the exact last time he visited me, though. It’s been twelve years. He came to my daughter’s fourth birthday party. It was pouring and we had to shift the party from the back yard into the garage. That day he watched as a gaggle of children interacted with a goat, bunnies, and a few ducks. He sat near us but not with us.

father and daughter
My father just can’t do better for his family. (Photo credit: Holly Hughes)

There is always a distance between me and my father

He smiled awkwardly, uncertain of how to act or participate with the squeals and giggles of the kids around him. When he is near me, there is a distance that is never overcome no matter how hard I hug him or try to connect.

I can also tell you the last time he invited me to his house, which was five years ago during Christmas break. He gave my daughter a Fantastic Beasts Lego set as a gift, today she can drive a car. What may surprise you is that he keeps a picture of me as his Facebook banner and calls me every day, sometimes multiple times a day—that is before he disappears. He does that, too.

He goes dark when he doesn’t like what I say, I get too honest, or risk going outside the acceptable predetermined conversation of the weather, gas prices, and anything about his dog.

I could blame his girlfriend but my father has agency

It would be easy to blame his girlfriend. Really easy. But you know what? My father is a grown man, an octogenarian, a chemical engineer, an alcoholic with more than a decade of sobriety under his belt, and a person who ought to know right from wrong. But he doesn’t. He plays stupid.

He ignores things like his own bad behavior, treats us with silence, and plays the forgetful game. He utterly ignores everything that is honest and waits long enough for my forgiveness to kick in. I understand he’s not going to change. I know he loves me to the best of his ability. What he never understands is that his love is cruel and painful. 

My dad never chooses to visit us

He lives in Florida, and I live in North Carolina. He used to drive to and from New York to Florida and never stopped by. I used to ask, “Dad, why don’t you stop by and visit on your way to New York?” or “I’d really love to see you. Do you want to visit us on your next road trip?”

His answer was always to ignore the question. If I pressed him on the phone, he claimed he didn’t visit me because I told him he couldn’t bring his dog. The truth is I told him my yard wasn’t fenced and he’d have to walk his dog. His imagination also tells him I never invited him. But that’s a lie. My father has always been a liar. 

He’s been on flights longer than the flight to me to places he never took his family, his ex-wife, son, daughter, or grandchildren to. He’s been to other people’s graduations and paid for their weddings, houses, and vacations but can’t bring himself to visit his children or grandchildren. He’s been to mosques and temples and walked stone paths, but he’s never had a cup of coffee in my kitchen. 

I’m glad he has a girlfriend to take of him

He doesn’t know how comfortable my guest bed is or how my dog and cats would greet and keep him company. He will never know what a meal I cooked tastes like, what my adult face looks like in the morning, or how I would care for him in my home. Obviously, he isn’t curious.

He called today to tell me he was at the doctor’s office, where his girlfriend was getting bloodwork done. I don’t like her, and I don’t care about her, but I’m glad she’s there to deal with him. 

Five years ago, she verbally assaulted me in front of my young daughter because I reached out to her two daughters, asking them to help me persuade her to postpone a trip to Spain. After all, my father was in the hospital after having a heart attack and heart surgery. She wanted to leave a week after the pulmonary event that sent him into the hospital.

Her daughters agreed with me. She did not. The trip was postponed for a few weeks. She’s hasn’t spoken to me since. I left my father’s house that day and have yet to be invited back. 

My father simply can’t do better for his family

The thing about having healthy boundaries with people who don’t is that you watch what they do and understand their choices make no logical sense. When I don’t hear from him, I’m always relieved. I don’t have to listen to his lies, play along with his amnesia, talk about the weather and the price of gas, or hear him say, “Give your husband and daughter my regards.” 

I never wanted his regards. I wanted his respect. I wanted his love. I don’t want his neglect, dysfunction, and abuse. 

It would be very easy to get swept up in trying to understand why. Why does someone who says he loves me treat me this way? The only answer is that he can’t do better or be better with me, my brother, or his grandchildren.

Part of me is glad he has people around him. The little girl inside me is full of rage at his neglect. The logical part of me understands why some people don’t get visitors in nursing homes. But, the woman with boundaries knows she’ll pick up the phone and listen to him talk about the weather again tomorrow.

More Great Reading:

A Terrible Relationship With My Mom Taught Me to be a Better Parent

About Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes is a TEDx speaker, an award-winning author, and intuitive healer. You may have heard her voice on one of the hundreds of podcasts or networks she's contributed to. Drawing inspiration from her journey, Holly channels her life experiences into her writing and healing practices. When she's not writing, speaking or helping others live the life they dream about, you may find her dancing, listening to K-pop, or planning her next trip to Seoul. You can find her here.

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