Since the beginning of time, society, fairytale stories, and almost every Disney movie has told us that the relationship between father and daughter is unlike any other bond on Earth. It is said that a girl’s first love should be her father, and the standard she should hold every other love of her life against.
There have been movies, songs, and a multitude of traditions made in the relationship’s honor. There is supposed to be no love so instantaneous and forgiving. But what if that isn’t the case in your life? What if your dad was the opposite of everything he was supposed to be — opposite of everything he should’ve been for you?
It is one thing to be betrayed or hurt by those who aren’t so crucial to your life, but when it is by the person who was meant to love and support you unconditionally, and the person whose job is to take the sharp edges off society and the world; to say that it changes you, would be the understatement of the century. Being hurt by a toxic parent is, simply put, a different and almost indescribable feeling all together. I have come to believe that the survivors of the “non-Hallmark” father-daughter relationship just might just be some of the bravest souls to ever exist.
[epq-quote align=”align-center”]There is and always will be a strong stigma attached to parental estrangement, but only you know your situation, and only you have to approve of your decision.[/epq-quote]
When I think back on my relationship with my own father, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I knew enough was enough for me. Our relationship was storybook-reminiscent and stereotypical of everything it should have been — until my parents divorced when I was 10 years old. Something changed in him, and not for the better. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying and think that my dad has been absent since I was 10, as that is most definitely not the case. Our relationship was just never the same after he left. He remarried, and treated his stepchildren as if they were his own (which, in theory, is exactly how it should be, but not when you distance yourself from your biological children in the process). His second marriage was extremely short-lived, and after that, he was perpetually angry, which was furthest from the dad I had known and been exposed to for the first decade of my life. Who was this person? He didn’t seem to care what was going on in my life, his attendance was non-existent at my sporting events and dance rehearsals, and he thought he deserved a pat on the back and a parade thrown in his honor for attending my high school graduation. Um, hi! Narcissist much?
Through these experiences, I’ve learned that toxic parents are expert manipulators. In what world would it be OK to make your child feel like you were doing them a favor by attending one of the biggest accomplishments of their life thus far? I had always known that I would attend Cosmetology school after high school, so you can only imagine the earth-shattering shock I felt when my father turned to me and said, “I will not support you in anything you do if you don’t go to college.” Again, I knew the path in my heart, and despite his out-of-left-field reaction, onto Cosmetology school I went. That was in 2006, we are now in 2018, and even though we no longer speak, in the 12 years I have possessed my license, never once has he let me cut his hair; so, in essence I guess he meant what he said the day he pledged his lack of support.
His next major verbal punch in the gut came a few years later, once I had settled into my ideal salon and was flourishing. I had decided that I was going to take a makeup course with a celebrity artist. In the months following the course, I was awarded momentous opportunities working with celebrity clients of my own, being the lead makeup artist in a multitude of Fashion Week shows, and lending my skills to music videos. This is when any normal parent would be jumping up and down for their child who is quite literally crossing things off her bucket list bi-weekly. Instead came the aforementioned verbal punch in the gut. The only thing my toxic father could utter to me was “I am having a hard time being happy for you because I am jealous that you are doing exactly what you set out to do.”
I thought I was dreaming or hearing things, so I asked him to repeat what he had said. And repeat it he did. And, nope, this was not a dream sequence, but rather his irrational, weird and twisted version of reality. Looking back, this was one of the final straws for me. Aren’t parents innately supposed to want the best for their children? Clearly he didn’t for me.
For the next few years, I kept him at a safe distance, but didn’t really put in a ton of effort once I realized he wasn’t putting forth the effort either. I was taught that the we should fight for things worth fighting for, but here he was, not fighting for a relationship with me. This was a really hard pill to swallow. Despite our lack of communication, I decided that even though he was not doing his job as a parent, did not give me the right to be disrespectful unwarrantedly. Thus, the steady stream of Father’s Day, birthday and holiday cards still flowed from my camp to his. Although all were unacknowledged, and many were, as he puts it to anyone who would listen, “never actually sent,” I did what was right for me in that moment.
Then one day, I woke up and everything was different. There was no screaming match, no down and out brawl, no stones thrown, no profanities exchanged, nothing to actually trigger a shift in my mind, but I just felt differently about the situation. I decided to completely cut ties with my toxic parent once and for all. I reminded myself that I was under no obligation to love anyone who did not respect me, and a parent is not exempt from treating me like a human. Eleven years have gone by now, and in the deafening silence from his end, I was left to piece together what actually happened with the maturity and insight one can only often obtain thru hindsight. I never felt the need to assure myself, or anyone around me, that I made the right decision for myself. As humans we are characteristically wired to connect, even with people who don’t deserve to be connected with us. But realizing that staying connected to his irrational and toxic behavior would be nothing more than a forever mind-fuck littered with multiple winless rounds of the blame game, was nothing short of liberating. Trust me when I say that I completely understand no one is perfect, but having a toxic parent forces you to tow the line between imperfect and destructive quite frequently.
Since our dissolution, my career has skyrocketed to places I never even dreamed it could, and I can’t help but to think, if he was “jealous” over my accomplishments over a decade ago, I can’t even imagine the negativity and loathing his existence would lend to my life today. Sure, there are days when my humanness slips through for a quick second and wonders if I tried hard enough, but thankfully those days are few and far between, and I remind myself that there were two people involved in this breakup. But just as quick as these thoughts spring themselves onto me, my badass, boss-babe, super woman alter ego slides back into perspective and all is right in the world again.
To the girls who are in the same position I was, I have some advice and words of wisdom, if you will. If I can help even one person feel better about their decision to cut ties with a toxic parent, my job is done. This breakup looks different for everyone, and no one’s situation is exactly like yours. You will spend so much time trying to figure out what you did wrong, or what you could’ve done differently. However, these self-examining questions are ultimately irrelevant, because you may have done nothing wrong. You did not give up; you just realized that people cannot be changed, and you have to get respect to give it.
Trust me when I say that just because this parent helped create you does not mean he or she can destroy you. You have been through enough to realize that loving yourself means cutting those toxic ties and embracing all the good things in your life.
There is and always will be a strong stigma attached to parental estrangement, and to be honest, I can see where others are coming from. But only you know your situation, and only you have to approve of your decision. If a parent is toxic enough to warrant estrangement, rest assured that they will enact a number of guilt, blame, deflection and invalidation tactics to keep you from or make you feel guilty about setting your boundaries. They may even go as far as telling a completely outrageous version of events to anyone who will listen, just to play victim and feel at peace with their own actions and involvement in the breakup. Don’t let it destroy you. Talking to a professional or others who have been through similar situations can help provide a sense of grounding and validation you may not have even realized you needed.
In closing, remember: your life situations and choices do not define you; they are merely a chapter or two in the book of your life. Letting go of negativity in any form does not make you a bad person. You do not have to forgive your toxic parent, but do not allow yourself to ever feel as though there is something lacking in you because of your choice. You will never be able to force a toxic parent to respect you, but you can certainly refuse to be disrespected. Your big, brave, beautiful heart is powerful beyond measure and you do and will continue to matter to so many people in this world. And don’t be surprised that if someday you find yourself face to face with him, and ever-so-politely remind him that he broke the wrong parts of you. He tried to break your wings, but didn’t realize you had claws.