My father broke up with me when I was 33 - and it's taught me this important lesson about dads

Photo: Children deserve to know, deep in their bones, that they are loved, just as they are.
Photo: Children deserve to know, deep in their bones, that they are loved, just as they are. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

My father broke up with me when I was 33.

It feels weird to say he "broke up with me" but there isn't a proper term for a parent who decides they don't want a relationship with their child any more.

Nobody has come up with one – I guess because it's not often necessary.

He did it by letter. Over three handwritten pages, my father offered a list of my flaws as he saw them, as well as a list of gifts he'd purchased for me that I wasn't suitably grateful for, before telling me that he wished me all the best for the future but we were done.

Photo: Carolyn Tate
Photo: Carolyn Tate  

I think it's relevant to note that my father still has a relationship with my two siblings, so it was just me that he couldn't take. This was the bit I found extra hurtful – that I was the only one he didn't want. No matter which way you slice that, it cuts pretty deep.

I remember years ago, seeing an interview on TV with a man whose heroin-addicted son kept stealing from him to pay for his habit. But the man kept inviting his son back into his home to live with him, even though he knew he would lose more belongings and be betrayed by his son, over and over again.

"Why do you keep letting him come back?" asked the reporter.

The man shrugged, "He's my son."

For the record, I never stole anything from my father. We just always struggled to connect in a way that was comfortable for us both.

As a parent of three now myself, I understand the reasoning of the heroin addict's dad.

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There's nothing my children could do that would mean I never want to see them again. I told my teenager recently that if he murdered someone, I would probably help him bury the body (before grounding him indefinitely, of course).

That kind of love is something I never got from my father. His love always came with conditions, and clearly, he reached a point where he decided I was never going to meet them.

While I consider myself to be okay about all of that now, I spent my younger years trying to fill in those gaps any way I could: mostly involving alcohol, drugs, and relationships with some truly inappropriate men. I have also paid for several therapists' overseas holidays and new swimming pools over the years.

But once the hurt and self-destructive feelings subsided, I realised that being rejected by my father gave me some rich perspective on what being a good dad is really all about. We can all tie ourselves up in knots trying to follow the latest parenting trend, or counting the hours our kids are on their screens, but I see a bigger picture that is much simpler than that.

What I've learned is that children deserve to know, deep in their bones, that they are loved, just as they are. No matter what. That they don't need to twist and cut themselves into different shapes in order to be good enough.

I'm lucky enough to share a blended family now with a great dad. A dad that makes sure his kids know they are loved just as they are, whether they're having a good day or a bad day.

And yes, I'm quite sure he would rather let one of our children steal our TV than send them out on the street.

That's peak acceptance, if you ask me. And it's being a great dad.