This moving letter appeared in a magazine with what is deeply understanding advice from 'Aunt Sally' and I thought to reproduce it here. I am sure that my Aunt Ruth, who was a marriage guidance counsellor in her spare time, would have given similar wise advice.
Aunt Sally's ending reminded me of Jalalludin Al-Rumi's wonderful poetry, a fragment of which I have put here.
'Twenty years ago, my parents went through a bitter divorce when my father had an affair. I was 16 and took my mother's side. My anger and hurt were so bad that I made what I see now as an unreasonable ultimatum, demanding that he choose between me and his mistress. He said that he loved her. I took this as rejection, and have not seen him since. He broke my heart as we were very close.
I am now happily married, with children, and have tried to bury my feelings (through loyalty to my mother) but I have recurrent dreams in which I am shouting and crying shortly before he walks away. My husband cannot understand how any man could do as he did and is not keen for me to make contact. I have tried to rationalise that he must have been weak to leave his children, but I agree with my husband in many ways. I know that he has maried the woman and I know his address, but I'm so scared of being rejected again. Part of me feels that he walked away and that if he wanted to restore our relationship, he would have done so long ago - but he may, like me, be scared of rejection'.
Aunt Sally replies: This is such a sad story. Fear, pride, ego,and self-righteous anger have kept you apart from the father you love for twenty years. And before the rest of you jump all over me with cross letters saying 'It was his fault. He abandoned his family; she has every right to feel the way she does', let me ask a few simple questions. 'Was it worth it?' Has it helped anyone?' Who in this sorry tale has benefited' I know it's hard, when you've been badly hurt, to get past all the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' and I understand why you feel you have a right to be angry, but rights and resentments do nothing to heal the pain we suffer. Nor do assumptions. It would be so good if you could let go of them. They were understandable when you were 16 and stuck, as you say in your longer letter, in 'black and white thinking', but they are not helpful now.
Should your father have contacted you? Yes, of course. Why didn't he. There could be a hundred reasons. The point is, you know none of them. As you have discovered, now that you are seeing things from an adult perspective, your father is human. He may be, as you say, a weak man. Then again, he may be strong enough not to have imposed his love and need on the child to whom he feels (because you told him) he brought terrible misery. Out of kindness to your mother, he may have allowed her his childrens' unquestioning loyalty and felt it was too cruel to pursue a relationship with you. He might respect you enough to allow you to make your own choices about seeing him. Or he might be just as pig-headed and stubborn as you. Like father, like daughter.
You simply don't know, just as you have no idea what your father is thinking and feeling right now. You have no idea if he hopes against hope that you will contact him. You have no idea what your mother said or did to your father, and whether if might have made him feel that it was kinder to let you get on with your life. You have no idea what went on in your parent's marriage. You have your mother's version, but uncompromising bitterness and anger can come from lack of honesty. When we react violently with blame and punishment, it is often because we canot bear to look at our own part in things.
Your father gave an honest answer to an unreasonable question. He said that he loved the woman he loved. That did not (and does not) mean that he does not love you. Love is not finite. There is plenty to go round. It might not seem that way when we are 16, but at that age the universe revolves entirely around us. As for rejection, it seems that you did the rejecting. From a child's perspective, of course he should have stayed. From an adult perspective, you were nearly at an age whe you were going to launch into your own life. Should he have given up years of happiness to keep you happy in the moment? His marriage was over and that's sad, but would have giving up his own relationship have mended it? And would it really have made you happy, five years later, to see your father lonely and alone?
Now, you could hang onto your fear ('he doesn't love me') and your pride ('he should make the first move'), your ego ('he hurt me by doing what he wanted and not what I wanted'), and your self-righteous anger ('how dare he'). Or you coud let go of all those self-destructive emotions, pick up the phone an say: 'Hi Dad, it's me. I miss you'.
I'm going to leave you with the first lines of one of my favourite poems by the 13th century Persian mystic Rumi: 'Somewhere out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I'll meet you there'.
Sally Brampton in the Sunday Times