Mortality and Relationships
A bit of a different post today. I am struggling with something and decided to share my thoughts.
A week or so ago, my sister told me that my father had called her and told her he had cancer. When I asked what stage it was, she said “I don’t know, but he said it had spread into his lymph nodes”. To me, that said stage four. I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert in illnesses, but I do know that when cancer spreads into the lymph nodes, well, the person does not usually have much time left. She texted me yesterday and told me that indeed, it is stage four, and that while it is treatable, it is not curable.
So why did my sister tell me, and not my father himself? Well, that is a longer story, and causes me to wonder what my next steps will be. It brings up a tangle of thoughts and emotions, and brings into play societal expectations around what family means.
My father did not raise me. He and my mother divorced when I was quite young, and most of my early memories of him are not positive. His parents disowned me when I was a teenager. There are other elements that came into play – financial and emotional elements, and the fact that my mom remarried my (step)dad when I was 11.
In short, he and I have not had any real relationship since I was very young. To the point that when I went to my niece’s graduation a couple of years ago and saw him, it was more like seeing a distant relative than seeing my father.
And now I find out he has cancer. I was discussing it with someone, and whether I will be expected to go to his funeral when that time comes (because it will come, sooner rather than later). The person said “well, he won’t be coming back.” This is true. But.
How do I get people to understand the fact that this man has never really been a father to me, that the man who raised me is the one who is still married to my mother? People don’t get it. It seems that if you are related by blood, you are expected to have some sort of magical connection – a connection I have just never felt with this man. It seems that merely because a person is sick, all of the pain that person caused is supposed to be forgotten, even though that person never (throughout my entire life) reached out and made an effort with me, and to this day still has not.
Is the obligation on me to reach out to the man who is a virtual stranger, who has caused me so much pain? Will his death have an impact on me? He has not been part of my every day life. He has not come to my graduations, wished me happy birthday, congratulated me on my achievements, or comforted me when I felt like a failure. In short, he has had no role in my life.
Yet people expect that because he is “my real dad” (and I take issue with that one – my real dad is the man who raised me, was there for me when I was sick, helped me with my house, supported me through my ups and downs) that I will go running to his side. Is this an obligation, merely because he and I are connected by blood? Am I expected to mourn a man I did not know?
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t wish him ill or for him to die. He is a person, and I don’t want to see another person suffer. But any more than that, well, I just don’t have the ability to bring anything else anymore. Perhaps there was too much damage done when I was young. I am not still angry; I just don’t feel anything. Perhaps I am still protecting myself, or compartmentalized to cope from the childhood pain that as an adult, I decided I no longer wanted to live with. In any case, the only thing I can do in my life is treasure those who are meaningful to me, and wish the others well, whatever their situation.