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Mortality and Relationships

July 28, 2014

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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    July 29, 2014 5:05 am

    Karin, further to my more harsh comments earlier, I can tell you, through my own experience in this regard because I had to deal with an old, dying man who had sired me but never raised me, it is easier to forgive in a terminal situation and keep your inner-most feelings to yourself and your mate or those closest to you as you try to sort through them. To show respect for the deceased by attending a funeral is not harmful to you, allows your dignity and then you leave, like everyone else. You do not need to participate in a lot of historic conversation at such a time. It’s all over. On the other hand, sending flowers takes care of your lack of attendance and still shows respect and thoughtfulness. We can discuss this in more detail in private if you care to………Mom.

  2. August 1, 2014 1:18 pm

    Great post and great comments from your Mom and (on Facebook) from Briana and others.

  3. Renate S. permalink
    August 4, 2014 9:01 am

    Hi Kain! First of all, my THANKS again to you to have written this post about a topic that has obviously given you FOOD for thought & no doubt is given all the readers a lot to think about as well. Secondly, I’m sorry that your ‘birth father’ has NEVER played a role in your life and that your memories are not favorable of him. Allow me to share this with you:
    The other weekend I happened to watch one of the TV evangelists – his name is Andy Stanley – and the topic was: God made us TO CARE. The interesting point he made was that NO MATTER how much someone will claim that they ‘don’t care’ about someone (& in particular about any family member…by blood or by other circumstances) will catch up with them in some form or other in their lives. When you write that your ‘birth father’ was never there for you, do you know whether he attempted to contact you over the years? Have you made any attempts to contact him? How was the meeting with him at your niece’s graduation? Did you talk to him then? After watching Andy Stanley’s talk, I know what I would want to do in your situation, but you will need to decide for yourself. My hopes for both of you, your ‘birth father’ & you is that in the remaining time you might get a chance for something you both missed out on for so long!!! My thoughts & prayers are w/ you!

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