It can be devastating to be told that your father doesn’t want you, but to hear it for yourself is a different story. A young woman tells Stylist how her hunt for her dad left her traumatised.
When I was 11 years old, I remember being sat across the table from my grandad, watching him hold back tears as I screamed for answers about the man who disowned me. When I think back to this moment, I feel awful that I made him feel this way. I don’t want to make anyone cry, as I have done enough crying in my own life due to the absence of my father.
I don’t ever recall being told: “You don’t have a father” or “Your father doesn’t want you”, but what I do remember is that I used to call my grandad “dad” and “daddy” and it was never a problem. Growing up, I lived with my mum and her parents; my grandfather was the “man of the house”, therefore he was my dad. There was no issue with this family dynamic until public perception made it one. My parents told me that when I was five I would shout “daddy” and “mummy” in the supermarket when I wanted something, as all kids do, but they started receiving strange looks because my grandad was in his fifties while my mum was in her twenties. Quickly after that incident, I was told to stop calling my grandad “dad” but he is still my dad.
Over the years, I began to ask more questions about the whereabouts of my father but I was always met with the words: “We’ll tell you when you’re older”. By the time I turned 14, I was deemed old enough to learn the truth. My mum and dad met in 1992 and she fell pregnant with me within a year of being together. They were both British citizens working in Belgium. As my mum progressed through the pregnancy she missed her family in the UK and wanted to move back home, but my father gave an ultimatum: “Stay with me and have the baby here [in Belgium] or leave and I will have nothing to do with the child”. She left but she never really thought he would abandon his own child. She tried numerous times to contact him and visit his family in the UK but got nowhere with it.
Upon discovering the truth, I was deeply hurt and angry. I was left with a million questions but one that kept recurring was: why couldn’t they have told me sooner, why drag it out? I spent years trying to look for him online, but I had no luck and I gave up hope. When I was 22, my mum found my father using a private investigator. I had waited my whole life for an opportunity to meet him and I was willing to travel as far as it took for that moment. To my surprise, the investigator said he had moved back to the UK and lived less than 50 miles from the city I was currently living in with his new wife and kids.
The day after we located his whereabouts, I wrote him a letter expressing that I was keen for him to know who I was and possibly develop a relationship. I was impatient and couldn’t stand waiting for a response. Three days after posting the letter, I drove to his house with my mum. I knocked on the front door and his wife answered. She knew who I was, but as I stood sobbing in front of her she remained emotionless and told me that my father was on a call and that he wouldn’t want to speak to me. I returned to my mum’s car crying to be consoled when all of a sudden she pointed to a man in the wing mirror walking towards us. “That’s him, that’s your father,” she said.
It was scary and strange to see him in real life, especially as I’ve only ever had one photo of him growing up which I rarely looked at. As a teenager, I went through an angry phase of coping with the abandonment so I’d try to scratch his face out but I couldn’t bring myself to completely destroy the picture as it was all I had of him. But as soon as I saw him in the driveway, I knew immediately that it was him. My heart sank.
I got out of the car and stood on the pavement facing him.
Him: “What do you want?”
Me: *Waves hands in air as I couldn’t talk from the shock of seeing him in the flesh*
Him: “I don’t want anything to do with you, you should forget about me and move on with your life.”
He walked away. I got back in the car and that was it.
I’ve never been starstruck before, but I can only imagine the feeling would be similar. I couldn’t open my mouth, I couldn’t speak even though I had so much to say. I had waited 22 years to meet this man, but my brain couldn’t comprehend that this moment was actually happening. Soon after, I would try to replay that meeting in my head over and over. I still replay it to this day, and even though I was only a couple of feet from him, I can’t remember what his voice sounded like or what he was wearing, or even his face in detail. I can only remember the painful words he uttered: “I don’t want you”.
In 2019, three years after I met my father, my mum received a letter from the Child Support Agency, explaining that any historic debt of unpaid child maintenance was being written off. So my father had only ever acknowledged my existence by paying off a few months of maintenance. This genuinely felt like a kick in the teeth. I didn’t want his money, but the letter was a stark reminder that he had disowned me.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 2.45 million families in the UK are fatherless. I’ve grown up without a biological father, but that’s not to say I don’t have a father figure in my life as my grandad has filled that void. I often tease him that I’m his favourite child compared to my mum and uncle. However I’m saddened by my situation and I may have moments of resentment which I have learned is normal, but more than anything I feel loved. My mum, nan and grandad have shown me more love than I’ve ever needed.
If you’re reading this and you are one of the 2.45 million, I want you to know that it’s not your fault. I know it’s too easy to say: “He’s the one missing out”, but you’ll learn to realise that he really is. I spent a lot of time and energy being curious about someone who didn’t want to know me. Please don’t let curiosity eat you up when you could be spending time with the people that raised you and actually love and adore you.