Life Musings

The Beauty of Abandonment

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I spoke with my father today, for perhaps four and a half minutes. After a bit of courteous small talk that revolved around the weather and summer plans, he rushed to get off the phone.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t ask.  Perhaps he had company, an appointment or something pressing on his mind.  He might have been in physical pain.  As a survivor of a traumatic accident, my father has multiple health challenges.  Walking is profoundly difficult. Even sitting isn’t easy for him.

I’m not sure what reason he had for getting off the phone so quickly, but I can’t say I was surprised.  Our last call – about six months ago – was similarly brief.  I felt so many things in those four and a half minutes. Concern about his health. Happiness at hearing the warm, deep tones of his southern drawl.  Guilt over waiting so long to call.  Anger that he hadn’t called either.  And all the while, an anxious awareness of the awkward space between us. 

“Alright, well you stay safe,” he says, in a way that sounds vaguely fatherly. As though I know what fatherliness sounds like.

“Okay. I’ll try.”  The conversation could end now.  I pause.

“It’s nice to hear your voice,” I add, quickly.

“You too.”

“Take care.”

I glance at the phone. It hadn’t even been five minutes.  There was a mix of relief, sadness and irritation — the familiar feeling of being pushed away, shut out, barely acknowledged.  And just as familiar was the mildly pathetic joy of being granted those crumbs of recognition.

It was better than nothing.

Those four and a half minutes would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.  The story of his twenty year absence from my life – followed by my tracking him down under rather dramatic circumstances – is an epic of Finding Forrester proportions. It’s also a story I won’t be telling tonight.  Suffice it to say that I tried and failed to find him many times. Then the stars aligned.  We finally spoke when I was a senior in college hoping for a long-awaited reunion with my father.

It would be a decade before he decided he was ready to meet in person.

So much of the turmoil of my twenties was the emotional hell of alternately suppressing and suffering my anger and sadness.  The degree of alienation and fury I felt over his recurrent abandonment was something I could not put into words — though I tried.  I wrote a lot of angry letters — to him, his mother, his wife.  Mostly? I was met with silence, left to work out my own peace, without him.

Life eventually found fit for us to speak again, first by phone and then face to face.  For a while, we kept in regular contact, but then the calls became less frequent.  I tried to accept the relationship as it is, without wanting or needing it to be different. I reminded myself that I love the woman I am, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am without walking the path of abandonment.

There are times when I feel pangs of jealousy and pain, seeing young girls, or grown ass women, receiving love, care and attention from their fathers.  In the past, I was loathe to acknowledge these feelings — worried that admitting my father pain was an affront to my mother’s love.  Now, I’ve come to acknowledge and embrace all of these feelings. Although, old habits die hard.

In this case, my old habit is pushing the pain away.  After those four and a half minutes today, I paused to contemplate my sadness and ambivalence over him for few moments.  Then I moved on and tried to forget about it.

Later, I offhandedly mention the conversation to my girlfriend.  It’s the kind of thing I’d normally keep to myself.  In the past, it was the kind of thing I’d keep from myself — buried under layers of unacknowledged pain.

“He rushed to get off the phone with me,” I said.

“I’m so sorry to hear that.”

Later, she again expressed sympathy for the painful experience.  The remarkable thing? I’d already faux-forgotten — pushed the uncomfortable feelings underneath a pile of work and a mountain of to-do lists.

I was so grateful that she didn’t brush off the comment, or take for granted the vulnerability it took for me to share my father pain. Her query helped me remember to unveil, honor and tend to this emotional wound.

I used to think that feeling abandoned by my dad was a terrible burden, a bottomless pit of sadness and fury.  But bit by bit, Life has taught me to embrace everything about my past with love and gratitude. The anger I used to feel toward my father has mostly given way to compassion.  Anger still arises on occasion, but it no longer consumes me.

The beauty of abandonment, as a dualistic experience, is that it slaps us into the nondual recognition of that which can never be abandoned. On the relative level, I’ve learned that abandonment is just the way it is.  The principle of impermanence shows that from one perspective, everything is constantly abandoning us.  Nothing lasts.  No one stays.  But on the absolute level, there is nothing to abandon or be abandoned, because the Universe is One.

Four and a half minutes. Enough time to connect, send positive vibes and express compassion. Enough time to extend even more awareness to my own pain. Enough time to remember my inalienable wholeness. Enough time to wake up.

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186 thoughts on “The Beauty of Abandonment”

  1. I don’t know what to say. But for one thing, I know that growing up with a father figure around doesn’t make a difference for everyone. Its the clichéd busy unattached father story. But now, when I try to connect with him, it is rather hard. The calls I make every weekend is a formality and I often feel relief as I get off the phone. I don’t know what I an trying to say but I could take even when the circumstances are totally different.

    1. Yes! One of my big lessons as an adult was letting go of the idealization I had of other people’s experiences of growing up with fathers. The realities are so much more complicated, and a father’s presence is sometimes as traumatic as his absence.. if not more. Thank you for visiting.

  2. I think that things like this effect us so much when we are children, because we don’t fully understand that it isn’t us, it’s them. They didn’t care and it’s too bad, because they are missing out on so much.

    1. Yes. It took me until my early thirties to fully understand: “It wasn’t me..” — before then, I interpreted the abandonment as a referendum on my worth. It was very liberating to finally understand that my worth is inalienable and has nothing to do with whether someone decides to be a parent or not.

  3. Sounds like forgiveness to me – and that you have mastered it. I can, like many, relate. I never had to look for my father – but even there, he was not. Your phone call could have been mine with him. My sister and I couldn’t remember when he died exactly – and I suggested, because we had grieved him long before then. And now, my daughter, 18 now, abandoned by her father at 8 when he committed suicide. While all of this is so sad, it does not define us, as you so beautifully put it. And what sad men they all are. But not us! Thanks for this – wonderful when someone else captures your truth. A reason to read, a reason to write. Lovely to have discovered you.

    1. Warm thanks for your words. I am so sorry for the inter generational pain of abandonment your family has experienced. I have learned over the years that many, many of us carry around similar experiences. Forgiveness isn’t easy, it’s a journey. For me, it has a lot to do with realizing the truth of maya angelou’s saying: when you know better, you do better.. People abandon other people because they, too, are suffering.

  4. This is beautiful. Really. You’re an example to many people out there. Thank you for sharing your story. You are very brave. You are a grown honorable person and are proud of it nonetheless your father wasn’t always there for you.

  5. I feel you on this so deeply, except it was my mother, and then my father. I was emotionally abandoned by her and physically by both. I was able to heal the relationship with my father, but have chosen not to with my mother. I really connected with what you described as feeling abandoned as a bottomless pit of sadness. It has its place, just as everything does. I wrote this recently on the subject-
    I try not to find myself trapped in my sadness. When it comes, I acknowledge it, I allow it to be, to feel its way through my heart. I make sense of what to do with it, and then I overcome it.

    Very beautifully and honestly written piece. Well done.

    Best~ Julie

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It seems one of the toughest things in this life is simply feeling our feelings. It’s also the only path of authentic healing. Appreciate your comment..

  6. This sounds like the relationship my dad and I have. Just accepting it for what it is can be hard, but its inspirational to hear you deal with it so positively. Thank you for sharing.

    1. It’s a process. And a daily choice.. I can choose to carry resentment or I can choose to open my heart to the possibility of compassion..

  7. *just the way it is* I guess THAT is the understanding that finally lets us accept our path of life. Although, being an adult, one doesn’t hold on to grudges, there is however the little boy in us (or a girl) who can’t forgive. Who can’t forget. And I think its remarkable that we can feel both feelings at the same time. A sense of detached forgiveness as well as terrible longing of days that didn’t even happen. I talk to my mom once a year now. And even though I know and understand why she left us, there is another ‘why’ that can’t be answered ever. The helpless kind of ‘why’. That ‘why’, I guess, can never truly be answered.

    1. You’re right, it is absolutely remarkable that we can feel both of these things at the same time. And I think it’s important to honor and acknowledge both perspectives ..

  8. When my mom first got locked up, I didn’t really understand how that would affect me in my future, how many things I would’ve needed her for. It’s been ten years now and I know I will have missed out on a lot of mother daughter bonding but I really wouldn’t wish it any other way. I’m strong because I learned how to live on my own and because I let go of the bitterness that haunted me for years. The wondering and wishing just hurt more than the relief of acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it doesn’t but it makes me happy that you’re not hurting so much any more and that you get to talk to him. I can appreciate a timed phone call and how little can be said and yet so many things be felt. Know you aren’t alone. I’m glad you’ve allowed yourself to feel.

    1. Thank you for sharing. The abandonment that results from incarceration of parents is a huge, huge issue. I wish there was more awareness about it in the public sphere. I love that you write “I’m strong because I learned how to live on my own and because i let go of the bitterness that haunted me for years” .. that resonates with me. I’ve learned to appreciate how experiencing abandonment has given me strength, too.. I’ve become more compassionate with myself and others, more skilled with forgiveness (though it’s still challenging) .. and I’ve learned how to feel, deal with and express my pain. Appreciate the reminder that I’m not alone.

  9. It can be very difficult talking on the phone with someone you have a challenging relationship with. I suppose it’s because you can’t pick up on non verbal cues and the other person’s environment.
    I hope it will get easer for you with time! All the best.

  10. This touched my heart. My life was different…yet much the same. It has taken much of my life to overcome the damage; yet like you I am thankful because love my life and understand now that a different past would have meant a different now. I still don’t talk about this much, but I think on it much. And as I walk down the road to adoption now I look to my past for ways to help my future child forgive and find peace with his/hers.

    Angelia
    http://www.mybestlaidplans.net

    1. Hi Angelia and thank you for your comment. I’m glad the post resonated with you and that you have also done the work to heal from the pain. I also don’t talk about this much and it was very unusual for me to decide to actually blog about it — I was shocked that this post in particular was freshly pressed, because my experience seemed so small, and I’m so used to pushing the pain aside.. but the gift has been seeing so many of you connect with what I’ve expressed and feeling, as a result, not quite so alone

      Blessings to you on the adoption process.. your healing/forgiveness work will be a gift to them..

  11. Beautifully expressed and relatable. Your account of the awkward phone call is eerily similar to some of my own. Thank you for sharing your emotion.

  12. Awesome story. I’m sorry for the pain but I’m glad it got turned around for the good. Your conclusion reminds me of what Saint Paul says about our spirits groaning as long as we’re on the earth, due to our wanting to be further clothed with Life through reunion with our heavenly Father, God. Basically, we’re going to have phases of spiritual hunger until we get to heaven, but Christ restores that connection and refills us if we seek Him. I feel far from my dad sometimes. I just do my best to honor him and help him out, be kind. I should probably appreciate him more. Thanks for the post.

    1. Thank you for your note. I frequently focus my attention on the fact that God has never abandoned me, and never will. Very much a source of spiritual strength… Great that you are honoring and helping your father.

    1. I checked out your blog – congrats on starting your writing journey! I hope that your posts have a positive influence on your readers. It seems like you already have!

    1. Gosh.. two distant dads.. we all have our crosses to bear, eh? Thank you for your note and reminding me that I’m not alone in this struggle.

      1. The positive aspect of my no relationship with Father figures is I became an attentive and loving Dad.

  13. Beautifully written, Crystal. As someone whose father decided to walk away and disappeared for a decade, I can relate. His absence taught me how to be stronger and wiser. Sending good vibes your way.

    1. Gosh.. disappearing for a decade.. I am sorry that so many people can relate with this experience, but glad that so many of us are also reclaiming our strength. Sending good vibes right back

  14. I have similar issues and what I have figured out that my life was better off with out his presence in my life. His influence would have been more destructive, my father in a non-violent psychopath.

  15. Thank you for sharing this beautifully crafted memory. As a father myself, the thought of abandoning my child has never crossed my mind, but understanding the effects it can have on a persons life is an eye opener. I’m glad you have found peace.

  16. Hey crystal….it’s a beautiful piece depicting every inch of pain and pathos you went through and in between glimpses of that joyous father-daughter bond….you nailed it. You deserve freshly pressed.my best wishes. I am following your blog.

  17. This is absolutely beautiful. You are so talented. Great post and congratulations on being freshly pressed! 🙂

  18. I can relate to that feeling of being torn between feeling neglected and feeling furious . I have now been a father for almost twelve years myself, and have sworn to never make my children go through such a hell. Wonderfully told!

  19. Thank you from someone who is trying to take the time to feel her feelings – even the uncomfortable ones c: I really appreciate your post.
    I now have some more space for compassion around my angry oldest daughter – abandoned by her dad when she was eight. working through her stuff now (in her early twenties).

    1. Wow.. hearing that this post helped you build compassion for your daughter is really beautiful for me – thank you for sharing that. Sometimes I wonder if my blog matters, but those doubts get put to rest when people tell me how something I wrote made a positive difference in their life, if even for a moment. I would never know unless people tell me directly, so I value every message like yours that I receive. My warmest wishes to you.

  20. This was right on time for me! My girlfriend is in a very similar predicament. The way that you analyzed your girlfriend’a response made me think about the way that I show my support and attention to her. As a result of reading this I feel that much more prepared to be there for her as she attempts to make contact with her father. Thank you so much for having the courage and insight to both pen your experience and posting it for all of us to receive. Namaste.

    1. It means a lot to me that these words have connected with so many others. I didn’t think the post was particularly beautiful or important or moving until I heard from all of you. Thank you.

  21. Thank you for sharing your post as well as yourself. I’d just like to remind you that you are beautiful, and worthy of love, and unfortunately, the victim of circumstance that has nothing to do with the woman you are, the girl you were, and the child that was. I hope that you’re encouraged by this, if only for today. Bless you,
    D. J. Blackmore

    1. I am encouraged by your words, thank you. I have been consciously reminding myself of these things for the last few years. Healing takes time and work.. reminders are welcome. Warm wishes to you.

  22. I’m glad you’ve made peace with your situation and you’ve handled it well over the years. I had a father figure and can’t imagine what it would be like not having one.
    dailyquizquestion.wordpress.com

  23. Wow. I am encouraged by all these posts. Sometimes it feels like the world thinks you’re the only one with parental abandonment issues. Amazing, and disappointing, how frequent the experience is. Destructive dad & abandoning mom equals my experience. Growing up despite the nurturance (nurturing yourself) and acknowledging who they actually are instead of who you want them to be/ should be have been helpful concepts for me–but still hard, always hard.

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