My Father Chose His New Wife Over Me

by Casey Strong

On a Friday in June, I called my father, Keith*, to make plans for Father’s Day. That wouldn’t be noteworthy, if not for the fact that it had been four years since we’d spoken on the phone, and 18 years since we’d been in the same room together. I didn't even know if his office would take my call, so when he answered, I didn't even say hello. I just went right into inviting him to dinner for Father's Day. Our conversation was very brief, but he actually seemed happy to hear from me and accepted my invitation. Before he hung up, he also mentioned that his new wife was pregnant with his first child, so he would want to include her in our day. The awkward silence that followed lasted only a couple of seconds before he corrected himself:

“You know what I mean: It’s OUR first child...together “.

10 years ago, that slip of the tongue would have hurt. But pain is relative, and when I think of all the broken promises he’d made to me over the years—not showing up to my first and last “daddy/daughter" dance, calling me a “little shit” over the phone during an argument with my mom, and, you know, abandoning our family all together— his proclaiming his third biological child to be his first didn’t even hurt me a little.

Some part of me — the part that briefly remembered how safe I used to feel in his arms and how he used to make me laugh — wanted to look nice for him. A larger, more dominant part wanted to show him that I’d come out okay, despite the fact that he’d left me before I could form better memories of our time together.

For all intents and purposes, this will be his first child. At least, the first child that he (hopefully) sticks around for. Even if he didn’t let it slip out, I already knew that that was how he felt. So I was no worse for the wear.

From the moment that I emerged from my mother’s womb in 1994, I had a loving, doting father. He was my provider, my protector and, when he was not working, my playmate. Until he left. The last time that my sisters (one that was his child, one that was not) and I saw him, I was four years old. I always begged my mother for details, hoping that they’d had a nasty split or that he just couldn’t provide for us financially and was so ashamed that he had to leave—anything to justify his abandoning me. When I was 12, my mother finally told me that “he just didn’t want the responsibility of raising you anymore.” I sunk down in my seat and burst into tears, while my mom tried to console me.

For a brief time after he left, we'd talk on the phone about once a month. Occasionally, he would make plans to come and get me, but he always, always backed out. Eventually, even phone calls became reserved only for birthdays and holidays, and sometimes not even then. By the time I was a teen, I had little affection left for him. In the years since, the only connection I’ve had to him has been monetary, through health insurance and monthly $200 checks for child support. My mom was a single mom, so most of that money went towards our living expenses, but she did make sure to buy me one special thing out of the child support each month. When I was young, I looked forward to scanning the store for one special item. That thrill wore off, however, when my older sister let me know that he sent that money to keep my mom from ruining his reputation, by going to family court and formally requesting support.

My 18th birthday came around less than three weeks after my high school graduation, and I received his final check with a note that said, “That’s it, Casey. Good Luck.” The dry message didn’t faze me but, the fact that I still needed money for college hit me like a ton of bricks. So, I swallowed my pride, called him up and I begged him to not cut me off so that I could pursue a college education.

After a sob-filled phone call, he agreed to send me some money to help pay for my expenses and the balance of my tuition that financial aid wouldn’t cover. Oh, and he told me that I better find a good job because once college was over, he’d never “give me another dime.” Not exactly Dad of the Year material, but I was desperate, so I thanked him for his generosity.

"Thank you” were the last words I'd say to him in four years. The next words would be: “Hey Keith, Father’s Day is coming up. I thought that it would be nice if we try to do something.” To my surprise, he agreed to meet. Though my mom used to mail him photos of me when I was younger, she stopped after about four years after he left. So, I emailed a photo of myself to him so that he would recognize me.

“Pretty, like your mom was,” is the message that I got back.

I spent much of Saturday trying to find the perfect outfit to wear. Some part of me — the part that briefly remembered how safe I used to feel in his arms and how he used to make me laugh — wanted to look nice for him. A larger, more dominant part wanted to show him that I’d come out okay, despite the fact that he’d left me before I could form better memories of our time together. I would like to say that was the reason for contacting him; but honestly, I just wanted to see if there was any way that we could ever have a relationship.

Saturday night was when all of the nerves hit me. I came across my dad's Facebook account several years ago, and I've been silently keeping up with him through social media ever since. I only check it once a month at most, but that night, I wanted to see if he posted anything about our phone call. To my surprise, his latest status read: "I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but it's never too late to make things right." Yes, that could have been about anything. But the timing led me to assume that he was referring to our would-be reunion, set to occur in a few hours.

Was he actually hoping that we could one day be close? Would he apologize for abandoning me and my sisters? The possibilities were endless, and as my mind wandered, I felt myself getting hopeful that we could one day have a relationship.

You can't lose someone that you never truly had. But he lost out on one hell of a daughter.

But our reunion never came. Sunday morning, he sent me an email stating that his new wife wasn't feeling well and he'd have to reschedule. She was dealing with a "woman thing," according to him. I was a little crushed, but the excuse seemed reasonable enough. As a woman, I know that "woman things" can make you feel awful and not want to get out of bed. Coupled with the fact that she was six months pregnant, I found no reason to believe that things weren't as he said.

In response, I emailed him back and told him that I understood and asked him to wish her the best for me. He replied with another message thanking me for being understanding and proposing that we could meet up once she was feeling better.

Considering that this was the most sincere conversation we'd had in my adult life, I actually considered this progress. I know that if we ever had a relationship, then we'd have to deal with a lot of hurt and anger from the past, but open communication was a start.

Somewhere around dinner time, I was sitting on my bed browsing through Twitter, when my curiosity got the best of me. I switched tabs and brought up his Facebook page. I'm not sure what I was searching for, but a part of me was hoping that he'd hinted at our missed dinner date, as I believed he had the night prior. And lo and behold, there was a photo of him and his wife at a "Father's Day Brunch." They were sitting in a booth at some swanky restaurant, and looked like the happiest couple in the world. The photo had 10 likes and three comments underneath, one of which called them a "beautiful couple." The second told his wife that she was "glowing" and wished her a "healthy, happy pregnancy." The third comment, which seemed to come from a close friend, said "You're not a daddy yet. Why are you celebrating Father's Day?"

Now, I think of myself as a strong woman. Considering the circumstances, I've done a pretty good job of dealing with the emotional scars. I picked myself up after my ex betrayed my trust, and when my father — the first man to break my heart — deemed me unworthy of sticking around for, I cried for awhile, but eventually got over that as well.

But to try to have a relationship with a man who never deserved another chance, and to have him lie to me so blatantly after he agreed to meet for dinner, broke me down. To see his friend question him for celebrating Fathers Day so casually, despite the fact that he became a damn father 26 years ago when my older sister was born, meant that in his world, we didn't exist, and had no place in his life besides as the beneficiaries of hush money.

But unlike my ex, who I never faced, I decided to let him know how I was feeling. I left him a voicemail asking to talk but never heard back from him, so I sent him an email. My first instinct was to accuse him of lying, but I knew that I had to approach the situation with a certain amount of caution, so I spent an hour crafting the perfect email. Otherwise, I feared that I would never hear back from him. It read:

Hey Keith, I know that you're super busy with your job and tending to your expecting wife (who I can't wait to meet.) But I was wondering if we could set aside some time and talk about what expectations we may have about building a father-daughter relationship. In all relationships, honesty and transparency are key to building something long lasting, so I think it would be best to lay things out at the beginning. Please let me know when you can chat. I look forward to hearing from you. -Casey.

It's been over a week and I've yet to get a response. Shortly after my email, I noticed that his Facebook account had been made private. In the time since I first found his account, it's never been private. The fact that it went private shortly after my calls were no coincidence, I believe: he obviously put two and two together, and realized that I'd found him out.

I don't feel at a loss this time, even though I was hopeful that there would be some chance of a reconciliation. You can't lose someone that you never truly had. But he lost out on one hell of a daughter. One that has a high threshold for pain and that tries to see the best in people. For his sake, I hope that the child that his wife is carrying has those qualities. I fear that they might need them.

*Names have been changed

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