A long time coming.
I’ll preface this by saying this will make a handful of people unhappy but it has been playing on my mind for the last week or so, distracting me from work and day to day life, as Father’s Day approached. I need to post this.
Content warning? I’d add emotional abuse/manipulation for this one but I don’t go into much. I’m sure that phrase right at the start will get people’s mind racing.
I’ve gone from someone who shared their own life online to being comparatively private, and when it comes to my parental… “scenario”, I think even less is known. So my friends and their friends have a certain picture in their mind. This will paint certain people in a bad light, but trust me when I say this is a long time coming and the tip of the iceberg, and I’m fed up with people hearing/believing one side. I’ll probably drop things in here that might not make sense or alludes to something you, the reader, don’t know. I’m not saying this is a series but I know this specific post will be cathartic.
Put it this way, I went to counselling and my counsellor wrote my up as a case study.
And yes, I’m deliberately posting it on Father’s Day rather than two days ago which was three years since my mum messaged me saying “Need to speak asap.”
That phone call was how it began to end. I haven’t properly spoken to my mum in three years. 18th June 2018 was when it started to fall apart/finally fell apart?
A few messages and one email, where we’ve ended in a stalemate due to her naivety/ignorance of the truth. I haven’t spoken to the man (who I called “dad” for ~22/23 years, my stepfather), since before that date June 2018, I heard him in the background on the call that evening but we haven’t spoken 1:1 since before that. This is the context to that and some backstory.
The short version is I don’t speak to my mum, in large part due to my stepfather, and she blames me. I am not sad, I’m just disappointed.
My parents, i.e. my actual biological father (who is NOW the person I refer to as “dad”) and my mum divorced when I was younger. They split in the summer of 95 when I was 10, and divorced about two years later. I moved in with the man I then called dad literally overnight. He was the babysitter for my brothers and I. This “cool” younger guy who lived 50 yards down the road. I still remember the day it all happened. But this post isn’t so much about that process or even what came next, oh no that is a literal book in the making. This is an initial attempt at unloading my mind of some of the context and unpacking peoples assumptions.
Useful glossary for what comes next: mum is mum, dad is my biological dad who I used to refer to by his first name, and “him”, “stepdad”, “her husband” is the man I called “dad” for ~22/23 years. “Them” is the group name for mum and stepdad.
You are not the person that people see.
My brothers and I grew up after that split believing everything our mother said, or rather, initially believing, then partly going along with it. Anything mum said about dad was negative to say the least and we believed it. But it kept niggling away, “How could this man be this person mum portrays? Was he really that bad and I didn’t see it?” There are the soundbites she’d string out anytime (few and far between as the years went on) that he came up in conversation; he was secretive, wasn’t a nice man, he led a double life, he paraded my brothers around like trophies, and more than this post needs.
All I remembered was a man who was kind, who encouraged us to do what we wanted, provided for us and mum, and generally was a good dad. He was originally a merchant engineer with Shell until the early 90s (going literally all over the world including the Middle East during a Not Great Time, and later a driving instructor with BSM (because mum basically told him to get “on shore”).
But I was young and naive, right? Mum was right, she got us out of that house and into a better life, I probably missed all the signs! …I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As the divorce went on, and after we each decided (I was the oldest, at ~11) to stop seeing dad, part of that process was if we wanted to see him after the divorce. I vividly remember sitting in the chambers of the judge (probably not the correct title, he was probably a sheriff or Justice of the Peace or similar.) and being asked if I wanted to continue to see my father. I said no, that was what I should say, right? It was obvious, given all that mum had… “said”, that he wasn’t someone to be around.
And that was that. I didn’t see my dad from around some point late 1996 IIRC until one random night in September 2001 (2000 maybe?) during the Isle of Cumbrae Country and Western Festival. My brothers & I were out walking one evening, we were approaching this couple in the crowd and I froze, both brothers reacted in their own ways. I walked on with a stiff upper lip, my youngest brother was with me, and the middle one stopped to say hi. If I remember, that’s all it was, a basic “Hi, how are you?”.
Of course, mum was beside herself. “Can’t believe any of his lies! He’s a sly one, he’ll lure you back in!”. Again, that was the basic outline we got when he came up in conversation. Of course, we were “free to see him” if we ever wanted, we still had some contact with my Uncle and cousins (my dad’s older brother and his children).
We knew roughly were he was in the world but nothing more. He lived on Islay and in the Borders. He was involved in community projects and didn’t have a career as such. My maternal gran kept loose contact with him, we knew because the amount of calls over the years she got for double glazing and such was silly. “Not right now dear, sorry not interested!”.
Over the years we (verbally) fought, “Yea yea, like many parents and children” you say, but the relationship my brothers and I had with my mum and stepdad was anything but ordinary. Let’s just call it “toxic” and leave it at that for now. Many people would remark on us with such positivity “Oh look, the Aitken brothers are so well behaved!” “Such a lovely family”.
LOL. If there was a gold standard for “you don’t know what happens behind closed doors”, it was that. Later when my brothers and I have independently told select few people about our upbringing, in various degrees of openness, the resounding comment has been a form of “But you’re all so well adjusted!” – Thanks? Well done us for covering it up and getting on with life.
The past is in the past… right?
Something changed, or evolved, I don’t know. I decided to ask my uncle to put me in contact with dad. I knew he’d recently moved back to the hometown I grew up in (not where my mum and “he” thought dad was), so I wanted to build up a relationship with him again. Yes, I wanted answers about my upbringing and him and mum, but I knew I’d need to wait.
“Listen, I think he is losing it.” My uncle went on to tell me he thought is brother had the early signs of dementia. Damn. “He’s repeating things and forgetting basics”. Okay, okay cool, at least he’s still living independently and, for him, fairly fit and healthy.
I met up with him at a Wetherspoons in Paisley, ironically the same place I’d had lunch with them 5 months before, and for someone I hadn’t seen in ~18 years (except that one time), the second he came round the corner, I knew it was him.
We spoke for a few hours, there was no awkward silences or pauses. But there was the repetition. Even if my uncle hadn’t said anything, I knew it. My maternal grandmother had senile dementia for her last few years of life so I knew it well. I didn’t ask him about it.
We spoke on and off over the ‘phone and met up a few times over the years after that. He asked how mum and “the big one” were doing in a pleasant way that first meeting but not after that. We brushed on my childhood a few times and I could tell it wasn’t a place his mind wanted to return. But not for what mum said, not because he was this big bad man, because I thought, still think, that he regretted some decisions. “Are you happy? As long as you and your brothers were healthy and happy, that’s all I cared about.” He just wanted to know we weren’t destitute. We all had jobs to pay the bills and I wasn’t going to break his heart by telling him in detail about the missing years.
I just wanted to know the truth.
We didn’t dwell on the past that much, I didn’t ask him about what came before but I did ask about the divorce and clarified that we made the decision not to see him. Growing up, my brothers and I had some thoughts about what actually happened. Why certain things were handled a certain way. (Yes, I appreciate the vagueness of this right now. This is my story, and not my brothers’ so I’m leaving out their specifics for now.) So I asked dad almost straight out, and he without a beat explained. Mum was given a choice and almost everything that was decided was dad trying to be nice to her. “I just wanted you three to be happy, that’s it.”.
He never remarried, he never had more kids. He had the same partner from around the time of the divorce until just before he moved back to Paisley. The only reason they split was she moved abroad to be with her adult kids and he didn’t want to leave Scotland. I thought at the time and my uncle and my wife agree – he knew he was already losing his memory. He had his routine and that’s all that mattered.
Wait, so what now?
My dad has Alzheimer’s and has been in a private care home since July 2019. He lived independently until then with Social Work occasionally being involved. Ironically they knew nothing about me since he threw out his home phone and didn’t use the Internet – “I think I have sons but I don’t know where they are” was what his doctor told me he said when I caught up with her later. I’ve been to see him before the pandemic but since then I have seen him once. He isn’t one for phone calls or internet, he is a very people person. I lost contact with him for a while, and wrote about that, but he’s safe and doing well all things considered.
I’ve made it clear to mum that I want nothing to do with my stepdad. Without going into what happened three years ago, it was the massive branch that broke the camels back. But she has taken his side and feels I’m being selfish.
I know the amount of people that interact with my mum AND read this post will be minimal at best but I still wanted to write it. She has portrayed a happy existence, even commenting on some Facebook posts of mine in the past few years, but she has always been one to keep up appearances. I feel like people still think I have some sort of relationship with my mum and stepdad, and mum probably does nothing to change that. I know people probably take a pause given some things I’ve said or done over the years so maybe this is me starting to correct the record.
I am my father’s son. I like making things with my hands and building, I like helping people without hope of public praise, I keep myself to myself for the most part, I have a technical mindset, and I regret decisions that I made in years past that changed how life progressed.
So, Happy Father’s Day, dad. Hopefully this whole thing, gestures at the world, is in a better place soon and we can hang out. Me and your grandson are looking forward to it.