“Would you like a blanket, Sir?” I offer, and he shakes his head softly.
He’s looking at me with some kind of admiration, I think. I move on. I notice him observing me as I work my way through the cabin. Every time I look his way, our eyes meet but he never asks for anything. He just smiles and his eyes light up.
“Coffee, tea? Something to read?” I suggest on my next walk past him.
Again, he smiles a “no, thank you” that rather than send me on my way, manages to draw me in.
With only a few other passengers on board, I have plenty of time for it, so we make small talk about the weather and where he is going. We arrive at our destination, and as the man leaves, he politely thanks me for a good flight. I watch him walk off, disappear into the jet bridge, and I think to myself, “this must be the sweetest granddad.”
And then I don’t think more of it.
At this moment I don’t know that he is my father. The father I haven’t seen since I was one. The father I’ve had no interest in seeing or even discussing. The father whom I rejected as a teenager when he reached out to me, only to hear me say that I already had another dad.
Three days after the flight, he calls me. He wants to tell me how happy he is to have seen me, and checks if I want to meet. But my attitude towards him completely changes the moment I realize who he is. My prejudice and ill will rush back to sabotage the whole conversation. We hang up. He must have been so disappointed.
I don’t remember how or when I became so hostile towards him – I was so young when my parents divorced. What I do remember is how anxious my mother became if he were as much as mentioned. I felt a strong undercurrent of disdain for my father; like he was somehow a forbidden topic. This was never said out loud, but the silence was no less audible.
On the very rare occasions he was spoken about, it was mostly about his faults. A few times, in passing, I was told he had some good qualities, and that I inherited two or three of them. But the focus was always on how horrific he was; how he had betrayed my mother and me. I seemed to draw the only available conclusion – that I could not possibly want to be in touch with such a bad person.
As I grew into a teenager trying to work through the anxiety that had taken over my life, I rebelled against the control I felt imposed on me at home. In response, I was cast as being bad, “just like my father”. Even as the years have passed, I’ve regularly been told I inherited his faults; that I am “mental”, like him, if I don’t “behave accordingly”. I have never seemed to resemble him in any positive way.
More than a decade passes after our chance encounter on that flight before I realize I have been a child of parental alienation. The realization is quite shocking, but somehow everything all of a sudden falls into place, as if by magic. Unfortunately, by this point my father has died, and I have no means of taking back what I did and said to him. I have to draw on professional help in order to accept that it wasn’t my fault; that I couldn’t help how my family had programmed me. Yet, I am left feeling that I caused irreversible damage to a relationship that could have, and should have been a very impor-tant one in my life. (cont'd on p. 25)
"I felt a strong undercurrent of disdain for my father; like he was somehow a forbidden topic."
"The realization is quite shocking, but somehow everything all of a sudden falls into place, as if by magic."
22 summer 2017 PSG