Father's Day in an estranged family

Every time I smell beef and onions cooking I think of my dad. He used to make a pot roast on Sundays which to my kid self, was like a big bucket of perfectly good potatoes stunk up with unnecessary meat juice. But still, the house felt so warm and comfy when it simmered. You’d think today, as an adult vegetarian, I’d be grossed out by the smell of cooking beef. But no. It still makes me feel safe, like I did when my dad was home. I remember the lid on his pot had some kind of pressure valve so that it would make little spraying noises in a rhythm that sounded like an old diesel engine – which is another thing that reminds me of my dad. He has bought and sold cars as long as I’ve known him, which is 32 years. Three of those years we didn’t speak and after a very unfortunate series of recent events, it looks like we’re back in that boat. We haven’t spoken since April.

Today is of course Father’s Day. My kids colored cards for my husband and we celebrated with a big pancake breakfast this morning. Right now as I type I’m watching my girls hug and kiss their dad. It’s such an easy thing to take for granted. All those Sundays my dad read the cartoons to me (changing “jug head” to “jug haid”) and fixed me special bowls of potatoes plucked out of the pot roast, it never occurred to me that we’d ever be in such a bad place that we would sit in silence across a court room. When he opened up his checking register to explain how bills work (making my eight-year-old self feel nine feet tall) or helped me build my “collapsible hanger” invention for school or let me do his hair with mousse I never thought there would be a time when he might testify against me in court.

But here we are.

I miss my dad. Unfortunately there’s a matrix of insanity between us and mine and my dad’s relationship is collateral damage in sealing off a long-simmering poison for good. Sometimes pain is a fact of life. Ironically, that is a lesson my dad taught me.

My advice to most people in an estranged situation would be to just pick up the phone. Life is short. Grudges aren’t healthy. Unless you see a mushroom cloud billowing out of the earth, it ain’t over. But for that small bunch of us for whom it is that complicated, stay strong and do what you have to do. Not everyone around you is going to understand. You don’t need to explain yourself. All we can do is our best for our children and never, ever let anything come between us and them so that on some far off Father’s Day of the future, the phone at our house will ring.

Happy Father’s Day dad, wherever you are.

Filed under: Memory Lane


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  • If it were only as easy as picking up the phone ... my mother and I were estranged for 10 yrs. When I picked up the phone and made the call, I realized that I had changed and she didn't.

    I took care of her 24/7 the last 3 years of her life. Her final stroke finally silenced her vicious mouth. Just before that, as I was leaving her house, she said, "Be careful driving home." I was stunned. It was probably the kindest thing she's ever said to me.

    Pick up the phone Jenna and make the call. Keep in mind that you've changed over the years. There's a chance your Dad never will and you'll have to deal with that. But there's always a little hope.

  • Thanks for writing, this, Jenna. I'm glad I've never had to see my parents in court, but as it is, I really do appreciate that you recognized that in some cases, there's really no way to have any means of contact without subjecting yourself to further abuse. Not many people understand, sadly.

    And sadly, there's no way I can try to have contact with my father without him being abusive, and I can't have contact with my mother because she keeps pressuring me to go back to the way things were, where we kept our mouths shut and feared dad's rages, and then after the rages, pretended everything was hunky dory.

    Hugs to you, and I am glad your children have a good father, giving you all a good reason to celebrate Father's Day :) I am thankful all my *sane* father figures.

  • In reply to Holly:

    Ah yes, switch the roles of the parents and you understand my situation exactly. Reconciling is not always in the best interest of family.

  • Praying for peace on this Jenna. So glad Nikko and your little girls have nothing but love in their hearts for one another. The Lord moves mountains and I am praying that this one may be moved for you all:)

  • Oh Jenna, I have watched you struggle and anguish over this final decision to finally walk away from your mom and dad. I know it was very difficult but also know that you made the right decision. You have suffered enough and now you need to focus on your own beautiful family. And that is exactly what you are doing. I am so proud of you for riding yourself from the abuse and negativity once and for all. You're a strong woman and an awesome mama! Love you so much!

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