My head

A new chance for love in a new generation

April 2, 2015
Dad and I on a road trip in New Zealand in 2005

Dad and I on a road trip in New Zealand in 2005

My father is a great guy, but truth is he was not a very great dad.

He wasn’t mean, or abusive. He didn’t belittle me or run me down, he just wasn’t there.

He was physically present for the first eight or so years. He worked a lot, but that’s what fathers do. He was a bit of a ‘children should be seen and not heard’ kind of dad, but that’s how he was raised too. After a few false finishes my parents’ marriage ended and he moved onto his little yacht.

He had always had an affinity with the ocean, and his boat became his bachelor pad. For a time he lived in the local marina where my brother and I spent weekends exploring the break wall and hunting crabs.

But what’s the point of a yacht that is shackled to land? My father decided to head to Queensland for a more tropical existence. I would like to say the day he left is etched into my memory but it’s not. I don’t remember it at all.

For the first few years we would spend a week or two a year on the boat during our school holidays, but when a yacht race took him to other lands he decided he would just keep sailing.

I imagined life at sea as a glamorous life of crisp white shirts, leather-laced boat shoes and Caribbean palms, much like a cigarette ad from the ‘80s, but in reality it’s an isolated existence punctuated by sunrises. Although I don’t doubt his Caribbean years were fun and the entire circumnavigation was one hell of an adventure, I think my father was running away.

Very few phone calls over the years, even fewer letters and cards. I thought he was running away from us, but now I think he was running away from him.

His life as a hotelier created habits hard to break. He was the perfect host, always ready to share a drink with his guests, up early and home late, too many social drinks in between.

My parents were so young when they met, but in the end they were like strangers. They didn’t fight, they just couldn’t be together any longer. I recall only one conversation where I saw a tear sliding down my mother’s cheek and that was the end. Then he was gone.

The most notable absence was between 13 and 18; when a teenage girl could do with a strong male influence in her life. Typically your Dad is the guy who teaches you about healthy relationships with men, and about your self worth.

I’m not sure why mums aren’t the ones to do this, and my mum tried but years of eating disorders and terrible relationships always led psychologists to conclude that my flawed behavior came down to my lack of relationship with my father. I never bought it then, but now? Maybe a little.

When I was 18 I went to stay with my father after years in absentia. I flew to Maine and we sailed up to Nova Scotia. The pines and wilds were the perfect place for our reunion. I planned to have it out with him but I didn’t, I wanted his approval. I wanted him to like me.

I wanted him to love me.

I don’t remember him ever saying the words. It wasn’t his way. Sent to boarding school at seven by a stiff-upper-lip British family words like ‘love’ and ‘cherish’ did not easily slip from his tongue.

Over the next few years we spoke more. He got lung cancer when I was 22 and he, and his then wife, moved off the boat and stayed in the last place they landed; New Zealand. During that time I ground him down with a mortar and pestle made of love. At the end of a phone conversation with a pounding heart I would clearly say –

“I love you, Dad.”

The first few times he said “Ok.”

Eventually, he said “You too.”

These days he will say all three words and he has become a rock in my life, especially through the recent demise of my own marriage. These days my once crappy father is a wonderful, loving and present grandfather.

A few months ago I heard him tell my son that he loved him and it pulled something deep inside my chest. I could have been sad for the girl who longed to hear it, but I was happy that such a change had occurred and the words flowed effortlessly from his lips.

I walked behind them, watching my son slip his smooth hand into my Dad’s weathered mitt and together they walked just chatting, and I understood then that this relationship with his grandchildren is an opportunity for our family to tell a new story, and write a new history.

This is an opportunity for a new generation of love.

grandparents and grandchildren

Alice Springs, 2014

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  • Reply Joanna April 2, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Tears flowing into my cereal, Danielle. Beautifully written. xx

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Thank you. Hope you like soggy cereal. X

  • Reply raphaela April 2, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Bless you all. xxx

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      I’ll take that blessing. Thank you.

  • Reply [email protected] April 2, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story with us, this was beautiful to read. Can definitely relate to the distant relationship, it’s similar to the one I had with my dad growing up. I’m so glad you’ve been able to grow close to him and he sounds like a brilliant grandfather for your kids.

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Yep, we’re lucky to have him.

  • Reply Aroha @ Colours of Sunset April 2, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Weeks before my dad had a massive heart attack and died, he said to me, “I know I wasn’t a good dad, but I’m going to be a GREAT granddad.” And he was. For 18 months. He only met 1 of his 4 grand children, and my son was 18 months old when he died. It was a small redemption I suppose, but I wish he was here to be surrounded by his grandkids, and to be taking my son to golf with him. He’d have been SO excited and proud to show of his grandson playing golf. Enjoy every moment and this new generation of love and togetherness. It doesn’t change what happened, but it can make up for it. xo

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Oh, Aroha, he so would have I’m sure. That just made my heart pang and swell simultaneously.

  • Reply Louisa April 2, 2015 at 8:37 am

    So beautiful D, I’m so happy you all have this second chance at love, and family. x

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Thanks LC x

  • Reply Sonia from Sonia Styling April 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

    There is so much I could say about this topic, but I just don’t know where to start… You have a magical way with words and a heart of gold, my friend. Adore you. x

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      You dear sweet darling lady. Thank you. X

  • Reply Gillian at Champagne Cartel April 2, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Beautifully written post Dan. I absolutely loved reading that. I didn’t want it to end. Thank you! xxx

    • Reply Danielle April 2, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks Gilly.

  • Reply Nicole- Champagne and Chips April 11, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    What a beautiful thing that you didn’t let your anger prevent the relationship from evolving to what it has become. This is exqusite.
    My dad’s heart attack allowed the “I love you” words to escape. I’m just really grateful that he recovered well and we got the chance to continue using them.

    • Reply Danielle April 13, 2015 at 12:26 pm

      I just saw this. My blog has stopped sending me emails when I get a comment and I’m so glad I didn’t miss this altogether. How epic, Nicole. It was when he was at his most vulnerable that he realised…. love that.

  • Reply Megan April 14, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    This is so beautifully written. I had a similar experience with my absent mother that really only became an involved relationship when I had kids. She wasn’t a great mother but she’s an engaged grandmother and that means more to me as I get older. And staying angry with her would have meant I wouldn’t have seen her with my kids or become friends at last.

    • Reply Danielle April 15, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      It’s so true. She has had her own journey and she knows too, I’m sure. I love that she’s now engaged with your kids. It’s a lovely relationship to observe isn’t it?

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