It was on social media that 29-year-old Kayleigh first saw an advertisement for Look Me In The Eye, the groundbreaking new series on SBS that brings estranged family members and friends together in an effort to heal old wounds.
“I tagged my partner in the article on Facebook and said, ‘Hey, what do you reckon?’ and she knew straight away who I was thinking about,” Kayleigh tells SBS.
Kayleigh hadn’t seen her father Peter in 18 years and knew—after a little push from her partner, Jewel—that the program would be a good opportunity to try and reconnect.
The social experiment tests whether eye contact alone can mend a relationship, and as Kayleigh sat down to await her father’s arrival, she cycled through a series of emotions.
“It was nervousness and also the unknown, like 'does he care, does he love me?'," she recalls.
“I sat down in that chair and then when I looked up, all of a sudden he was there—and it was just happiness and sadness and anger and regret and everything all at the same time.
“You have this flash of your entire life and how much you’ve missed of this person, there’s a whole bundle of emotions in the one go.”
Looking into the eyes of Peter for the first time in nearly two decades, Kayleigh says it became immediately clear what her father was thinking during the cathartic exchange.
“The first emotion that I saw come across his face was regret,” she says.
“When you’re in that moment, because you’re not talking to them, you can literally read their thought process and what’s going on in their mind. I could see him looking at his fully grown daughter and then all of a sudden it was just happiness and you could see the love, without a question.”
"My heart was bursting with love for them both."
Although she’s been asked by many people if she was worried about what her father would think about her being in a same-sex relationship, Kayleigh says she knew it would not be an issue.
“Going off my childhood with him, he was always a very open guy so I was never concerned, I knew he would accept me as I am,” she tells SBS.
“He’s not a judgemental person in any way, shape or form. So I knew he would be very accepting of my sexuality.”
And it was extremely important to Kayleigh that her partner and her father meet.
“I’ve had very much a very full-on childhood and adulthood and went through a lot of issues growing up, so my relationship with Jewel has been built on trust and she’s the only partner that’s met every single member of my family.
“And because she’s from a very family oriented Filipino background, she’s been such a massive support through the entire process.”
Kayleigh says the moment that Jewel and Peter first met—which is shown in the program—she was “just so ridiculously happy”.
“It was such an emotional moment for me because here’s this person I love so dearly and now she’s getting to watch me build this relationship with my dad.
“My heart was bursting with love for them both in that moment, it was beautiful for me to see that first interaction.”
The father and daughter have been in contact since the taping of Look Me In The Eye and Kayleigh says she’s visiting Peter next month in Perth.
“I’m just going to spend time with him because I’ve actually got a half-brother who I also haven't seen in 18 years as well, and I’ll get to talk to my step-mum.
“So it’s all about a few days to see my dad and properly connect and talk about things and just really start to foster that relationship.
“It’s going to be very much dad and daughter time while I’m in Perth.”
The ground-breaking new six-part documentary series, Look Me In The Eye, continues on Wednesdays on SBS at 8.30pm. Each episode will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.