• How can a divorce effect the once-strong relationship between a father and daughter? (Getty / Purestock)
Is it possible to fix an adult father-daughter relationship after it's been completely turned on its head after divorce?
By
Jo Hartley

4 Sep 2017 - 11:04 AM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2017 - 12:58 PM

My parents split when I was 23 years old and it shattered my world. My metaphorical security blanket was taken away and my belief and faith in marriage tested.

There were many negative consequences of the divorce. One of the most difficult for me was how it impacted my relationship with my dad.

Growing up I was daddy’s girl. From a young age, I’d wake at the crack of dawn to see him off to work. He’d make me Marmite toast and a cup of tea and he’d wave his hand from the window of the car for as far as the eye could see. 

My dad was my superhero. He was strong and reliable and protected me from all that was bad. However, the divorce proved to be his kryptonite. 

I’d peek from the curtains late at night, awaiting his return. A goodnight kiss from him was an antidote to any nastiness or any crappy day.

My dad was my superhero. He was strong and reliable and protected me from all that was bad. However, the divorce proved to be his kryptonite.

Without his lifelong partner by his side, his super powers waned. Our roles were reversed and I was left to put on his cape.

Over the years our relationship has faced many hurdles. Initially, my sole purpose was to keep him sane, a battle I fought with both tears and frustration. His inability to accept the divorce and my raw way of handling it was confronting for us both. 

The cracks in our relationship started to increase as his mental health started to decline.

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Being old fashioned, dad never sought the professional help he so needed. Medication was for the weak and speaking to a counsellor a waste of money. He experienced a mental breakdown and subsequent psychosis. It also affected my own mental health.

Dad’s subsequent marriage a few years later further widened our divide. Dad sprung back up from the depths of despair to the dizzying heights of happy overnight. This adjustment was hard and I didn’t believe that this was true love.  

To me, dad had simply grabbed a passing life raft to avoid inevitably drowning in his own loneliness.

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I didn’t attend dad’s wedding for fear of being fake. There wouldn’t have been enough wine to alleviate the churning in my stomach or dampen my pessimism. His new wife was so different to mum and it all felt too forced.

Over the 10 years since, our relationship has been a rollercoaster ride. There’ve been times when we’ve been on track and kept a steady and consistent pace. But other times we’ve slowly climbed up the highs, only to tip over the edge and come crashing down at breakneck speeds. 

I didn’t attend dad’s wedding for fear of being fake. 

Our most recent contact came after almost two years of radio silence following a massive fall out. For a long while it felt too hard to overcome. But, time is a great healer and grandchildren don’t freeze in time.

Initially, the conversation over Facetime was stilted and awkward. The white elephant in the room threatened to suffocate us both. But, rather than rehashing the past, we’re concentrating on the future. 

Slowly and surely contact is becoming both easier and more regular.

We’re both guilty of causing pain and hurt and we’re both guilty of slinging mud, some of which has stuck. When dad looks at me it’s a reminder of my mum. When I look at dad I see a person I don’t always know.

The white elephant in the room threatened to suffocate us both. But, rather than rehashing the past, we’re concentrating on the future.

Our relationship has changed. I try to think of the challenges as water under the bridge, although I often fear the tide may rise and that very same water overflow. 

It’s sad to think of the wasted years and it’s sad to realise that no relationship is invincible, no matter the superheroes involved.

I’m skeptical that things between us will ever be as they once were. But perhaps the gap will at least decrease and the cracks can be filled. The reality is we have to rebuild from the foundations up and, as the much used adage goes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. 

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. 

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