“Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another” – Emma Goldman

Roughly five minutes ago I sealed the envelope encasing what I’m hoping is the last handwritten letter to my father. Handwritten letters seems like an alien concept to most people my age; in fact, I highly doubt 90% of my peers have actually written a letter to someone. Why would they? What with phones and emails and Skype, there really is little need to still communicate through written words.

I, however, have not really had a choice in evading it. When I was 14 I made the decision to write a letter to a dad I never knew; a man whom I didn’t know the voice of or even the face of. A man who hasn’t seen me since I was two years old and even during those two years we lived together, a man who could not and never will be able to understand what it means to be paternal and to show love and affection to a tiny human he gave half his DNA to. In fact, the notion of care is something that escaped this man so much that he couldn’t possibly know how to be a father to his own children. Naturally, when a child is rejected by a parent or doesn’t have access to them, curiosity ensues and the need to know this person in order to get questions answered and all that pent up anger and animosity out overwhelms you. Mine happened when I was a hormonal and very bitter 14 year old girl. I had never written a letter before and didn’t expect to have to ever again. I naively thought he would give me a call and we could build a relationship.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen like that. My dad didn’t respond very quickly and when he did it was half-arsed and if anything made me more pissed off and bitter than I was before. I didn’t respond to his letter.

I didn’t hear from the chap until I was 16. He sent me a very vague message about how he was due at court and how it wasn’t his fault and it was self-defence and how he thought I should hear it from him before I heard it through rumours. (He didn’t kill anyone by the way, I realise it sounds that way but he didn’t take a life). I didn’t have a chance to respond until he was let out on bail before sentencing when he had access to the internet. I then learned his charges and how much time he was facing. I was stunned at how vile he had been to another human being in order to land him in this situation.

But by this point, I was 16, over my anger and ready to give him a chance. Not many people thought he deserved one, but I had questions that I needed answers to. I gave him my address as it was very clear he would be imprisoned upon sentencing, and when he was settled into his cosy new crib at HMP Peterborough, he wrote me.

Slowly but surely I started to get to know my father by letters to prison. I would receive two a month, and I would send two a month. I told him about my week and he told me about his. He started studying an art programme to try and pass the time at the same time as gaining new qualifications. He sent me pictures of his artwork and I was taken aback at what a talent he has with a pencil. He asked for pictures of me so he could see what I look like, so I sent a picture of myself with one of my letters. He told me he stuck it on his cell wall.

After a year I wanted to go and meet him finally, but before I got a chance to he got transferred to a different prison – a lower category prison – in Suffolk. I never asked him the questions I had and still do have because I want those answered in person.

It’s been two and a half years of hanging on to those questions, two and a half years of saving each letter, two and a half years of paying an extortionate amount for postage stamps, but now he’s due for release if all goes well.

Before he gets released I want to travel down to Suffolk to meet him as I would feel safer in a controlled environment. After all, writing letters doesn’t mean I know the man properly, nor does it mean I trust him one bit. What it does mean though is that I have the humanity in me to at least try to understand this man. Even though we are nothing alike (except for the eyebrows, we have the same beefy eyebrows), 50% of my genes come from this man and I would like to have some sort of relationship with him.

What must be made clear is that I do not think he is a nice man – in fact far from it. I am not stupid. I know he cannot be trusted and I know he fully deserves what has happened to him. But I also know that I deserve to have my questions answered. I’ve waited 18 years for him to acknowledge that I actually exist, and whilst he’s willing to talk, I’m willing to listen.

Plus, I didn’t spend all that time writing those letters and I didn’t spend all that money on stamps for no reason.

People can be really shitty and can make you question whether you deserve to be loved (I mean, if your own dad can’t love you, who will?). But even though they do bad things, it doesn’t make them evil. It doesn’t mean anyone has a right to tell you what to do if they’ve never been in your state of mind or in your situation. It just means that you have to grow up, get out of your angry and bitter state, be an adult and put it behind you to get your answers and to forgive. He understands I’m upset, and I understand he’s a bit messed up. But we can work together to forge a relationship, even if it is just as friends rather than as father and daughter.

To hate someone takes far too much effort and time after all.


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