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I Thought My Dad Didn't Like Me
Naomi Nicole Hopkins
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When I was younger, I didn’t pay much attention to the relationship I had with my parents. I just knew that they were there and they loved me.

Then, when I was about 14, I began to notice my dad and my little sister, who was 9, having more fun together than he and I did. I started to envy the bond they shared.

Almost every night they’d share ice cream. I felt left out of this ritual, even though I’m lactose intolerant and would’ve gotten sick if I’d eaten the ice cream. But rather than assuming my father and sister were just looking out for my tummy, I figured they didn’t want me around.

It made me feel uncomfortable that my sister had that bond and I didn’t. Before, I’d thought that my relationship with my father was fine. I wasn’t as close to him as I was with my mother and we didn’t have any personal jokes, but it didn’t bother me.

Then I started seeing his relationship with my sister blossoming into friendship. “Why doesn’t he act like that with me?” I wondered. I started thinking, “Maybe he doesn’t like me.”

Most of the things my father and my sister bonded over, and the jokes they shared, took place when I was at work or stayed late at school for meetings.

I was becoming more responsible and busy outside the house, so I wasn’t around my family as much as I used to be. I liked working, volunteering, and taking part in school activities. My parents respected my independence and began to let me go a little.

But not being home as much meant less time for bonding and more opportunities for miscommunication. When my father reprimanded me for something like not cleaning my room, whether I felt I deserved it or not, it further convinced me that he didn’t like me.

At dinner we’d all talk about our day’s events. My family thought my stories were too long and boring. When I’d start talking, my mother would tell me that I should just get to the point, and that the color of my socks had nothing to do with what time I got to school that morning, or that I should just write a book.

My father would say that I should save it for later. But later very rarely came. I felt like he wasn’t interested in my life.

Telling Mom My Fears

Some nights I’d come in the house after being away all day, and I wouldn’t be ready to wash dishes or clean something right away. My mother would let me slide, but my father would make me do it. It seemed that my father was picking on me, which just fed my belief that he didn’t like me.

A couple of months before my 17th birthday, I told my mom that I felt my dad didn’t like me. She told me that my imagination was running away with me, and insisted that I talk with him and clear things up.

Later that evening, I was with my mother in their room. Usually when my dad comes home from work on Friday nights and I’m in my parents’ room, he kicks me out. This time, however, before he could say “Out,” my mother told him that I had something to say to him.

But I couldn’t say anything. I was overwhelmed with emotion and began crying. I couldn’t stop crying long enough to speak, so my mother did most of the speaking for me. She told him that I felt he didn’t like me and that I needed to clear the air.

I was sniffling and hyperventilating so much it took me a while to get my feelings out.

image by Elizabeth Deegan

I Saw He Cared

At first he wasn’t looking directly at me, nor was I looking at him. My eyes were roaming about the room. Then he started looking into my face, and my mother told me to look at him. When we started making eye contact, it became harder for me to speak, so I had to stop and breathe.

I told him how upset I was because of his lack of interest in me and all the fun he was having with my sister. My dad usually keeps a plain face, which makes it hard to read his emotions. That night his look was very intense and his eyebrows were wrinkled, so I knew he was really taking in what I was saying.

“I didn’t realize you felt that way and for so long,” he said. “I never meant to make you feel that way.”

This showed me he cared and I began to feel bad for thinking that he didn’t like me. I believe he was hurt that I felt that way.

To make me feel even worse, my little sister was listening to everything, misunderstood the situation and thought it was her fault. She began to cry, then hugged me and told me she was sorry.

I Missed My Family

I felt stupid then. I was so busy being jealous and resentful I didn’t see that those two people love me more than they can express. I realized that when my dad got mad at me, it wasn’t because he didn’t like me. He just wanted me to demonstrate more responsibility because he saw I was becoming a young woman.

I felt much better when that night was over, knowing that my thoughts were incorrect and were powered by jealousy and a sense of being left out.

That’s when I realized that I missed my family life and had to make a change. I’d continue to work and have a life outside of my family, but I’d make my family more of a priority.

I decided to find things that I could share with my father. I started giving things a chance that I’d once laughed at him about, like his old-fashioned music. When I was younger, I hated how he’d play old blues and jazz. Although I never really listened to it, I thought it was weird. Now, though, I’ve come to appreciate the older artists.

I know that my dad likes some recent artists as well, because too often I’ve found my CDs with his collection as though they belong there. Every now and then, if I buy something I think he’ll like, I’ll tell him to listen to it, especially if it samples an older song.

I never knew how much we had in common. I notice smaller things now, like how we both like to go barefoot and that we have the same nervous habit of using our thumbs to rub our knuckles. He also shares my taste in clothes, and he’s one of the only people who can buy jewelry for me. I even share his jokes, especially the ones about my mother.

And instead of stories about my friends, I try talking with him about his interests, like sports, music, and my driving. I write him a poem or ask him to read something I wrote, because he likes to read my writing. Also, every now and then, I bring home ice cream for him and my sister.

We Share Jokes Now

The more time I spend with him the more respect I gain for my father, and I see what a humorous and delightful person he is. My experience made me realize I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my father for anything. Getting things out in the open made a big difference. I feel much closer to him now.

He now listens to my stories, though they aren’t as long as they used to be. And a few weeks ago, he even told my little sister to save me some ice cream.

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(NYC-2001-04-05)

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