When the answer to one question raises even more.
I’ve never had a real relationship with my father. My parents had broken up before I was even born, but my mum still insisted on keeping him on the outskirts of my life. I grew up in the quiet streets of Greymouth and roughly every year my mum would pack me into the car and we’d make the seven hour drive to Queenstown to visit him.
The trips were infrequent enough that we never became anything but strangers but I was still constantly reminded that he didn’t love me enough to even try to form a solid relationship with me. I have to give credit to my mum; she tried, she really did but she couldn’t turn my dad into the father figure she needed him to be for me. When I turned five-years-old, we suddenly stopped making the trip and he just disappeared completely from my life.
After that, my father became just a distant memory in my life. Something I didn’t necessarily miss, but would pop up in the back of my mind reminding me: “Oh yeah, I should have a dad, right?”
Of course, over the years I would ask my mum where he was and every time she would say he was in Australia. I never thought to push the subject more after that and I would imagine scenarios of what he could possibly be doing there, none of them were anywhere close to the truth.
Unfortunately, even though we’ve never had anything resembling a normal father-son relationship I still couldn’t stop myself from wondering about him specifically. I found myself wondering, why didn’t he love me? It wasn’t often but sometimes I’d just find myself full of questions.
As a 13-year-old in 2005, I decided to use something I’d heard would give me all the answers I was looking for: the internet. I loaded up the search engine Ask Jeeves, a tool I’d used every now and then that featured an English butler who would go and grab the answer to any question you had.
I wasn’t even nervous as I typed my father’s name and waited for Jeeves to retrieve the answer. I was more determined than anything. After a few minutes of waiting, the first result popped up and it was as if a giant weight had dropped into my stomach. It made absolute sense and no sense at the same time - my father was in jail.
To my mother’s credit, he was in a prison in Australia, so she hadn’t directly lied to me but I knew she had withheld serious information.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even question it when I saw it. My father has a pretty unique name and from the memories I had of him I knew he lived a lifestyle that would lead him in that direction, so I didn’t for a moment think that it wasn’t my father.
I wish I could tell you that was the end of it, that I was satisfied with what I’d learnt and I moved on. Unfortunately, that was pretty far from the truth. Sure, it answered all the questions I’d had but also just created more. I turned my anger and frustration towards my mum; she was the one who’d lied to me all those years.
I did the first thing I’d thought of to really hurt her. I went and unplugged the internet router. I will admit I felt a small sense of satisfaction after doing it and then I packed my bag and ran away to the local youth group meeting at the church.
There wasn’t a lot of things for kids to do in Greymouth but youth group was one of them. I hung around there for a while just stewing in my anger, trying to make sense of what I’d just discovered.
I was furious at my mum. I wasn’t a kid anymore, why hadn’t she told me? All these years, lying to my face. I started to wonder what he’d done to get there in the first place. I’d never clicked on the link so I didn’t know any of his charges. I started to think of the possibilities and got a sick feeling in my stomach, what if he’d done something really bad? What if I was related to a serial killer?
The more my mind raced the quicker my anger with my mum began to subside. Eventually, I found myself not really angry with her at all; I wanted to find out more.
I made my way back home imagining my mum wracked with worry. Of course, in reality my “running away” had only lasted around six hours and it was still very much light outside. Mum was more confused than anything.
I confronted her as soon as I got home and she immediately apologised, but then she explained why.
It felt like the first time she was talking to me as if I wasn’t just her son. She talked about wanting to protect me and keep me happy. How at first she was shocked to hear the news herself and suddenly she was faced with the choice to tell me or not. Ultimately, she thought she was just doing her job as a parent.
I started to understand then and over the years I’ve grown to understand completely - none of this was my mum’s fault after all.
My father got released from prison and sent home to New Zealand in 2011. I remember asking him about what had happened. He dove straight into the story of how he’d been charged with tax fraud, he wasn’t really a criminal at all. He had moved to Australia and needed to make money, it was the new age of the internet and he realised it was something he could make money off. He began to buy and sell internet domain names, which in itself was not a crime until he tried to claim $1.5 billion in tax back from the Australian government.
The older I get the more I realise that I have to take what he says with a grain of salt. A lot of it doesn’t really add up and to this day I have no idea if that’s the real reason he was in prison or not.
I still don’t have a real relationship with my father. There was no moment of understanding, no apology, no big revelation. It wasn’t like the movies at all; he didn’t come home and sweep me up in his arms and explain everything away like I’d hoped.
I really did try to keep him in my life until he once again showed his true colours and I made the decision to cut him off forever. It’s unfortunate when people don’t reach the ideals we make up for them in our heads, but I’m just glad I realised being my father doesn’t make him my dad.
We haven’t talked in years now, I believe he’s still in New Zealand living off the disability benefit. I have no idea in what way he’s disabled or if he even is at all, part of me I guess will always think the worst of him now. It’s funny looking back on how much weight I put on having a father; our society is so caught up in boys having male role models that I always felt something missing in my life.
Sometimes I wish I could travel back in time and tell my younger self to just forget about him, to accept that I will never have the father that I so badly wanted, he’s not worth the trouble and definitely not worth having in my life.
Part of me also knows that I had to know the truth about him, or else I’d never be satisfied with who I was. It’s human nature to want to know our parents, because it helps us to better understand ourselves, but I know now that in my case my father only serves the purpose of showing me what mistakes not to make.
* As told to Devon Bolger. Source wishes to remain anonymous. Story edited for clarity and brevity.