As the song by The Temptations goes, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Though I was raised as an only child, I’m pretty open about the fact that I have older half-siblings. My siblings were born before my parents ever met. There is a big age gap between me and my siblings — my oldest brother is old enough to be my father. Our upbringings were very different — my dad has always been in and out of their lives, while I certainly have the most “traditional” relationship with him. As I get older, I’m painfully aware of how lucky I was to have grown up with that kind of relationship. And though they’ve never made me feel bad about it, I have survivor’s guilt.
Even though my half siblings treat me incredibly well, sometimes I worry that secretly they’re resentful. Not because they have any negative feelings about me, but because I have that ideal father/child relationship with our dad. I’m the only child of his that he lived with for the duration of my childhood. By the time I came around, our dad was in his 40s, more willing to settle down. He did all the typical dad things with me: tried to teach me to ride a bike, play catch, even attended the odd tea party. He rarely missed a school play or award ceremony. For the most part, he was and is very present in my life.
This isn’t the case for my half-siblings. His presence in their lives has been inconsistent at best. It’s safe to say none of them are going to buy him a “World’s Best Dad” mug. And they certainly have their reasons to be angry with him; he’s not a bad dad, but he often put himself first. Sometimes that meant that they didn’t see him for long periods of time. But when he was present, he was all in. He tried to do anything he could to make sure they knew he cared. I think they know, but it doesn’t always make up for him not being physically present. Yes, it’s great that he helped my brother get into college. However, that doesn’t necessarily make up for the things he missed.
Sometimes it’s the little things that really matter for us kids. Our dad was good at the grand gestures, but I think my siblings wanted more of the quiet ones. Having a family dinner every night is more important than a few days of rip-roaring fun. Dropping your kids off at school once or twice a week means more than taking them to meet Michael Jordan. And that’s the thing I can’t forget: I got the small gestures like nightly dinners and help with my yearly science fair project, all things I took for granted as a kid. Those are the parts of our relationship I cherish most. And I know my half siblings rarely got those.
I’m aware that while our dad will do whatever he can for any of us, he treats me differently than my half siblings. He’ll go out of his way to make sure I have everything I need. I think he sees me, even now as an adult, as his last chance to be a good dad. I know deep down how much my siblings would have loved to have this same kind of relationship with him.
Even though they have issues with our dad, my half-siblings have never taken them out on me. My oldest brother has bailed me out many times over the years. Whenever I need help, I know he will do whatever he can for me. Both of my sisters have always gone out of their way to be there for me too, whether it was taking me out for a girls’ dinner before I left for college or for annual trips to the apple orchard in the fall. Even now that I live far away, they’re still there for me. I’m feel lucky that they’re all so supportive of me — that’s not always the case for siblings, especially not siblings who didn’t grow up together.
I hear stories of people who actively hate their half-siblings for ruining their lives. It always scares me that my siblings feel that way, even though they’ve never indicated that. None of them have ever sat with me and had an honest conversation about our dad. I think part of me doesn’t want to hear that they do resent me, though I would bet much of their ire is with him. I’m the innocent bystander in this whole thing, but being an innocent party doesn’t erase my feelings of guilt.
In actuality, the love my half-siblings show me makes me even more aware of those feelings. There are so many things they haven’t shared with our dad. Even though I have nothing to do with it, I can’t help but feel bad. We’ve never talked about it, but I know they wouldn’t blame me for having the relationship they always wanted with him. Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m the one who somehow survived. It’s a weird feeling to reconcile with.
I’m glad I got to grow up with our dad all the time, but it’s hard to be the last one. I hope my siblings forgive him. And maybe one day, I’ll be able to make peace with the thing I had no control over.
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