Heartbreak

What Having A Cheating Father Taught Me About Men

Photo: Boiarkina Marina / Shutterstock
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I was 15 when I not only learned my parents were getting a divorce  but also the reason why: my dad cheated.

 The relationship that was supposed to show me how love was supposed to look crumbled with one bad choice. 

My father was cheating for many years before my parents eventually got a divorce. The worst part was that even though my mom knew about the cheating, she was willing to stay with him. The first man to break my heart wasn’t my first love or even the first guy I had a crush on: it was my own father.

I was too young when the cheating and subsequent divorce happened to really let it affect my dating life and the men I chose, but my father's behavior affected me as I got older. My relationship with him will never be the same — and neither will my relationship with my mother. I had a father who left and a mother who wasn’t present.

My mother became a shell of herself after the divorce. She may have lost her husband but I needed a mother more than anything. 

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My father was hardly ever there and even when he was there, he wasn't fully present. My childhood was filled with an overbearing mother and an absent father. It was my mother who always did the cleaning and the cooking. She was the breadwinner of the family.

She did so much and still, it wasn’t enough for my father to stay.

I thought of the strong fathers I grew up with on television, the men who are good and kind and take on responsibilities and show up. I would go to my friends’ houses and see their father eat dinner with them and throw them in the air and catch them, laughing the whole time. 

My father was not one of those men.

The first thing I realized about men from my father was that you couldn’t expect them to be there for you. 

After my dad moved out, things were tumultuous. It was just me and my sister and the shell that was my mother.

I still saw him every other weekend. It wasn’t fair that his world — without us — seemed perfectly fine and my mother, who was left with us for the majority of the time, wasn’t.

He moved on quickly and had it easy. He moved into my grandparent's huge house and got to live rent-free while my mother had to work extra shifts to get by as a single mom with two daughters.

On top of that, it took him less than a year to start dating again and the women he chose to date were all in their twenties. None of the relationships lasted that long, but it was clear to see there was a pattern.

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My mother eventually pulled herself together and was able to get into long-term relationships; her current one is thankfully a happy one and it's lasted for four years.

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Now it’s my father who's the one struggling, proving that it was wiser for my mom to take the time to grieve and heal rather than jump from a new relationship to a new relationship like my dad did as a means of coping. 

I had my first boyfriend when I was 18. 

He had a better relationship with his father than I had with my own. My boyfriend helped me learn that I wasn’t incomplete because I didn’t have my dad around. There are so many different types of love out there, and they’re all equally important.

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Thankfully, I have strong male role models in my family. Both grandfathers on either side of the family adore my grandmothers, especially my mother's father, my Papa. He was always there with a gleam in his eye when I needed a laugh. He's also very devoted to my grandmother, always doing what she needs. He's always there for me when I just need a hug. So I'm aware that good men and good love exist.

My dad also taught me not to put men on pedestals and that if a man wants you, you'll know it. If a man cheats, it has nothing to do with how you look or act. It has everything to do with him and his own insecurities.

I learned to trust myself when it came to romantic relationships. I accepted that serial cheaters will do whatever they want to do, regardless of me If they were going to cheat, they were going to cheat and all could do was trust myself enough to leave.

I still believe in love and more than anything I want to be married someday, but now I’m able to tell what a bad marriage looks like. I’m the first one out the door in a bad relationship because I know when to leave.

Thankfully, what my father did to our family didn’t take away my capacity to love and in fact, my relationship with him today is much better than it used to be. While he wasn't there for me when I was a kid, he's at least trying to work on our relationship as adults. While he can't make up for lost time, he can at least be there now when I need support.

I will never know why my father did what he did.

I most definitely only have one side of the story — my mom's — but I witnessed the fall-out of my family firsthand.

My dad has never apologized and I doubt I'll be able to get an apology any time soon. There's too much hurt between us. I would have to do a lot of digging to truly discuss with him how I felt about what he did, and there's a part of me that wants to save myself from that hurt.

He clearly wasn't happy, and maybe knowing why won't bring the closure I need. So I'm going to sit on that question for a while: why?  

It’s a lot harder trying to move on when you get no explanation. There is nothing you can say or do to make someone you love stay — they’re going to do what they want.

That’s what my father taught me — people do what they want — and that lesson hurt like hell.

Isabel Steger is a writer focused on family, relationships and pop culture. 

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