I Was 13 and I Thought I’d Lost My Dad.

Christel Van Gelder Stories Leave a Comment

When I was 13 years old, my dad left for the summer holidays. And didn’t return. He left and made a new life in another country. A country that was close to his heart and where we had a holiday home.

At that time my parents had been divorced since forever. So I was used to my dad not being around every day. Yet when he left, my world fell apart. Because I thought I would never, ever see him again. And the worst part was he lied to me about leaving, simply by not telling me.

Now that I’m older and have lived a few stories myself, I understand the reason for him leaving. I also understand the reason for him omitting he was.

In retrospective it became obvious he had been planning his exit for a while. But he never imagined I would be one more hurdle to show up that very day he left.

It was my last day of school before summer break. And I decided to head straight to his home to show him my report card. Proud of my results in my first year in secondary school.

When I arrived, I found all the furniture gone or packed up. The apartment almost empty. He explained to me he had sold it and would move into a new one when he came back from his holidays. And he had to run as he had a few more meetings before leaving. He kissed me goodbye and told me we would see each other after the summer.

It never occurred to me that it was all a lie. Because he was not planning to come back. Only he couldn’t tell me.

When I realised the truth, it sunk in that I might never see him again. Ever. As a 13-year old, it was the end of the world for me. That summer was one of the most difficult of my life. Well, let’s say it’s in my top 3 of most painful summers.

I felt betrayed and angry. Deeply sad. Abandoned.

Martha Beck, in her book “finding Your Own North Star”, writes about the catalytic event. The event that turns your world upside down or even dissolves it. She mentions that there are three different catalytic events:

1. The External Sudden Negative Event aka Shock
2. The External Sudden Positive Event aka Opportunity
3. The Slow-Growing Internal event aka Transition

She also says the catalytic event forces you into a new identity, while leaving the old one behind.

My dad leaving that summer definitely falls under Shock department.

That summer I had to get used to the idea of most likely not ever seeing my dad again. And that loss forced me to become someone else. It also forced my mom to become someone else. For my mom it meant going back to work. For me it meant growing up fast, leaving the innocence of childhood behind. It meant realising I understood that people weren’t always that nice. But, on the other hand I also learned that there were people you could always count on.

Fortunately, I can tell you that about 8 months later good news arrived. I saw my dad again. And a new chapter began. One where I would start my travels to Portugal every school holiday to see him.

Another start over. From the girl at home to the girl that travelled a lot on her own.

Whenever we face a loss, a tough decision, a change of course – that so called catalytic event— we need to start over. We need to shed our old ways of being and have to invent new ones. We get a new identity.

At 13 I went from being a kid with a weekend dad to a kid without a dad. At least for an unforeseen time. And soon after I went from a kid without a dad to a kid that travelled 5 times a year on here own to another country. I was 14 by that time.

Every time I needed to adjust. To decide who I was becoming. Every time, I had to adapt. Leave the old behind and get on with the new.

This instance of starting over is one of many in my life. I share this to tell you that it’s always possible to start over. No matter how young or old we are. It’s always possible to start afresh, even though the change may seem like the end of the world. At first that event of change really feels like the works has ended. But if you let it, the ending is the beginning of something new. Of a new you. Of a new way of life.

Change is the only thing we are certain of in this life. Well, change and death, to be correct. And if you think about it, what else is change but a small death, followed by a rebirth.

So don’t be afraid when things end. Because this means you’ve got a chance for a new beginning. And who knows what kind of wonderful this new start may bring into your life?

If you are in the middle of a so-called catalytic event, whether it’s a change forced on you. Or whether you’re growing out of your old life and are starting the transition into a new one.
If you have recently experienced a big change and are getting ready. for the new you, but overwhelmed by it all, give me a call and we’ll talk.

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