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Actress Lily Collins, of such films as Mirror Mirror and The Blind Side, has penned an open letter to her dad, musician Phil Collins, in her book Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me. In the incredibly personal letter she states: “I forgive you for not always being there when I needed and for not being the dad I expected.”
Lily is the only child from her dad’s second marriage to Jill Tavelman. When her parents divorced when she was 5, her mom moved to LA and Lily only saw her dad on holidays. While she clearly feels let down by her dad in the past, she is hopeful, writing: “I forgive the mistakes you made. And although it may seem like it’s too late, it’s not. There’s still so much time to move forward.”
There is something incredibly sad about having to publish any kind of open letter — inviting the world to witness your family discord. Though there is a part of me that feels relationship problems are best resolved behind closed doors, I can’t help but admire 27-year-old Collins’ bravery in admitting how she feels and wanting to move forward. It certainly touched a nerve with me, as I too have penned a heartbreaking letter to my father.
I was 19, in college, and finally felt “safe” enough to write a letter to Dad — one that I had long wished to write but needed the space to do so. Putting an ocean between us, having left Belfast in Northern Ireland to study journalism in London, I felt I was standing on my own two feet, had financial independence, and nothing to lose by telling him how I really felt.
Like Lily, my parents were divorced. My mom left my dad when she was (unknowingly) pregnant with me. By the time she discovered it, my dad suggested that she have an abortion (no easy task in Northern Ireland where it’s illegal). But my mom decided to have me, alone. My father finally met me when I was six weeks old and gradually began to play a part in my life as I grew up. My parents had several disastrous attempts at getting back together — which for a 6-year-old were terribly confusing times. During my early teenage years, my dad remarried and spent his weekends with his new wife, making little time for me — perhaps at the time I needed him most. I took this as rejection and spent most of my life trying to win over his approval.
So at 19, on one summer’s night when all my buddies were going to a club, I decided to stay back in my dorm to write a letter I felt bubbling up inside me. I told my dad how I felt about his years of neglect, but how I loved him, how I wanted us to somehow find a way through. He called me up the minute he received it and offered to fly me home. He then took me to dinner, and we began to build bridges. The letter opened up a new dialogue between us, and I was thrilled.
I wish I could say that was that, but I had reason to write my dad another letter after my children were born. He devoted all his time to his step-grandchildren, who lived around the corner from him — having them sleepover on weekends, attending all their sporting activities, taking them on trips, and endlessly talking about them. But he had yet to step on a plane for a mere 50 minutes and travel to England to see his blood-related grandchildren.
He’d met them sure, when we flew home to Ireland, but despite me living in London for 22 years, he had never once visited. To say I was bitter and resentful was an understatement. The final straw was when he phoned me up to ask for my middle name, for a change to his will. He had no idea. His lack of interest in my kids made my blood boil and the more I thought about my own upbringing, the more sure I was that my children would NOT have the same. People who loved them were either IN their lives, or OUT. I wasn’t prepared to have his half-assed attempts at being a grandparent, when he was so devoted to his other grandkids. I told him to choose — either make an effort or stay away for good.
I meant it — I was ready to walk away from any relationship with him whatsoever, to protect my kids. I refused to have them as disappointed as I had been in him. The only way to get my point across, without him hanging up the phone, was to write a letter. Maybe this sounds cruel, but for me it was self-preservation. The result? He booked a flight for the following month and finally saw my son play football, took my daughter to the park, and ate dinner at my table.
My relationship with my father will always have its ups and downs, but like Lily, I need to move forward. As she says, “We all make choices and, although I don’t excuse some of yours, at the end of the day we can’t rewrite the past.”
The beauty of writing a letter is that we are not interrupted in our flow of thought. We get to give our viewpoint without everything escalating into an argument. The recipient can take their time to respond after absorbing the whole story. As someone who is more eloquent in my writing than speech, I think letters are one of the best forms of communication. Maybe there is someone you need to write a letter to — someone from your past who you wronged, or who let you down. If so, pick up that pen, write it.
As Lily has proven, it’s never too late.More On