I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open. My father was recovering from a second stroke and I had barely slept in the past week. I offered to visit him in his home in Florida, 1,500 miles away.
“You’ll have to stay in a hotel, at your own cost. You know that, right?”, he said. “Ivona doesn’t want you staying here.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and was losing oxygen. I was offering to fly down to help him!
“And you are OK with this?” I asked my father. “Yes, absolutely,” he replied. “She is my wife.”
My heart sank even further.
I first met my father’s second wife, Ivona, in the backyard of the home I grew up in. She wore a tight short skirt that proudly displayed her pasty legs standing on wide feet shoved inside stiletto sandals that were two sizes too small. She had a peculiar way of dressing for a woman in her late fifties.
Her paper-thin lips were lined with deep wrinkles and her skin was paler than snow without the natural ivory that could have made it beautiful. She was no beauty. What could my father see in her?
The years had not been kind to Ivona so she was not kind to anyone. Unable to contain her anger at life, she lashed out at the most vulnerable people she found — her husband’s children.
When we first met, she told me although she was not educated, she was smarter than doctors and lawyers. She praised herself further, making it clear that she believed she was a very smart and accomplished woman. My father watched in awe as she sang her own praises, licking her stubby fingers as she reached for fried chicken.
Ivona’s reputation was even more treacherous than her looks.
She had worked as a receptionist at a telemarketing firm for a few months until her boss had to terminate her employment. Ivona had stalked a number of men, single and married, showing up at their houses unannounced in a desperate attempt to seduce them. Ivona was unable to accept their rejection with dignity. Occasionally, police had to get involved and she was the subject of multiple restraining orders.
Shortly after her stint as a receptionist, Ivona worked as a junior secretary. When asked about her career, Ivona retorted that she could have been the CEO of the company.
At the start of their relationship, Ivona encouraged my father to seek custody of only one of his three children: my sister.
Exceptionally, she invited us all for dinner. “Some kids are easier to parent,” she explained, smiling from ear to ear. My sister fought back tears, while my brother looked away.
Ivona pranced around the room, squealing with delight, her heavy thighs rubbing together with excitement, as she informed me and my brother that we were unwanted. Ivona laughed harder as she looked to my father for approval. He nodded, smiling as well.
“And no more child support!” she stated triumphantly, crossing her pale thick arms, the skin on her forearms drooping.
My sister and brother ran out, their pain palpable. I stayed, determined to confront her.
“Why would you say something like that?” I asked.
“Listen to me. You don’t deserve child support,” Ivona laughed, not even trying to conceal her excitement. “I earned $30,000 a year and raised my daughters alone. Why would you get anything more?” My father watched Ivona in awe. I was dumbstruck by my father’s passivity.
Ivona ensured there were no photos of my father’s children in the house. I watched her squeal with delight as she ripped any photos of my father and his children off the wall, erasing his past life. Ivona made it clear that I was not welcome in her life or in my father’s.
On a few occasions, I naïvely initiated contact with my father, attempting to latch onto a relationship.
“Tell her you have a problem with her,” Ivona hissed at my father, struggling to contain her lisp. “You are not to contact me again, Emerald!” he roared, as Ivona rubbed her hands together in excitement. He turned to Ivona, seeking her approval.
Egged on by Ivona, he continued: “You should be ashamed of yourself for being so ungrateful and unpleasant.” I asked what I had done. My father looked at Ivona for answers.
“I don’t feel comfortable in her presence. She just irks me,” Ivona responded. He didn’t dispute it. He agreed and I was warned to not visit again. Ivona made sure my father told me exactly how much she hated me.
Ivona excluded me and my siblings from any and all birthday celebrations for my father, opting instead to invite solely her own family. I had confronted my father. Angrily, he told me I should have known better than to expect to be invited because of Ivona’s hatred towards me. My father then didn’t speak to me for months because of my alleged audacity to have asked about his birthday party.
Ivona instructed my father to not attend my graduation from college. Ivona wasn’t comfortable attending so he should not go either, he explained. He could not attend without Ivona because that would be disrespectful to Ivona. She deserved the highest praise and the most respect. I couldn’t wrap my head around his painful reasoning. What about disrespecting his own daughter?
For many years, my father and I had no contact.
There were no birthday wishes from him. He ignored the wishes I sent. He missed all my life milestones: Meeting boyfriends, friends, graduation ceremonies. My heart bled when I thought of my father, alive, but not around.
To add insult to injury, he went out of his way to be supportive and present for Ivona’s daughters, who were 10 years older than us. He constantly bought them gifts and participated in all their milestones, as minuscule as they may be. He was a wonderful stepfather but a selfish and absent father. I used to spend hours wondering what it was that they had done right, and what I had done wrong.
When it was no longer beneficial for her and my father to ignore us, Ivona changed her strategy.
She began to tell my father that I was attempting to extort him financially. Ivona said I was trying to take his money which Ivona was entitled to. Scarily, he agreed with her. Ivona was a housewife, while I worked full-time, supporting myself.
He sometimes called me, screaming at me and saying I had upset Ivona. “What have I done?” I asked, exasperated, as I shook my head in disbelief. I heard giggling in the background.
“You’re going to pay for what you have done!” he barked, drowning out the laughter in the background. “You really upset Ivona,” he screamed again, “you disrespected her.” I hadn’t had contact with Ivona for years. Subsequent communications with my father focused on how I had upset Ivona.
Very rarely, my father displayed an act of kindness, perhaps a nice text message or a link to an article he thought I would enjoy. I cherished those random acts. They were a flicker of hope that instead of blame and rejection, perhaps I would receive acceptance. These acts were short-lived and calculated, likely intended to pull me back into the web of abuse orchestrated by Ivona.
When I went to visit my father in the hospital, after his first stroke, he screamed at me, refusing to see my husband and child. He was angry that I had not notified Ivona of my visit in advance.
In the hall, after my father was pushed out in a wheelchair, unable to walk unassisted, Ivona marched towards me in the hospital: “Are you afraid I’ll get your inheritance?” she taunted, her toes struggling to break free of a too-tight flip-flop shoe with a heel.
“I demand that you send me a detailed account explaining why you did not tell her about your visit,” my father called me again angrily. “I want to share it with Ivona so we can hear your side,” he screamed. I heard familiar giggling in the background.
I spoke to a wise friend, who told me: Your father wants an email from you to show his wife so she will hate you even more. You cannot trust your own father.
He appeased Ivona. Screaming at his children and cutting ties, my father did whatever it took to make her happy.
After my father’s fits of anger at my expense, my heart felt heavy, my eyes welled up and there was no way for me to stop my spiraling thoughts. Why was she so angry? Most of all, why did my father participate in these verbal attacks against me? Couldn’t my father see she only wanted his money? Couldn’t he see she wanted to isolate him from his family, those who truly loved him? Why wouldn’t he listen to me?
The pain was so unbearable that I had no choice but to cut ties. I ignored his calls.
A few days after I cut ties, I received a call from my mother-in-law. Ivona and my father had invited her to dinner.
My mother-in-law, who had met them once prior, offered to coordinate with me. They flat-out refused — they wanted to meet her alone. Having no idea of my background with him and Ivona (I didn’t discuss it), she met with them, intrigued. They spent the meal discussing how wonderful they were and how terrible I was, as Ivona giggled like a schoolgirl.
I listened to my mother-in-law in horror. I felt so betrayed. How secretive and sneaky my father was. How deceptive. Was this meeting at Ivona’s request? Why did she enjoy causing hurt and going behind my back?
After Ivona contacted my mother-in-law, she and my father engaged in a smear campaign against me, telling her entire family I was an awful person to stay away from. I was stuck in a battle I wanted no part of. It made me question humanity.
If your father could be swayed to hate you, then who could you trust?
I expressed to my father how badly the situation hurt me, and she, listening in on the call, laughed and yelled out “Too bad that’s what you deserve.”
I engaged in so much self-questioning: Was the situation as bad as I thought it was? Why couldn’t I get over it? If I changed my behavior, would Ivona calm down? What could I possibly change? If Ivona calmed down, would my father then be able to love me?
My inner child was screaming, begging, and pleading to be recognized, even accepting verbal abuse to keep the hope that one day, my father would realize how much he hurt me and rescue me from the overwhelming rejection.
One of the most frustrating aspects was that I knew Ivona enjoyed every second.
Ivona and I were in a competition and she was winning. She stole my father away. She got him to despise me and cut me out of his life. I wanted her to stop hating me so I could have some part of my dad back, even if my father was a deadbeat, to begin with.
How much of a father could he have been if he grew to hate and discard his own daughter because Ivona told him to? The hardest part to accept was that he was an active and willing participant in the discard.
I thought about Ivona — her miserable face lit up when my father was angry with his children. It gave her a sense of control. She hadn’t accomplished anything academically. Ivona was jealous of those who were educated, those who were successful, those who were kind, those who were beautiful — everything she was not. She felt secure only when my father was isolated from anyone except her and her family.
I was a pawn used by my father to express his undying devotion to Ivona. She needed him to hate his children to elevate herself in his eyes. Ivona was just that insecure and sick.
With Ivona, my father’s hatred and venom toward his children were unleashed.
She allowed him to explore the darkest places in his soul, where he projected his self-hatred onto the most vulnerable in his life, his children, myself included. Ivona didn’t just normalize this, she took sadistic pleasure in torturing his kids with him. Ivona never tried to make my father more humane.
It was infuriating beyond words that Ivona and her daughters got the “nice” version of my father — the one who is shy and agrees with everything. The one who opens his wallet for everything. It was infuriating beyond anything I could express. Ivona and her family did not have to go through the pain and suffering we did, yet they got the father that we should have had.
Ivona never defended me. It was quite the opposite — she partook in the sadism and enjoyed every second.
I have since accepted that my father does not love me because no loving father would tell their daughter she was not welcome in his home.
Most fathers would refuse to hear a bad word about their daughters, but not mine. I always felt unlikable, but when Ivona came into the picture, my negative self-talk exploded. My own father wouldn’t defend me against her wrath.
I remained in contact with him even when it pained me beyond words until I surrendered. As hard as it is to accept, I cannot force someone to love me, even if that someone is my own father.
Emerald Myara (she/her) is a writer who covers topics such as narcissistic abuse, trauma, mental health, relationships, and healing.