Whether you’re rich or poor, an aristocrat or an average Joe, one thread that binds us all is family — and the drama that comes along with sharing the same branch of the tree.
The British royal family are no exception to this, and have been having a right old time of it recently with Prince Andrew’s questionable links to Jeffrey Epstein, health scares, divorces, and rifts.
But no one has suffered more in recent years than the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.
Meghan’s most recent bout of blame comes from the decision she and Prince Harry made to step back as senior royals, instead of keeping calm and carrying on, and accepting the often racially-charged criticism she regularly faces. But the public judgment around Markle’s choices came long before the royal couple decided to quit the family firm.
One of her biggest story arcs was her decision to turn her back on her own father in the run-up to her wedding after it was revealed he was offered money to stage photographs for the paparazzi.
Like Meghan, I also have a complicated man as a dad, and had to cut him out of my life for two years to preserve my own health and happiness.
For a lot of us, our parents take on the position of golden superheroes who fill up our whole lives right from the first few memories. We don’t get to see who they really are as people until much, much later, and even then the unconditional bond means we can usually forgive most mistakes.
However, it was tough for me to hear people talking about how easy it would be for Meghan to kiss and make up with Thomas Markle Sr.
Cutting off a parent is a last resort
Cutting off a parent is not a flippant decision, and the intention is not to punish them.
For me, being estranged from my dad was an extreme last resort as I understood nothing was going to change unless I took control of my side of the dysfunctional relationship.
Both my dad and Meghan’s married their first wives quite young and each had two children. My mom and Meghan’s mom, Doria Ragland, were the second wives.
My mom had me and my younger sister Jessica* and Doria had Meghan. Both our parents’ marriages collapsed, and we ended up being primarily raised by very strong single mothers.
Before the split, the relationship I had with my father as a child was, for the most part, pretty good. He wasn’t around that much — either working, golfing, or in the pub — but when he was present, I remember him being a fun and caring dad.
His parenting was largely impacted by his emotions, though — if the day wasn’t going to plan for him, the dark, moody side to his personality would hang over the house like thunder clouds.
The separation from my mom, and his choice to move almost 200 miles away with the woman he turned out to be having an affair with, meant my dad missed even more of our lives growing up. He made excuses as to why he couldn’t attend school plays, dance shows, or parents’ evenings, and would only pick up the role of dad when it suited his schedule.
A disastrous dinner at a Chinese restaurant brought everything to a head
My dad now has four children (that I know of), and all of us at one point in our lives have stopped talking to him as a means to protect ourselves from the mental anguish that comes from trying to placate a bad parent.
The catalyst that led to my decision to disengage contact was Jessica’s 18th birthday in 2011 when I was 20 years old. He had driven four hours from the Midlands in the UK — where he lives with his current wife, Cate* — to spend time with us and celebrate his youngest child becoming an adult with chow mein and crispy shredded beef at a Chinese restaurant.
Also because he and Cate had booked to go on a cruise which left from Portsmouth, and where we lived was along the way to the main event. Two birds, one stone.
Here’s a brief rundown of the night:
Cate was half drunk by the time I joined everyone around 6 p.m. after finishing work. Dad drove all four of us to the Chinese restaurant.
We sat and started polite chit-chatting, but I was counting down the seconds until I could leave to go hang out with my then-boyfriend.
Dad and Cate clearly had an argument at some point during the day because the mundane chit-chat turned into them shout-whispering barbed comments at each other.
We ordered food.
The conversation moved along to the significance of Jessica’s birthday, and my dad attempted parenting for once with a speech about how she needed to start getting her life together.
This was true, but at this point in our family history, Jessica’s personality disorder wouldn’t be diagnosed for another four years.
Cate then cut in with slurred sentences about what a horribly wicked girl my sister was, and started jabbing her index finger across the table.
Cate is nearly 60 years old and had met my teenage sister and me a handful of times prior to this dinner.
I looked to my dad to jump to her defense, but he sipped his beer not saying anything.
For me, that was strike one.
The tension was momentarily interrupted by the arrival of more drinks and prawn crackers. I asked about their upcoming cruise, but Cate continued her verbal tirade, this time turned onto my dad.
My father is someone with zero filter, a short fuse, and a rage to rival the bulls at Pamplona, so I was anticipating fire being fought with fire — however, there was not even a flicker of a flame.
I was still expecting him to attempt to salvage the evening (the only face-to-face time we’d had in six months) by being the grown-up and telling Cate to leave the restaurant or be quiet.
Nothing. Strike two.
I finally realized we were no longer his priority
I was starting to feel sick with the realization he would forever be picking Cate, or some version of her, over his children.
Growing up, I knew he wasn’t what a dad should be, but I comforted myself with the thought that if push came to shove, he’d always be there to go up to bat for us.
The moment he decided we were not the priority was when the last layer of parental gilding fluttered to the ground.
Strike three came when Cate flew close to the sun of my unresolved anger left over from years of weathering the storm of my parents’ butchered divorce. She started shooting off about my mother.
Still with no help from my dad to cut off the venom Cate was spewing, regardless of how he felt about my mom, the red mist descended and I screamed a big “f— you” before running out of the restaurant.
Looking back, I wish I had flipped the table for a more dramatic exit.
The thing is, I love my dad, so I would have forgiven him for that night if he tried to make sincere amends, but swanning off on his cruise around the Caribbean without even a text message apology was just too hurtful to swallow.
As an isolated incident, I could have probably put it aside and moved forward without an “I’m sorry,” but the years of brushing aside his careless comments or painfully deliberate decisions which only served himself forced me to put the shutters down.
I’m guessing Meghan probably could have gotten over the gaffes Thomas Sr. made with the paparazzi in the run-up to her wedding, too, if they had been one-off mistakes, or if he went out of his way to fix the situation with genuine grace.
Instead, he twisted Meghan’s life into a spotlight on his own interests to make a quick buck alongside the rest of her family looking to cash in.
Sharing the same DNA doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions
Being blood-related or having the same surname does not give you carte blanche to abuse trust and loyalty without any consequences.
Unlike what Meghan’s half-brother Thomas Markle Jr. says, the meaning of family is shown through actions of unwavering support. For Meghan and I, our family comes from the people we don’t necessarily share DNA with.