In the summer of his junior year, Trilok Sadarangani (’16) said goodbye to his father. Following a work commitment, Sadarangani’s father had moved to Seoul, South Korea, leaving Sadarangani and his mother behind in London.
“It didn’t really sink in until the way back when I realized he wasn’t on the flight with us,” he said. “Usually it’s my mom on my left and my father on my right, but now it’s just my mom and a stranger. That’swhen I realized that he’s staying there for good, he’s not coming back.”
Sadarangani has had to get used to a situation atypical of the “normal” family dynamic while he lives apart from his father.
Sadarangani’s parents are not divorced. In fact they are far from it – he describes their relationship as very close even though they live apart. But there are certain difficulties that Sadarangani and other students with parents that live abroad face.
When Sadarangani’s father first told him about the move, in the beginning of junior year, Sadarangani thought he was joking. But, “as the year progressed he kept mentioning it and he even tried to convince me to come to Korea and study there. That’s when I knew it was getting serious,” he said. “But I think he knew that I wanted to graduate with my class and graduate [from] ASL, so he moved alone.”
While his father visits London every month and a half or so, for anniversaries, birthdays and breaks, Sadarangani feels somewhat responsible for the fact that his parents are living apart – a consequence, he believes, of his desire to stay at ASL.
There are certain times when Sadarangani notices his father’s absence more than others – his crew races the most pertinent example. Before, his father was “always the loud one, cheering me on, taking pictures. Now I don’t have that anymore; I see the other parents there for their kids and I think, ‘where are mine’?” Sadarangani said. “I definitely wish that my dad was [also] here cheering me on.”
Another repercussion from his father’s temporary absence is a change that Sadarangani has noticed in his mom. “Now my mom always wants to spend more time with me. She always wants to have dinner with me, or for me to work outside, or in the living room with her,” he said. “And on the weekends, usually it’s kind of a given that I will go out with my friends or have crew practice, but now she’ll recommend things like, ‘let’s go to this art museum, or let’s go get lunch’.”
Juliana Smith (’16), whose father moved from the U.S. to London and worked here for two years before Smith and her mom followed, also noticed a change in the individual personalities of her mother and sister as a result of the separation. For her, it was more of an imbalance within the family dynamic. “When [my sister and I] and my mom were all in a bad mood, my dad was the voice of reason,” she said. “So it changed things in the sense that we could all be really upset at each other over something super irrational, but since we didn’t have my dad there to say ‘okay, calm down,’ things got hectic sometimes.”
Both Smith and Sadarangani have noticed a deepening relationship with the parent who they still to live with. Smith believes that, during the two years her dad was abroad, she learned to rely more on her mother while Sadarangani believes living alone with his mother has exposed a whole new side of her. “I’ve gotten to see my mom in a different light, I’ve gotten to know her in a different way that I haven’t seen before… I notice little interests that my mom has that I didn’t necessarily notice before,” Sadarangani said.
Academically, both Sadarangani and Smith’s parents have attempted to stay keyed in to their children’s lives, although with the time difference it hasn’t always been easy. “[My dad] tries to stay a part of [my academics and college process] just as much as he did when he was here, but it is hard because of the time difference,” Sadarangani said. “He wakes up really early, at like 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. just to speak on the phone [with me].”
While in the bigger picture Smith feels that her father was always still there for her. It was on the day-to-day level where her father’s location created a divide. “There was this kind of disconnect in a sense. He used to be involved in every aspect of my life and then there was this literal ocean of separation between us when he moved,” she said.
Both also agree that the time they do get to spend together is at a premium. In fact, Smith highlights this as the one benefit of the situation. While for her, there were certainly “moments when he was gone where I hated his employer and wanted him to be home, and to have that ‘normal’ four person household again,” Smith recognizes that, “looking back on it, I think my relationship with my father got stronger with the fact that he was gone because I learned to appreciate him more and [not] take him for granted.”
Ever since Iman Bouhara (’18) was 6 years old, she has lived in a divided household – her mother living with her and her father shuffling between Monaco and Dubai.
Yet, despite the divorce and despite living over 3,000 miles across the globe, she has tried to keep him in her life. “Even though he’s been living in a different country since I was six, I know he’s still there for me,” she said. “I can call him saying ‘Dad, I need you’ and he will always help me.”
While she only gets to see him in person every two months, she believes that “he is still part of my life, he didn’t just disappear or anything” although this connection is often more through text messages or the occasional Skype call, rather than in person.
While some find the time spent with their parents to be exponentially more valuable when separated, Bouhara just feels conflicted. While with her mother, Bouhara often finds
herself missing her father and vice versa when she spends time with her father.
However, as she has grown older and gained more independence from her parents, she has begun to notice his absence less.
Without question, she feels that her father is still part of her life, but she does feel like “he could be there a lot more [and that] he is a bit absent because of his work.”
Now that her father has remarried, Bouhara also worries that other factors might distract him, like the possibility of step-siblings.
While she sometimes struggles, she keeps her situation in perspective: At least she still has both parents. “I appreciate the fact that I still do have my mom and dad in my life even if they are not both physically with me,” she said.
Yet the effects of living apart from her father are clear. Especially when she compares herself with friends – almost all of whom still live with both their parents. Once, as a young girl, Bouhara the realization of her parents divorce had a particulary powerful effect on her. “I went to a Justin Bieber concert as a kid and I remember seeing all of the dads bringing their daughters while I was just with another friend whose parents were divorced,” she said. “All I could think was, ‘I wish my dad was still here’.”
Apart for months:
Since January of her sophomore year, Momo Steele’s (’16) father has worked abroad, living apart from Steele and her mother for months at a time.
Her father’s travel schedule – and consequentially, when she gets to see him – is sporadic in that he doesn’t always know when he will be able to come back. “He is here only when he is travelling through to somewhere else or when he is taking vacations with us,” Steele said. “So it is more sporadic than it is with other people.”
Recently, this distance between her and her father has become more painful as she begins to go through her senior year. Thinking about college has made her realize that, “because I am not living with him [now], I might not ever live with him again,” she said. “It’s just sad to think I have already stopped living with my father.”
Steele however, would say that his absence has been exponentially harder on her mother than on herself as her mother is not distracted by school work and extracurriculars. “She is now fully in charge of the house,” Steele said, “If someone were to break in she would have to protect me, where it used to be that her and my dad had to protect me.”
She added, “we like to call it ‘live apart-ners’ they are together but living apart.” For Steele, the obvious outcome has been the change in the time she does get to spend with her dad – those few days become more and more valuable. “I definitely cherish the moments I have with him more,” she said. “I know it is morbid, but I am terrified that he will be in car accident and die and I will not have seen him for months – that really scares me.”
While a negative effect of a “dynamic where you feel like something is missing in the house” has certainly been felt by Steele, the positive side of the situation has also been eye-opening – she no longer takes her father for granted. “I think what is important,” she said. “Is that it makes you realize how short life is.”
Max Roth contributed to reporting.