at a distance

Text Yannah Alferring

24. January 2021 16:01 Uhr

Sophie was seven years old when her parents separated. Her father Bernd moved out, first from the common house and finally to Bavaria. Since then, the daughter and father have been separated by around 400 kilometers. For years they had a long-distance father-daughter relationship.

This year Bernd decided to want to be closer to Sophie again. What can you learn from them about closeness and distance between parents and children?

Our author asked the two of them separately.

How did you experience the moment of your separation back then?

Sophie It wasn’t easy, of course, but I knew that my father was moving to Bavaria not because of me, but mainly for professional reasons. Nevertheless, it took a long time until I no longer felt homesick – or rather wanderlust – for him.

BERNDWhen I moved to Bavaria, at first I was very busy with the move, the new situation and myself. New federal state, new luck, new job – you don’t think much about that. After a while, however, I realized very clearly how much I miss my child. At that moment I really had a heartache.

Were you afraid that your relationship would change due to the spatial distance?

SophieNot really. Nevertheless, in the beginning it was very important to me to talk to my father on the phone every day. That didn’t always work out. It took some time to get back to normal. Most of the time we talked two or three times a week. But there were also weeks in which we didn’t speak at all because it just didn’t work out – and that was fine with me.

berndI’ve already thought about it, but inside I just knew that our relationship was too close for that. 

What does distance mean to you?

SophieOrganization. You have to plan everything. It’s easier with people who live nearby. Now I have a driver’s license, but back then my mother always had to take me there and pick me up. Back then, my parents always met in the middle because the return trip would have been too long for one person alone. So I was almost always handed over. 

berndNot to be tangible from one minute to the next. But the time was always very nice when Sophie was there. Mostly she was with me during the holidays and then stayed for several days or weeks. I was as excited as a little kid three days earlier. The drive back to her mother was all the more emotional. After the handover, I often had tears in my eyes. Those were very sad moments.

In which moments did you feel closeness despite the distance?

SophieWhen my father and I talk on the phone, we talk about everyday things. I always knew what his everyday life was like or if he had a problem. And I could get upset about anything on the phone and he would get upset with me. We also shared emotional issues and not just superficial ones. I think it’s important to keep in touch regularly and let the other person participate in your life.

I also think it’s important to make good use of the time that you physically spend together – and not just on the phone, for example. 

berndWhenever we spoke on the phone or wrote, I felt closeness. Sophie knew she could call me day and night. She was informed about my life and I about hers. I knew when she was partying, having school exams, or having stress with someone. I think communication is very important. I also went to Saarland as often as possible. Mostly on Saturday mornings at six o’clock and back around ten o’clock in the evening.

Did the distance benefit your relationship as well?

SophieI guess so. Because of the distance, I never argued with my father about everyday things. For example, unlike my mother, my father never said that I had to learn more. We weren’t constantly confronted with each other. That can also be an advantage.

berndOf course, sometimes it was nice just to hear about it over the phone when there was trouble at home. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen situations like this more often. 

How are you currently coping with the distance between you?

SophiePretty good. In the last few years I have noticed more and more clearly how difficult it is for me to be gone for so long. I always thought it was nice to be with my dad, but of course when I saw my friends’ Instagram stories, I would have loved to be there. Instead I was in Bavaria. That was stupid sometimes.

We are currently only an hour’s drive apart and I can often use my mother’s car. I’m happy that the situation is now a little more flexible and that I can only sleep with him from Friday to Saturday, for example. I’m not so isolated now. I can see him and still go to a party on Saturday night.

berndVery good. The current distance is no longer stressful at all. For example, next weekend we will have a wellness day together. I enjoy seeing my daughter more often again. I can now say: If you feel like it tonight, I’ll come to you and we’ll have pizza. We can now be much more spontaneous again.

Which of you can cope better with the distance between you?

SophieFirst him, then me. I was ten when my father moved away. The older I got, the more I planned my own life and made plans for the weekends. That was the turning point for me. 

berndWith the current distance, we both get along equally well, I think. I still remember a situation three years ago when Sophie was supposed to spend a week with me during the Easter break. She usually came by train on Fridays and then went back on the following Sunday. At some point she said: You, Dad, I’ll only come on Sunday because I’m going to a party on Saturday. I had to swallow dry three times and just thought: OK, shit, that’s it. Your child is now an adult. Sophie is about to start studying now and has her life firmly under control. And if there is a problem, I’ll be around now.