I understand that many people were blessed with good fathers. That is wonderful. I wish that for everyone. However, many of us did not have that experience. I wondered why my mood had been so weird, so sad this past week and suddenly it hit me, Father’s Day. The silly little holiday that looms every year, reminding me not so subtly that my father was an abusive, selfish asshole. I do not overstate it. I know he was broken. I know he was abused. It does not change the fact that I lived my life afraid of men, all men, except the man I eventually married, the man I started dating when I was seventeen and he was sixteen. I was lucky to meet him and grow up with him because in reality that is what we did. We were so young when we started our relationship.
I feel anger, resentment, and sadness when I think of my relationship with my father because it damaged me as a child and it affects me still today at the age of fifty-two. He was not a good and kind man although he played one in public. He was a broken, rage filled man. He was a bully and probably an alcoholic. I was too young to know for sure if he was drinking during the period of time he was beating me and my sister. He hit me and my sister, who was three years younger, adopted from an abusive, neglectful home into what should have been a safe and loving home. He terrified me, tormented me, and I thought every night when he ripped me, sleeping from my bed, when I was seven years old to hit me over and over while he screamed at me, that he was going to kill me. I am not exaggerating. I was genuinely afraid for my life. I remember thinking as a seven-year old, “This is the night he is going to lose control and kill me.” I cried in my bed, terrified that he would kill my sister on the nights I heard him in her room hitting her and screaming.
Even when the beatings inexplicably stopped, I was terrified of him for the rest of my life. I had seen what he was capable of. His anger never abated, it just took different forms. He would still hit us if he got angry and we were standing near him. He was an angry, controlling monster.
My mother was no better. She stood right next to my bed and my sister’s and watched each and every time he hit us, silent right up until almost the end. When my father’s anger was almost done, in the weakest, whiniest voice, she would say his name, “Jim, please.” He had already used our bodies as punching bags. He was almost done and she knew it. She had to know it. She had watched it over and over, night after night. Do not mistake her weak voice for fear. My father never directed his anger at her. My father worshiped her. She was the Queen in our home and he the King. As bad as they were at being parents, that’s how good they were at being married to each other. My sister and I were second class citizens, there for them to control and lucky to survive.
The Queen is dead. She died many years ago from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. No, I don’t think she deserved that. It was horrific watching her suffer in that way.
The King has Alzheimer’s Disease and resides in a nursing home. My Uncle and I made sure that he was placed in a nice, good nursing home that provides excellent care for him. I also would not have wished this terrible disease on him. He no longer knows who anyone is. It is strange to love someone who hurt you in so many ways. He is the only father I will ever have. It’s all I know, a father who abused me. He did teach me to be strong. Both of my parents did. I guess I can be thankful for that.
My father didn’t respect women. He was sexist and disrespectful to women, even to my mother, who he adored. He and my mother gave me the motivation to get the hell out of their house, my hometown, and the hell away from them. They gave me the motivation to be independent, to go to college, to get an education and be able to take care of myself.
They were both abused as children, although my mother would never admit it to me. She had to be. There is no way my mother could have been the cruel person she was without abuse in her life. I also knew her father, my Grandfather, and he was cold and frightening. My father openly talked about the abuse in his life. He told us that his father drank and beat him. He told us that he moved out of his home when he was fourteen years old when his father got drunk and beat him for the last time, breaking his ribs. He went to live on a dairy farm, earning his room and board while going to high school. When that same father was eighty years old and dying he came to live with us for the last year of his life. Grandpa was a mean, grumpy old man, although sober at that time. I ended up loving the bastard and I grieved his death. My husband, then boyfriend and I were dating then and he loved my grandfather too. We received the call from the hospital the night my grandfather died as my parents were having an unusual dinner out for work.
There were good things about my father. I think I should clarify here that I often talk about my father in the past tense because for me, in many ways, he is gone. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease as many people know. When I see my father who is in another state, on rare occasions, he looks like a much older, smaller version of my father but the things that made him my father are gone. His mind is far away living other lives. He looks at me and sees someone, but not me. He does not know anyone and sees only strangers. He is grumpy and I recognize that part of him, although that is not a pleasant part of him. I look at him and cry and he is unmoved. The person that he was is gone. His mind is off having adventures elsewhere. His body remains and when his body dies, I will mourn my father’s final death.
There were good things about my father. He was a hard worker. He and my mother worked hard to pay the bills and provide the basics for me and my sister. I mean food and shelter. My father and my mother were ruled by fear and anger. My father had what I now realize was an anxiety attack when he was delivering milk, yes he was a milkman, and after that he as afraid to return to that job. He worked low-income jobs after that and my parents struggled financially. My parents kept our house and continued to feed us healthy meals. We were poor and on food stamps. That was never the problem. The abuse was the problem.
My parents spent their lives ruled by fear from their abusive childhoods. I spent most of my life living that way. As an adult, I resented the hell out of my parents for that. I hated them for making me a victim, for making me their victim and making me a victim of a young man who lived down the street when I was a child. I had been so beaten down by them, I was the perfect victim.
It took a lot of work to let the rage go. It was not easy or pleasant, but it had to be done. There is still work to be done, but that is my choice and my work to do. My life is my journey and I will not spend it feeling rage and hate. I do have to acknowledge the pain, however. I still feel pain about the past and sometimes it rears its ugly head more than at other times. I imagine many other people experience that also.
Many of our parents were not perfect. I did not need perfect. No one did, just not abusive. I know many others went through things that could be described as worse or more traumatic. For years I didnt’t acknowledge how bad my childhood was because I worked with children who had been through so much worse. However, the things my parents did to me fucked up my life.I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t trust. I had trouble trusting anyone, but I certainly did not trust men. I didn’t trust any men except my husband who I had known since I was a teenager and he had earned my trust. Yes, I talked to some men, men in my family, even some friends of my boyfriend who, then became my husband, but real trust, I just didn’t feel safe. I was sexually abused when I was seven. Then that person tried to lure me into an empty garage using a little boy that was my age after that incident. I was terrified and in that moment my friendship ended with B., a boy I had truly loved. I thought he was trying to hurt me too. I could no longer trust him. I was a few blocks from my home when it happened. I didn’t feel safe after that, not again until I was forty-seven. Then I actually felt safe making male friends. That is a long damn time.
That is not normal or right. Fear and anger were my main emotions. I pushed it all down. I did everything I could to feel safe, to project that. I took judo lessons. I was strong. I was intelligent. I was really scared to death, I just didn’t tell anyone, often not even myself.
And when I was in my late forties, I had an interaction with a narcissistic, verbally abusive boss who threatened me at my job. He was a new supervisor to me due to a change in our department but I had been in my position for about four years. He used his physical size and his words to intimidate me after everyone else had gone home. I did not realize it at the time, but it triggered all the rage from my childhood abuse. I felt rage and I had no idea why. The next year was not pleasant for me or for him as we struggled back and forth. It was not easy for me because he had the power to fire me and he made it clear over and over. I was under a great deal of stress. It was a horrible time. He tried to intimidate me. I was assertive. I hate bullies. He had no idea that me, the pleasant, kind looking woman would not be an easy target. He had no idea what he was starting. He thought I would be intimidated. I was PISSED.
That first time, he said something that seemed like a simple threat. He said, “I would hate to have to write you up for not making your units.” He sat in a chair behind me, right behind me. No one else was on the floor as far as I knew.
I turned around in my chair, rage in my belly. I faced him and said it calmly, “And I would hate for you to have to do that.” I met his eyes and stared at him.
He looked surprised and eventually stood up and walked away. He ended by standing at the exit and saying, “I haven’t been that bad so far. Have I?”
I responded. “No. Are you going to be?”
Again he looked shocked. He made a joke saying he was misunderstood and left a short time later.
He would go on to harass me, threaten me, and make my life miserable for the next year before he was promoted. Aren’t the jerks always promoted? His replacement was even more abusive.
I started writing a book about this, the worst two years of my life at this particular nonprofit company that helped people. In it I described Mr. Asshole Smith, the narcissist, as the fan in the shit storm of my life. He was not that important and I don’t want to make him important. However, the shit did hit the fan and I finally had to deal with all of the abuse from my past. It was either that or tear Mr. Asshole Smith, figuratively and verbally, the new asshole that I felt he so genuinely deserved. As much as I wanted to do that, I chose not to. When I saw him in the hallway, I turned and walked the other direction. For weeks, I avoided my direct supervisor because I did not trust the words that would come out of my mouth if I spoke to him. Yes, he was an asshole, but that did not mean that I had to be unprofessional or get myself fired. Yes, I needed the job. Yes, I needed to pay my bills.
My reward for being polite to him was to be called “mousey”. I glared at him and told him, “I am not mousey.”
So, yes, Father’s Day is hard for some of us, but I have come a long way in healing from the past. I dealt as best I could with Mr. Asshole Smith and then his successor, The Bitch. And eventually I quit that job. That was a really good day.
We all have our own journeys. You never know where yours will take you. Try not to be the fan or the shit storm in anyone’s life. If you are a parent, try your best to be a good one. Everything you do and say has an impact on your children.
My parents told me I was stupid, fat and so many negative things. Words hurt. Hitting hurts but words hurt too. It takes decades to recover. If you were abused, get therapy and deal with it. It can be done. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Don’t pass that pain and abuse on to your children.
I am not saying that I am a perfect person, but I have done my best to be kind, loving and positive to all of the children in my life. I am blessed to be an aunt and to have been a foster parent. Despite the fact that I did not formally deal with many of the abuse issues until I was older, I made a decision when I was a child not to be anything like my parents. I educated myself. I read. I worked in residential treatment and learned a great deal and helped children. As a child, I decided that I would treat children with kindness and respect. I worked at making that decision a reality. Being a parent is joyful and rewarding but it can also be hard, exhausting and frustrating. Don’t take that out on children. Ask for help from friends and family. Get counseling. Please, don’t make your child spend a lifetime recovering from what happened to them as a child.