My father is and always was a popular figure in his community. He is and was trusted by many, respected, loved. I love(d) him too, and mostly trust(ed) him. Mostly. But my relationship with him has had some challenges and struggles. Part of my growth in adolescence and young adulthood was learning to trust my own experience, my own intuition, even in the face of differing from him in how I viewed reality. I can’t really explain all of the details. With his position in life, in his community, came alot of unspoken power. Yes, he is and was at his core, a good man. But seeing possibilities beyond his own reality, his own experience, that seemed to be one of his limitations. I got lost in there somewhere, as he failed to listen to signals, cues, even verbal communication, that I needed firmer boundaries. I needed to be clearer about where “He” stopped and “i” began. Did he “abuse” me? That’s the crazy-making part for me, because he never overtly abused me in any visible ways, and certainly not in front of anyone else. I think it was more of a “neglect,” a neglect to see my need for space, for boundaries, for creating my own reality. Alot of this was mentally/verbally expressed, but a big piece of this was physical. Being constantly hugged, sometimes being followed from one room to the next as I tried to avoid him, sometimes feeling trapped in corners where I had no choice but to hug back if I didn’t want to cause a scene. Being guilted for not always wanting to hug..”you don’t love me,” “grouch!” That kind of thing. A lifetime of this. Not just a week here, a week there. A DAILY routine of trying to avoid the next hug. Now, what sane daughter would not appreciate and adore the hugs of her father, you may be asking? That’s the crazy-making part. He was just being a loving father, right? But if it was so loving, why did I feel so awful, trapped, avoidant, sick inside? Maybe it was just that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, acknowledge kindly that I didn’t feel like hugging, and let me be. Maybe it was that this kind of chase went on from early childhood long into my adulthood. Maybe it was that the few times as a young girl that I tried to approach and hug him, to give him that gift of my own accord, it was met with sarcasm, comments about my not loving him.
(Link is to a Sweet Honey in the Rock song, to the words of Kahil Gibran, “On Children.”)
All I know for sure is that when I heard the sound of his footsteps on the front porch in the evenings, I retreated to places in the house where I could most strategically avoid contact. One night, on a family vacation, when I was about 15, he came into my bedroom in the dark, sat looming over me where I had already gone to bed, and told me I better “come out of my little shell.” He was angry with me. He seemed incapable of considering my reality. He never took any cues that maybe there was a problem and maybe I needed help instead of criticism.
My mother took me to a christian counseling support group for mothers and their teens when I was in 8th grade. The counselor actually had some sensible tips for developing open communication. Such as asking your parent or your teen, “do you hear what I am saying? do you understand what I am saying?” All I remember after that is that my father, who apparently was apprised of the tips by my mother, came up to me and hugged me tight so I couldn’t get away and asked me sarcastically if I heard what he was saying. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out he was not impressed with the counseling.
So, did he mean to be “abusive?” I don’t think so. I do think he had absolutely no clue about how to raise a daughter, as he had grown up with all brothers. I actually have a decent relationship with him now. But only after some years of therapy and developing coping skills and more trust in my own reality, my own intuition. Only after coming to accept that he made mistakes in relationship with me, but that the mistakes did not have to define the entire relationship.
It would be difficult for anyone who knows him as their friend, the generous community man that he is, to believe or understand the side of him that I grew up with. I tried talking about it a few times, to a very few people. Even one of my closest friends, after meeting him, commented on how nice and kind he was, what a disconnect there seemed to be from the experience I had described. That just made me feel crazy. So I stopped talking about it. A few years ago a childhood friend I had talked to about it early in adulthood (when I first got into therapy and actually believed it might be okay to talk), asked me about it, her first mention of it in the years that have passed since I first talked to her. I lied to her at this point, told her something lame to reassure her my Dad had never been abusive, then changed the subject.
So why bring it up now? In a public, albeit anonymous, format? I’m not sure. I just started writing and this is what tumbled out. Years of silence. Years of feeling like maybe I was just crazy. He’s a very good and loving man. So many people love and respect him, even adore him. Hell, I adore him, that side of him. But the problems in my relationship with him shaped my ability and/or lack of ability to relate to the world around me in general. It also gave me a hypersensitivity to respecting the realities of people who surround me, gave me a passion for trying to understand others. Hard way to get the gift, but a gift, nonetheless.
I give him hello and goodbye hugs now. I still avoid any other close contact. He occasionally still pursues, but has grandchildren to dote on who don’t mind being hugged, so that took alot of the pressure off in recent years. I don’t feel any need to confront him. Maybe I still need to – but my experiences through the years of trying to talk to him were not good experiences. He is still pinned into his reality. I just practice self-care, and try to open myself to loving him and accepting him in whatever way I am able. I focus on his many many positive attributes. I am mostly at peace. I do feel like I carry a secret. I do feel like no one who knows him would believe me. Thankful for my close friends, S & C, who have never questioned my experience.
I believe in healing. Though I haven’t chosen to use my voice very much about my experience, I do believe in the power of finding a voice. Maybe that is a little of what I am trying to do here, with this blog, to practice finding and using my voice…in my own time, in my own way.
Two things in the universal experience nudged me into writing today. One was a dream. One was a blog post (by hopefulheartsministry: http://www.shannonmdeitz.com/contact-shannon-2)
Though I was never “raped,” her courage to tell her story, and her passion to help others find their voices, moved me. I hope you’ll check it out.
The dream…just a couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was riding in the passenger seat of a car. My Father was driving. We were in the car alone. I slowly became conscious of the fact that we were driving over a body of water, as if it were a road. I became alarmed, that we might sink. But I didn’t say anything. I decided to trust him, since he had been driving thus far, and we had not sunk yet. We made it to land. He had a phone gps and was trying to read it. He was lost. He is not good with technology, and was having trouble reading the gps. I pulled up a map of the area on his gps for him, and enlarged it. I tried to show him that we were trapped by bodies of water, tried to help him figure out if we could find a way out by land. He couldn’t seem to digest it. He just kept driving, into the next body of water. That’s all I remember. I know what it is like in real time, to blindly trust him, only to find myself in dangerous territory. I know what it is like to deny my reality in favor of his, to continue “driving over water,” in spite of everything in me screaming to stop it. So, he’s been on my mind since that dream, as have the memories of the years…of choosing silence.
I know some readers may feel critical of my choices to stay silent, or may not believe me, or may minimize the negative internal impact of my experience, or may just outright think I’m crazy. I just have to live with that. I do hope that if anyone reading is struggling with their own silence, or history of any type of abuse, that you can be encouraged, to find places where you can begin to tell your story. Hell, tell it to me. I will listen, believe, accept, not judge. Or tell Shannon, at her website link above, hopefulheartsministry.
Another outcome I can hope for, is that maybe in reading this, someone will pay a little more attention to the silent suffering of people around them. Instead of judging the behavior we don’t understand, seeking to understand it, and then finding a way to be kind to the person suffering.
Written with care,