I was inspired to write this post about my Dad. About my childhood in his home.
But after typing in the title, my hands and brain froze. A navel gazer, after the jump…
I have compartmentalized and selectively forgotten much of that time in my life. My experiences were not that horrific, when looking at the big picture of childhood experiences, but they were painful and harmful to me. Part of the reason I began to blog is to reclaim and learn from these parts of my life, however painful to remember.
He’s always been quick to anger, my dad. Not always angry; I do remember some good times. But what I remember most, the theme of my memories, I guess, is his indifference, dismissiveness and diminishment of my identity, my percieved or real problems, my fears. His contempt for anyone who was not him. His hatred of waiting for any reason.
Instead of teaching me to deal with life, he was telling me how things were NO.BIG.DEAL, everybody goes through the same crap, just suck it up. Or he was furious, how could I have been so STUPID.
Often, it seemed that he expected me to know and understand everything in the same way he did. Instead of teaching me what to do and when to do it, he was angry and upset that I didn’t already know. I was smart, he would say, how could I be so stupid? Should have learned by osmosis, I guess.
As a kid, we lived about 25 miles away from my Dad’s folks. However, that 25 miles included a notoriously wind-y highway between San Jose and Santa Cruz, CA (aka The Hill, dun dun dun!) I am a human who experiences motion sickness. My Dad never expressed concern for my nausea/vomiting. It was always a hassle, always a burden for him to deal with. Although the dealing with a sick child was done by my Mom, while she was still around. His ‘dealing’ included huffing and puffing and telling all of us what a time suck I was and how I had purposely thrown up in his car (I may be paraphrasing). Like I wanted to increase the amount of time we spent on the vomit highway.
And that’s how I felt most of the time, like a hassle and a burden to him. Like he got the short end of the stick, having to take my brother AND me after the divorce. Like there were such better things he would be doing if he didn’t have to limit his life because he was required to take care of us.
He used cruel words and threatened to send me to my Mom’s in Alaska. He insinuated that I would turn out like her, a worse fate I’m sure he could not imagine. And at that time, neither could I. He suggested that my friends only hung around because I was having sex with them all. The only people in my life at that time who I felt really did care about me. He did not take care of me. It felt like he (barely) tolerated me.
What does it mean, to take care of someone? To me, it means to:
- actually care about their feelings and experiences
- give them a safe space to be who they really are
- respect them as human beings
- not expect perfection
- not take your day out on them
- communicate with kindness
- hold clear boundaries
Luckily, I was accepted into a college 3+ hours from home. Where I met PapaMakes and had lots of really fun trouble, with a little school on the side. I learned a lot during that time, just not in the classroom. Wasted an opportunity there, unfortunately. Needless to say, Dad was not pleased when I moved home.
When I finally achieved escape velocity with PapaMakes, safely to the other side of The Hill (dun dun dun), I kept my distance from Dad. It took many years away from my childhood home to stop acting out, and many years with a loving partner who understood that much of my asshole-ish ways were un-learn-able behaviors. Once I became financially independent of Dad, our relationship changed dramatically. Taking care of me financially was the only way of ‘caring’ that he knew. Slowly, we are working on a new relationship. I know my Dad will never change but I have changed, and I want to cultivate a relationship with him that’s grounded in respect and lovingkindness. Even if it’s a wee bit one-sided.
I still struggle to stay calm and not assume the worst of any situation. To remember hey, I can choose to not be angry/impatient/frustrated/insulted. I can name the fear/hurt/conflict I am feeling inside and get it out in a constructive way, instead of spewing it onto some unsuspecting passerby. Instead of alienating those I love most like my Dad has done for most of his life. And continues to do with my step-mom, bless her.
He who smiles rather than rages is always the stronger. – Romain Gary
Now when I think about being a kid in my dad’s house, it informs me how not to treat my own family. Because I know how much I hated him then, and how much I wished for a parent who would talk to me, and hug me, and listen to me weep over the torment of school. I know how I wished I would have been treated, and I am damn well gonna ask my daughter how she wants to be treated.