I am not sure if I love my father. When he says those dreaded three words…”I love you”, it is as if the words are merely skimming the surface of my being, they become words with little meaning. When I do repeat it back to him, the words flow out habitually, feeling both empty and emotionless. Rationally I know there is some form of attachment on a deeper level, but I can’t find the words to accurately describe what those emotions are, nor am I sure I want to go digging to find out. As the past has unkindly and repeatedly reminded me, there are certain fortresses that are built with such strength and resilience they can no longer be broken down. As one brick is chipped away, three more have taken its place and somewhere behind these layers of safety and self-protectiveness lay my emotions for my father.
Not often was the abuse directed at me, but at my mother instead. I have a few memories before the first beating, but they are like scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that can never be made into a picture. The cries and yelling had startled me awake but the uncertainty and fear kept me under the blankets. It was shortly after Christmas, the tree was still decorated and a few opened gifts remained lying about. My mom was crying and I had sat on the loveseat next to her, with a box of Kleenex and one of the toys I had received for Christmas. I remember feeling uncomfortable with her tears yet feeling the need to console, so I placed my small hand on her back and started rubbing. I brought new tissues, her cigarettes and emptied the ashtray more than once. I hugged her tight and told her everything would be alright, although I could not begin to understand why my dad would hit my mom until she bruised. I was almost five years old and that was the first day I began construction on a wall to keep my father out.
He perpetuated the typical abusive cycle; first was the beating, usually at night, followed by a morning of pleasantries and breakfast like nothing had ever happened, and wrapping up with some sort of gift for both my mom and I…and repeat. I cannot begin to tell you how many times this occurred, but according to him it was only a few, and my memories are highly exaggerated. To this day I can’t fathom any five year old imagining being dangled out a bedroom window, held only by her ankles, as her father’s desperate attempt to get at her mother, who was hiding in her bedroom. I can’t conceive of anyone who would want to create that sense of fear for themselves. I can’t imagine a child wanting to walk on eggshells for perpetuity around a person who is supposed to provide unconditional love and support.
The sad thing is I much preferred any type of physical abuse compared to the emotional assaults I was dealt. The bruises fade, the cuts turn into scars and fade with time, but the words stick like crazy glue and seem like they are on a never ending loop, playing over and over again in my head until they become part of my belief system. Words alone can destroy an adult’s sense of self, so for a child in their formative years, they can cause extreme damage to the way we see not only ourselves, but the world as well. The words to this day still run rampant in my mind…
“You are a failure”
“You will never be anything”
“You make it hard for anyone to love you”
I could go on and on, but I think the point has been made. I would rather a scar for every letter in all those words than to have to spend tremendous amounts of emotional energy unlearning the damage done by what was said. The spoken word can never be retrieved.
Why do we seek approval and validation from the people that don’t give it? Can we not brush them off and focus on the ones who approve of us and accept us for who we are; is it innate or a learned behavior? I know that I have spent the majority of my life seeking some sort of approval from him. I waited for years for the validation that I had been sexually abused; that it wasn’t something I had made up to get attention. I hung on to the hope that one day he would admit and own up to the damage he caused me. “One day” has yet to come.
I see my Dad every two weeks when we meet for a coffee that lasts no more than an hour. That is my quota. I skip most family functions aside from funerals as I know my Dad has expressed his disappointment in me to both family and friends. I have learned that my life is much easier when I expect nothing from him. What I need is never going to come and waiting with bated breath is only causing myself more pain, so I have made as much peace with it as I can. I no longer tolerate the verbal abuse and take charge of the direction of conversation which stays at a superficial level. It feels like it is too late to look at him as a father figure, so I could best describe it as an awkward surface friendship.
I am learning to accept only what he has to offer and to not hope for anything more. I have learned to understand that he is not going to change and all I can do is change my reaction to him. I realize perhaps he does love me in the best way he knows how, regardless of if it fulfills my needs or not and just letting go of that expectation has relieved a tremendous amount of my hurt and anger. For once in my life, he is no longer in control; I have finally taken that power back.