me + my dad, or: I’ve been trying to finish this since Father’s Day

Continued from here. I’m not sure how much sense this makes. Also, good friends of mine with whom I have never raised this topic should not be shocked or offended. When I say I am overloaded by other people’s emotions, I’m not talking about you.

So I ended by referring to the matter of feeling overwhelmed by other people’s emotions, and my mother’s statement all those years ago that I was a good listener. It also relates to a cryptic post I made a while back when I had a particularly strenuous day at work. I now know after three quarters of a year of this that I couldn’t have been a psychologist or a clinical counselor (good to know at least that reaction, back then, and all the career aptitude tests since then, were not incorrect or missing something vital). But I have to re-address the “good listener” thing.

One of my ongoing recognitions since last summer has been that I like my father better now that my mother isn’t here.

[Ouch echoes through my brain when I re-read what I just wrote.]

What’s come into focus in the approaching two years since her death is that the reason she thought I was a good listener was that she made me into her good listener. She needed a good listener because of (a) the way my father was; (b) her inability to speak about it to her peers, either out of embarrassment or because she thought no one would believe her; (c) I was smart, likely, very attached to her because of my own childhood troubles in school, and thus (d) around and (e) obedient.

When I ran 1500 mi away from home to college and experienced a huge sense of relief, I thought it was about the religion stuff, and that wasn’t wrong, but it was also a relief to be away from the expectation of being emotionally available. I could say a lot more about that but I will skip — my need to restrict my emotional availability to the most important people in my life explains a lot about how my twenties worked out, it seems now. People used to tell me how close knit my family is, and I thought, you have no clue. My mother wrote me a letter every afternoon through my first year of college.

But getting back to dad: I have to face that a lot of the suffering I experienced at his hands when I was at home while she was alive — and my ongoing fear that being at home was bad for my sense of emotional space — was due to experiencing him through the prism of her worldview and perceptions.

I was angry, so angry, on her behalf. She let me feel all the anger she couldn’t deal with. I couldn’t deal with it either, so I shut it off. Like I shut everything else off that I felt, like they told me to shut everything off, until I didn’t feel anything.

There was last summer, which was a struggle (with a lot of unpublished stuff because of the need to chew through the Crucible problem silently and independently of the blog), and the need to try to continue to try to find a way to let go of her. [Promise of a placeholder publication some day.] This post is to some extent provoked by the coincidence of Father’s Day, once again, with dad’s fishing weekend. And then there’s the anniversary, coming up, which I ran away from home for, last year.

But her anger isn’t my anger. I didn’t marry him, I didn’t enable his behavior, I didn’t stick with him when I could have left. I know why she did all those things and I am not saying her reasons were wrong, but they were not my choices. Last summer, when I sensed her in that house, I thought, you are making me take over all of your choices. You set him up to be incapable of taking care of himself and now you have trapped me with him.

But she is dead, and this is my life, and I have no real history with my father, only the one she needed to give me, and this is not what I want.

I am 46 and I want to decide what this story means for myself. I’m not giving up. There’s still time. There are still things to do. I’m not making the same mistake twice. I am old enough to write the story myself, now.

~ by Servetus on June 28, 2015.

33 Responses to “me + my dad, or: I’ve been trying to finish this since Father’s Day”

  1. (((Hugs)))

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  2. So many things for me to process in this post. But most pressing at this moment is how our situation can be so opposite yet exactly the same. Without the ‘prism’ of mom to see dad through, I’ve realized what an egotistical, self-righteous, spoiled, petulant child he is. Not at all the hero my mother ceaselessly painted him to be.
    I am now 47 and I’m finally old enough to break that paintbrush in half, drop it at his feet and walk away. Finally free to do the one thing my mom never dared?
    The ouch for me was realizing the man I thought I knew never existed, except in her mind. The man who is, I don’t care for at all.

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    • I don’t want to take him off the hook for the many things he did that merited my anger, chief among them the alcoholism. I just want to know that it’s my anger, and not hers.

      I feel like I don’t really know who he is apart from her anger. And yeah, that’s the opposite situation — if the missing prism means you see something clearly that was distorted before …

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      • There’s just something in the way you say it. It sorts the jumble in my mind, shows me the pattern in what I think is just a ridiculous mess. I breathe easier, hearing my experience in your words. Thanks, I needed this.

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  3. I’m glad you’re able to recognize this dynamic with your dad so that you can process it all. Hugs

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    • Thanks. I want to try to look at him honestly through my own grown-up eyes and I don’t want to lose the opportunity.

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  4. I have found that we sometimes have a foggy view of our parents/grandparents while they are alive and when part of them are gone the picture gets clearer. ((Hugs))

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  5. (((Hugs))) sigh parenting! ( in my case Worm became an average person.. Idol sadly too )

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  6. Wow. This is so clear. You know exactly how you feel, the reasons for those feelings and are processing through them to make your future a more comfortable and livable place. This helps me understand that cryptic post, and I see you’ve reached a liberation of sorts! I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but I’m “proud ” of you for facing all these swirling and difficult emotions and for so nakedly sharing them here. It is beautiful to see you process all this as you move forward. Wishing you nothing but the best. May you write the life story you truly desire, one day at a time! Each day seems to be bringing you more light and revelation.

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    • Oddly enough, that day, as unpleasant as it was, started me thinking about this (that and this post about how someone with bipolar disorder feels when people she trusts leave: http://aminddivided.com/2015/05/07/i-think-we-need-a-bigger-boat/ ). I had a series of four students all in a row say something that expressed “I need you” and I felt irrationally angry. I think most people like to be needed, so it’s hard for me to talk about this with people in my life who would say, isn’t that a compliment, isn’t that evidence you are doing your job well?

      yeah, definitely been a liberating year, lol … 🙂

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  7. The realization that you had been somewhat “instrumentalized” by your mum most have been a very hard one to make, and to accept?! Kudos to you for acknowledging it. It looks to me as if you are giving your dad a second chance by acknowledging it, too? However much you miss your mum, your dad is the parent who is still around, so I am sure it is a good thing that you feel this way…

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    • yeah, I miss her all the time and I will always miss her but the fact that she isn’t around to perpetuate her worldview means that some things about mine are really changing. I had this feeling in the fall of 2013 that my superego might be dying, but I attributed it to grief at the time. Since it’s persisted I wonder if this is part of what is going on.

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      • Interesting idea – mother as super-ego. It actually makes total sense to me, in general (since I cannot judge how ideology/morals/ethics manifested themselves in you), and even when I look at my own world-view and how my mother has influenced it. Since we (humans) tend to be extra close to our mothers by virtue of being born and brought up by them, I think their (nagging, admonishing) voice becomes our superego. It’s interesting to think that the superego can change its tune.

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        • I’ve become more comfortable expressing my needs, I think. Although there may be a “growing older” component to that as well.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. As much as we like to think of home as a refuge, I think home sometimes turns out to be a kind of crucible, a place where emotions become heated and stew for years. Later, life finally takes us off the burner and allows us some time and distance to process what really happened there. I know my opinion of my parents has softened quite a bit as I’ve gotten older and experienced how easy it is to make wrong choices (choices that are sometimes hard to forgive) both as an individual and a parent, though at the time the choices were made, they seemed right. I guess I’m anxious about how my own kids will think of me when they get farther into adulthood. Though we have a good relationship and have had to weather many storms as a team, I hope they have a sense of humor about some of my shortcomings and remember me with love for what I tried to do but didn’t always achieve. I think the best we can do is to absorb the lessons we get from our experiences and then try to move forward as a more informed person and as a better teacher for those who seek our counsel. My experience has been that G*d doesn’t always rescue us from terrible circumstances, but will provide us with whatever fortitude we need to trudge our way to the other side.

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    • My mother was very anxious about how I saw her after I left home — we had a lot of conversations about it, and I never understood why. When she was dying we talked about her relationship with her mother a lot (which was really poor — this was always obvious) and I made a point of saying to her, well, don’t you think our relationship is better than yours with her was? I have nothing but understanding for her choices, and even now, I’m not really angry about this recognition. I just need not to let it determine the rest of my relationship with my father.

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    • oh — and: welcome!

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  9. Que vous partagiez avec tant d’inconnus votre chemin intérieur m’émeut beaucoup . La famille et les proches sont ce qui touchent le plus , nous font réfléchir sur les vraies valeurs humaines ( compréhension , don de soi , amour ) et les vraies valeurs existencielles ( vie , mort ) . J’espère que vous retrouviez ainsi rapidement cette sérénité à laquelle vous aspirez , pour passer à d’autres étapes et découvertes . Je suis de tout coeur avec vous .

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  10. When I read your post about not liking “being needed” I immediately thought of your father, rather than your students. I was hoping you would not have to “parent” him and give up much of your own life to do it. Stay strong and who knows, maybe he can do a little growing up and surprise you. Or not. At any rate, I am so glad you are considering your needs and desires as they reveal themselves to you. Thank you for sharing thoughts about of your journey to liberation. You are right, there is still time.

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    • I think there’s a sense in which my father has a legitimate claim to my support (of various kinds), but also vice versa. (More about this in a subsequent post).

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  11. You can’t imagine how this touches me. As a parent, I’ve always been careful not to transfer my parents’ mistakes to my own children. Sometimes, though, particularly when they were small, the words just popped out of my mouth, and I wish I could have taken them back the moment they left me.
    When I became parent at 36 it wasn’t until then, I had this epiphany: “Now I know what went wrong. Now I know where that came from”. I do my best to remedy, but in the course of my children’s lives, I do make mistakes.
    I hope they can see it in their hearts to forgive me.
    I hope you can see it in your heart to forgive your dad…and your mum as well.
    It’s so difficult to avoid making allies of one’s children, particularly when the partnership – which a marriage is supposed to be – is disintegrating and the loyalty of the partner is very hard to spot.
    You’re a grown-up now, you’ve got your own life-experience, and now you’re able to see some of the mechanisms in your parents’ partnership that weren’t good for you (or for either of them). If ‘being needed’ is one of them, thankfully there are many miles between you and your dad, and please do make sure you stay on that path of liberation.

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    • re: forgiveness — I think that was something that happened a long time ago — or maybe the way to put it is this: when I was in my mid-twenties I realized that I was responsible for my own decisions. I could say, “this or that influenced me, is the background reason that, I react the way I do, but this or that does not control me.” I’ve not been totally successful (water fear and reasons for it, I am looking at you!) but I don’t know that I’ve been in the state of anger about those things, probably not for twenty years. There is a sense, though, in which something can’t be forgiven unless the perpetrator asks for it, and neither of my parents were really especially good at acknowledging mistakes (my father in particular isn’t), so I am still mindful of a lot of things, even if I am not concretely angry about them anymore.

      I think the way we grew up, I was possibly the only unreserved ally my mom was going to get; I don’t know that she even did what she did consciously.

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      • Unless a parent is very self-absorbed and egoistical, I don’t think a parent would act/react consciously to the detriment of his/her child.
        What happens is we all carry emotions, reaction patterns etc. with us which originate from our upbringing, life experience and personality traits. We can have a long discussion about whether these are inherent or instilled. I tend to believe it’s a mixture.
        As long as you are aware of the mechanisms in a relationship I’ve talked about above. From what you write, it seems your mom needed an ally – this was you – it wasn’t because she was consciously doing what she did, but my guess is she needed someone who would seemingly understand her (and with that ‘understanding’ would come approval of her). This is where you are now – the part where you’re done approving, and now you’re ‘free’ to judge her actions, because she’s not there any more, and you feel that void. This is the really hard part; feeling the void and at the same time being ‘free’ to judge. I’ve seen it so many times when friends of mine have lost close ones, particularly when a woman-friend loses her mother.
        I believe we must come to terms with the fact that parents are not infallible super-heroes, but of flesh and blood, successes and failures, and this can be hard to come to terms with – even when they are still alive.

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        • I don’t think that she was trying to harm me, and I don’t think I’ve seen her as a super-hero since I was in seventh grade, when she did something on purpose to protect herself that harmed me really badly. Even that, however, she did primarily to protect herself and she wouldn’t have realized what the consequences were to me.

          It’s kind of that I need to be more critical of things that I accepted without thinking too much about them because they were corroborated by evidence I had as well. I don’t think I’ve had my head in the sand all these years. I just accepted her interpretation of particular evidence.

          The other thing, on the plus side for her, is that there are things she wasn’t telling me / was trying to protect me from.

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  12. This is very interesting as I can relate to quite some bit of it regarding the manipulativeness (is that a word?) of your mum. Would you call her manipulative, as in that she consciously influenced your view on your dad? I am 45 now and only in recent years have I begun to realize how very (consciously) manipulative my mom is and I have a lot of trouble with that. I love her and have a very good relationship with her, yet also very much feel that she plays me and I still need to find a way to deal with that without frustration… I should write about it as well, although I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to share with anyone.

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    • I think at times my mom did things and did them on purpose. I don’t think it was out of desire for my harm, though.

      It’s an interesting problem because I’m really hostile to manipulativeness in general, to the point that I can often see how to manipulate people and when I notice myself doing it, I have to quit. (I have plenty of other faults, this is just a big issue with me. For instance, I know how I could manipulate students to do what I want and I refuse because it’s unethical.)

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  13. I think the fact that you have distinguished your own anger versus taking on your mother’s anger is a major step forward. Since your father is still alive and has expressed his needs to you, I hope you will find the truth in your feelings while taking care of yourself and making hard choices. I’m really glad you shared this and I wish you the best Serv!

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  14. […] in my parents’ marriage, but I was in their house. What I came away with, though: even as my picture of mother changes, it’s very important not to disturb others’ picture of her. Especially, […]

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