I might as well get this out of the way…
I never had a dad. Sure, I had a father…but not a dad. The difference is a father does just that. He “fathers” a child…and that’s it. A dad is involved. A dad is available. A dad cares…nurtures…guides…loves a child.
You may think I’m exaggerating. That I’m speaking from a place of hate as a spoiled brat. I mean, what father doesn’t love their child, right? Lots…and mine was one of them.
I know this because he told me when I was 18 that he “hated” me because every time he looked at me, I reminded him of my mother. Correct. His words, not mine. Not only did he feel that way but he somehow thought it was ok to tell me. Like that was going to be some excuse to explain away years of mental and emotional abuse…that eventually turned physical.
Maybe it’s a better excuse to consider he had an undiagnosed chemical imbalance. (That was a really big “maybe”…and a lot of sarcasm). It was no secret that my father was a “hot head”. He could go off the rails at a moment’s notice and you rarely saw it coming. It didn’t matter who you were. If he got pissed, you were going to feel the wrath. This includes at his own parents…his wife…his children.
Conversely, my grandfather was a quiet man. He had Clint Eastwood good looks and a sense of humor to match. Always quick with a joke, my dad’s dad was never short on smiles. If he wasn’t out on the farm taking care of things, you could find him in his lazy boy with a beer and a magazine (usually of the girlie type).
My grandmother on the other hand was anything but quiet. She had an opinion on everything and fiercely fought to protect her young, specifically my father. Do I blame her for my father’s behavior…yah, kinda. She knew the kind of man he was and vigorously defended him, even against me when I asked her for help. She recognized that he was incapable of conducting himself like an adult. But rather than teach him how to behave, she elected to tell her 15 year old granddaughter (me) that because of this deficiency, I needed to act like the adult. Ummmmm, what????
So after 30+ years of struggling to make a broken relationship somehow feel normal, I completely gave up. I no longer tortured myself at holidays…to put forth the appearance of being a good daughter. I finally gave myself permission to choose who I would spend time with and neither my father or grandmother were on that list. The relief of no longer having to pretend was immeasurable.
I’d all but forgotten how tense I used to feel until Saturday when I sat directly across the room from them at my sister’s wedding. So many years of pent up frustrations still lingered just below the surface. Only this time, I didn’t feel like a little girl questioning why her daddy didn’t love her. This time I felt like an adult…protecting that little girl from the people that hurt her most. This time I wasn’t afraid…or sorry…or confused. I was steadfast in my conviction to treat myself and that little girl with the love and respect we deserve…and had craved for so long.
Maybe it helped to have Mr. Universe sitting next to me, asking if I was ok. Standing by my side to make sure I felt protected…cared for…supported…loved. Regardless of precisely the reason, to know..correction, to feel…that I’ve finally rounded that corner. That I’ve integrated that little girl that wanted nothing more than to feel protected. To be where I am and not care where they are is priceless…and liberating.
To anyone that may have grown up under similar circumstances, find a way to love that child. Find a way to protect that child. Find a way to integrate that child back into your psyche…and then commit yourself to protect and support and love all children. I don’t know how else to say it, but it takes a village…and as adults – real adults – it’s our obligation to protect the children all around us…and in us.