In my family, three of us are Aries – Dad on March 27th, my baby brother on the 16th of April, and I was born two days later. Two weeks ago, on March 27, as I wrote a response to the Share Your World prompt, I detoured down memory lane to talk about my Dad’s birthday. I went on at length, and before long, the tone of the post was not as light and fluffy as I wanted. I deleted the “offending” prose and hit the “publish button.”
Today, Van wrote about colouring eggs, and the memories that invoked. She talked about how on a particular Easter, her grandmother died of a heart attack and that meant the family dynamic would change for the worse.
Again, my Dad’s birthday came to mind, since Easter falls around that date. I tamped down the urge to comment playfully how we kids always bought Kraft Caramels for Dad and I wondered, did they still make Kraft Caramels? (Apparently, yes.) I recalled how I would steal the candy and eat four, five, SIX at a time and nearly choke on the surge of saliva.
And I remembered that I always lived in fear that I’d be caught.
I started to write about that in my comments to Van, but instead, I simply thanked her for sharing, and urged her to write more some day.
Since I was AWOL from the blogs for the better part of fourteen months, I missed the 2016 entry where Van wrote about her mother’s illness and the suffering Van and her siblings endured. She shared the link. As is our habit, Van writes an eloquent and heartfelt blog post, and I, in my comments, am inspired to write a post of my own. It seems a story featuring my dad demands to be told.
The title? Just a little something to sweeten an otherwise unpalatable story.
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My childhood home was an unhappy place. Not always, but often enough to merit the designation. I witnessed and experienced verbal, emotional, and physical abuse right up to the time when my brothers were old enough to fight back against their authoritarian and disciplinarian father. My mother remained silent through most of the abuse that dad heaped on us kids. As far as I know, he never raised a hand to her. But since she did not protect us, I suspect that she was afraid that he would hit her.
I distinctly recall the moment in my bedroom, as mom and dad were arguing downstairs, I declared, “That does it. I’m not having kids.”
I was twelve. What did I know about the cycle of abuse? I knew nothing of my dad’s upbringing, and not much more of my mom’s. But I had an intuition that the pain and anger and hurt that I witnessed was decades in the making. And that it would continue if I had children. I knew that I would be a lousy parent, given the lessons I was learning at the hands of my folks.
It’s no wonder I got married at twenty. My mom encouraged it, actually. She made a deal with me – take the cheap route, and I’ll give you $2000.00 to set up your new household. It was as if she was saying, “If I can’t leave this nasty life, at least I can help you to get out.”
Thank God I never had kids, for in spite of my declaration, I caved to social pressure and for a short while, I tried to get pregnant. I, and my unborn offspring, dodged that bullet because I cannot imagine myself as a good mother. I’m still working on my “stuff.” I have a short temper, I catch myself judging, shaming, showing disrespect and contempt. And that’s the stuff that’s easy to confess.
With counselling, a lot of soul-searching, and some plain old good luck, I can finally say that I feel compassion for my parents. I know more about their upbringing, and more about human nature.
Both of my parents knew hardship and loss and pain and anger. Mom, the eldest of nine, raised her siblings after her father died and her mother was placed in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of her days. In Dad’s case, he was stricken with polio as a boy. He lived his whole life with chronic pain and deformity. Because of his disability, there is no doubt that he was harassed and bullied, probably his entire life, quite possibly by his father. People are ugly like that. When he’d chastise me for tripping over my gangling feet and snarl that I was “as graceful as an elephant,” I understand where he learned that. It doesn’t mean it was OK for him to say it, but I understand why he did.
Just a few years ago, when Howard had been dead for twenty years, I learned something that changed the entire way I looked at our relationship.
I knew that Howard had been married once before. What I didn’t know was how, or even if, she died. At a Christmas dinner hosted by my step-sister, conversation turned to her mom. Finally, I got some answers. She showed me her mom’s obituary. Dad’s first wife died of a brain hemorrhage as she sang in the church choir. It was Easter Sunday, as a matter of fact. March 27.
What a revelation! The story explained so much about Dad’s protective attitude toward his family. Not only did Dad loose a wife, on his birthday, no less, he soon lost his daughters, too. The eldest, our Christmas hostess, stayed with friends of the family. The youngest, however, was given up for adoption and any contact was refused. I didn’t learn about my second step-sister until I overheard my aunts talking after Dad’s funeral.
I used the word “protective” to explain Dad’s parenting style. I surely did not feel that way when I was living at home. Then he was unreasonable, obstinate, demanding, refusing, limiting, denying, forbidding. He enforced his edicts strictly, severely. He was terrifying.
I stole those caramels knowing full well what would happen if he caught me.
When you hear stories of abuse, there is a tendency to make snap judgments and banish the abuser to demon-hood. Now that I’ve had a chance to learn and reflect on my family’s experience, I try to remember that the “bad guys” are struggling with stuff, too. I try to allow compassion. We are all working as best we can with the cards that are dealt. This is not to excuse bad behavior. But it is an effort to remain available to new information and understanding.
Categories: Mom and Dad