I didn’t really intend to write this down or share it, but honestly it’s touched me so much that I feel compelled.
Most of my readers know I come from an abusive home, and my dad in particular has shown more cruelty and unnerving violence than I’ve ever seen from anyone else. Physical, emotional, mental, he had it all covered, and his favorite way to teach me lessons was either by inflicting massive amounts of pain and suffering on me, or on another person or creature that I cared about. Most of my friends know this as well, though none of them really know the whole story, you can gather enough from the bits and pieces to see just what a viscous person he was, how badly he damaged me.
I think most of us from abused homes have a touchy spot for loved ones calling our parents negative names. It used to infuriate me when my friends called my dad a jerk, or mean, or made threats against him. People never try to reason out what he’s done to me, they just abhor his actions and make that clearly known. This does me, someone who has spent her entire life questioning her father’s motives, and his hatred both of life in general and of me particularly, absolutely no good. I know he is bad. I can’t explain it, I just don’t want the pity. I don’t want the negativity. To most people in my life, my dad is a villain. I deal with this the best I can.
Years ago, I went to Tennessee and visited my lifelong neighbor, Phyllis. Phyllis had two sons, both older than me, who both died--one in a car accident, one from drug usage. She and I spent time catching up on her front porch in the humid Appalachian summer, and she asked me--had I tried talking to them? (at the time, my mother was still alive.) I could look through the treeline and see my old house, I knew my dad was standing outside listening to our conversation, but he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to see me. I told her I had tried, to no avail.
She began to cry and I’ll never forget what she said. “I don’t see how any parent could ever not want to see their kids. I’d give anything to see mine again.”
It was the closest thing to understanding I had ever heard, someone desperately trying to pull reason out of my parents action. It was because she was a parent. And she was sad for me. She didn’t demonize my parents or anything...she was just sad. And she reminded me that not all parents are so quick to hurt their children. I respected her so much for that simple comment.
So the other night I was talking with a friend, who is himself a parent, and the topic turned to my dad’s aggression. I was really taken aback when he said, “I can’t imagine the guilt he has.” I rarely hear people speak about my dad as though he could have that complex, and gentle, of an emotion, especially toward me. I immediately deflected the remark with some sarcastic “Idk man he’s pretty ok with it fhfhfhfhfh” but my friend was adamant...he believed my father felt guilt toward his actions, even if he didn’t show it.
It made me think back on all the millions of times I’d wondered myself over the years if he ever regretted the way he treated me, if he was ever sorry. He showed so much cruelty toward me, but what I hate sharing because of the skeptical looks I get-- he also showed the softest and kindest love--I know it sounds ridiculous to people, but he did. He was my protector, on some days. He was my hero, as a Dad should be. He loved me, and I know that he loved me more than he loved my siblings. And that may be the exact reason he treated me worse. He may still even love me, if he thinks of me. I never share this, but it is how I feel.
So anyway, a long time ago I stuffed the “is my dad remorseful” feelings down into a box and hid them away, because I realized I didn’t want him to feel guilty, or need him to be. Isn’t it easier to call something black and white, to say my dad was just shitty and nothing else? To hope for some reconciliation where he admits how wrong and how mean he was is to set myself up for false hope and failure. I know it won’t happen, so why dream about it? He’s my dad. He’s cruel. Easy.
My friend said one other thing. “You don’t have to believe me.” But he made it clear that he felt certain. And I suddenly felt so much gratitude that someone on this earth finally said something about my dad that wasn’t negative or pitying or painting him into a villain or a monster, or worse, blindly defending him in his horrible actions....I felt like someone else, other than myself, had finally humanized my dad. It’s something that I have only learned to do after years of despair and hatred and self-loathing and every other cynicism in the world. And hearing someone else do it made me love my dad even more. I am so lucky to have a friend like that in my life. To state what he stated, and not try to convince me of anything for some agenda or reconciliation or church service.
When my mother died, my very first reaction was to be stoic. I remember thinking, “She wouldn’t have stopped what she was doing if it were me.” And I went on making my Christmas cookies. This of course was followed by the most intensive meltdown of my entire life, and she had died without me knowing if she loved me. At the time, I didn’t have the slightest indication that she did--it had been years since our last, broken conversation.
I remember days later, making the decision to believe that she had in fact, loved me. My evidence was meager at best, because my mother had all of the animosity toward me that my father had, but on an entirely more cruel and vindictive level. I don’t “choose to believe” often...it requires faith, and I have so, so little faith in anything, especially my family. I wished I could choose to believe in god when she died, so I could feel some connection to her. I wished that I could choose to believe she would hear me when I cried for her, thousands of miles away from home. But I couldn’t believe it, I still can’t.
Despite my disdain for baseless faith, I somehow I made the decision soon after she died to choose to believe that she loved me. And that decision was rewarded a week or so later. In the month before she died I sent off a generic, empty Christmas card from Sweden. I expected nothing of course, it was just the normal effort I put in for my parents that they never reciprocated. I heard nothing back. She died. My sister mentioned offhandedly to me after New Years that my card was on the wall with the other relatives and neighbors.
My mother had decorated with my card. I was on the wall.
She had thought of me. It was more than I ever thought I would receive.
So after my recent conversation about my dad, I asked myself, “Do I believe him? Is he right? Is my dad guilty at all?” And I realized it was one of those rare, shining circumstances where even I, as a very cynical atheist, could choose to believe something. And I do believe it--I do believe my dad is sorry for what he’s done to me. I doubt I will ever get any vindication or proof of that and I’m okay with it. Just the belief brings me so much peace, it has changed a lot of my thinking process just in the last day.