I saw a beautiful post on Facebook this morning while sipping my coffee. I found it here. It is a beautiful testament to the unreplaceable bond that children have with their fathers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know it’s the 21st century and there are now, and have always been, plenty of mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles etc who have done this, but this triggered a few things for me when I saw it.
Anyone who knows me or has read some of my posts will know that I had a tumultuous relationship with my parents, mixed with a LOT of the traditional things that parents did “back then”. Tossing a ball back and forth certainly was one of them. I have an eidetic memory and can recall, like a movie, the times I did this with my dad. It was no surprise that when I married and had my son, that I *expected* his father to do the same with him. Learning very early on that his own father did no such thing with him introduced me to the concept of an emotionally unavailable father. Oh how sheltered I was growing up in my world of what I deemed normal at the time.
My son, now a young adult, does not have any actual pleasant memories of his now deceased father. I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep those memories repressed for him as he (we) dealt with his Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety…oh what a cocktail. However, as time went on, I slowly but eventually realized how crucial it was to ensure he had an accurate portrait of what he went through, although over time he would recall everything just fine on his own.
For example, his learning that his own grandfather made sure the process of his father’s abuse of me went “smoothly” for the kids is still as fresh and horrifying as it was all those years ago. When my husband would erupt into a violent verbal or physical (or both) tirade, his grandfather instructed him to take the home phone up to his room and call him, so he would have someone to talk to during the *episode*. He also made sure to tell my now teenaged daughter to “go to her room and close the door until the yelling stopped”. What a nice, organized way to structure an abuse session of their mother for young children eh?
While those days are long past as I approach the tenth anniversary of his demise, I can remember with clarity the times I asked him if he was ever going to spend time with his children. My son just didn’t have a dad experience. He had a physical person who existed in the same physical space and that was about it. Sure, when it was passing out time in the evening, he would make a great show of sitting with his daughter on the couch after I was done my required duties of the day, so he could play the “doting father”. It’s hard to detect my tone in the typed word, but there really isn’t a snarky or sarcastic tone at all; it’s all very steeped in fact and recollection. There was no dad in the yard tossing a ball, no dad showing him how to swim in our pool, no walks to the park; literally nothing. I did all those things for and with him. My parents also did some things with him when they could.
Several times over the years, I’ve been asked why I can’t “let go of the past”. Hmm, well it’s not that simple conceptually. I don’t get physically ill at 3 PM anymore (the time my late husband got off of work) knowing he would be home soon, so yeah, some things DO change. I no longer tiptoe around, hoping I won’t wake him up, relieved that he finally finished drinking and fell asleep. Just because things are in the past, doesn’t mean you can just “let them go”. They happened, over and over again, year after year, despite apologies, declarations to never repeat the behavior, so you can’t resolve issues that are literally unresolved. There is a part of you that remembers those things forever.
Then there is the guilt. Another emotion that the past can trigger. I had a former *friend* tell me that I was selfish for not leaving him at the time. Oh how easy it was for her to say that to me, as she lived in a $900K house, unlimited funds, supportive husband etc. When he found out that I was looking into ways to leave him, he tore my desktop out of the cabinet, ran down the street with it and THREW IT IN THE CHESAPEAKE BAY. His truck was in my name because he ruined his credit, so he smashed my monitor and hit me in the head with a beer bottle until I signed it over, spitting on me and shoving a pen into my hand. When I said something he didn’t like, he went outside with garden shears one Saturday morning, cut the incoming line to cable TV and the phone, telling me to “have a nice weekend” before leaving with a case of beer to go hang out with his friend. When I asked for help from his parents, saying, “He is going to kill me”, his mother told me that “No one is going to help you with your problems!”. So yeah, there is guilt. I had nowhere to go. People always say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do”, but hmm, asking for that help is oftentimes met with the sounds of crickets. I think that people just don’t know what to do when someone they know, love or care about is going through something like this. It’s like a taboo that no one wants to talk about.
I don’t resent the people who told me that. I get that people don’t want to help someone out, wondering if the person they are escaping is going to come for them and their family, home, vehicle etc if they help/take them in. That same *friend* I mention before suggested I go to a shelter. I was very diabetic with two young children with Autism and severe behavioral issues, one non-verbal. How was that going to work? His parents said that if I managed to get my late husband out of the house (through a court order/restraining order/divorce decree), they would let him move in and pay his expenses so he wouldn’t have any money to pay me or keep medical for the children. THERE IS NO BUCKET OF BALLS WITH A LOVING NOTE like in the article I referenced in the first paragraph.
Deep breaths…triggers are very real. For someone like me, who desperately tries to keep it all under wraps…I succeed often, but it’s still THERE and likely always will be. People will tire of your droning on about it, even if they don’t tell you directly. They expect you to move on within some predetermined time frame. The grief you experience isn’t just for the death of the person. The grief is there for the time/years you lost, the life you could have led, the children who deserved better, the guilt you feel for not handling it “better”, and the list is long. I participated in many years of counseling, coming to terms with my diagnosis of PTSD, the anxiety disorder I needed medication for, the extremely poor relationship choices I made after it all. I am stronger now, more aware of what is going on around me, but I am and probably always will be damaged on some level.
If you or someone you love/know is being abused, please do what you can, safely, to get help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good place to start and they have safe ways for you to get in contact.