Dear Dad

(This is part two of three letters I’ve written.  Two to my parents and one to myself.  The first was to my mother and you can read it here Dear Mom.  Just for the record, these letters were written as part of a therapy assignment for me to explore whether I was ready to try to meet with them this summer.  Through these letters, I came to the conclusion that I was not yet ready.  I may never be.  My intent is not to try to justify myself or somehow make someone accept my perspective.  My intent has purely been to explore the real story underneath all the feelings.  For me, writing out the actual events in last week’s post was very cathartic and I will write about that in the future.  For now, take these letters as they are: raw and uncensored – well, except for grammatical editing)

For years you assumed it was only between Mom and I.  For years you stayed your distance as best you could.  Only when pushed, by Mom, would you enter the fray and do her bidding.  For a long time I vacillated between being angry with you and feeling sorry for you.

I felt sorry for you because I saw you as a victim for so many years.  I was angry with you because you left me alone to be the recipient of her rage.  I felt sorry for you because she manipulated you.  I was angry with you because when given the chance to get us out, you chose to stay with her.

For years I vacillated, but now I have come to a decision.  I am  was angry with you.

You made sure you were not at home much. If you weren’t at work, you were at a ball game – basketball, softball, golf. You knew that as long as you weren’t home, she couldn’t make you the focal point of her raging.  She couldn’t throw things at you or bring you to your knees.  She couldn’t make you feel inadequate because you weren’t the great husband her Daddy was.  You knew she had rage leftover from her past, even if you didn’t understand it.  You forgot to realize that she still needed to take that rage out on someone and I was the easiest target.

You never challenged her.  I’ve searched my memory and I cannot once remember you standing up to her for me.  In your defense, I know you were just as afraid of her as I was. But…you were the only other adult and a man and a father.  It was your children she was scarring with her anger and her rage.  It was your family she was destroying in the process.

You betrayed me.  Even up until four years ago, I trusted you (In fact, Mom knew this and has used you to manipulate me on many occasions including just a few weeks ago).  You came here and we had a long discussion without Mom. You seemed to understand my point of view.  You said all the right things to make me believe that you saw things clearly and I thought you were being honest with me.  I asked you to not share what I said with her and you promised me you wouldn’t, that it was just between you and I.  But a few days after I had allowed myself to be vulnerable with you in an unprecedented way,  I got a letter from Mom addressing the things that I had privately shared with you.  I knew you had betrayed me.

I told you how for many nights, especially from the time I was about 10 years old until my mid-teens, I would beg God to allow you to just leave her.  Just leave her so that I could live with you and end this nightmare of her angry and volatile mood swings.  If nothing else, you can at least say you honored your vows.  I wonder often if she realizes how fortunate she is.

Now you wonder what you did to make me not want to see you anymore… to not want to be a “family”.  Really?  You have to wonder at this?  You say you don’t know what you did.  You say you asked my youngest brother if you were bad parents and what you and mom could have possibly done to me.  He said he couldn’t remember anything.  That was your proof that it was all me; that it was all stories I conjured in my head? Proof that I was as mentally ill as Mom claimed I was?  That my brother, who was born when I was 9 years old and wasn’t even out of middle school when I got married, couldn’t remember what you did anything to deserve my “treatment” of you and Mom.  No disrespect to my brother, but he was way too young to remember these things.  But if you need to claim his memory in order to prove that I am the problem, then so be it.

I remember the night about four weeks after my son was born and you called me and yelled so loudly and so viciously that I had to hold the phone away from my head.  Your granddaughter heard you yelling.  I could read on her face that she was so astonished that you could sound so mean, so cruel.  Even if she didn’t clearly make out the words, she understood their meanings. Unfortunately, she didn’t miss much of what both you and Mom said to me during those tumultuous days.

You’ve yelled at me that I must honor my parents and that I must forgive.  What about your anger towards me?  Is it a righteous anger?  How have you justified your anger and judged my actions?  Apparently I don’t see honoring my parents in the same light as you do.  I see honoring you, in the situation I find myself in (by my choice), as me not spreading rumors about you to others.  I see honoring as not talking disrespectfully about you to others.  I see honoring as not airing the dirty laundry.  But, you require an answer, so I’m giving it and you can call it airing dirty laundry if you must.

I see forgiveness differently too.  I know that forgiveness is imperative for me.  Some days it’s harder than others and for me it is a process to lay down the burden of the memories and the betrayal and to forgive again.  But, I do not see forgiveness as walking open arms and vulnerable into a bad relationship again.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I allow things to continue and the only way I see for things to not continue in that way is to cut off any relationship.  All conversations turn into arguments.  Five years ago, Mom wanted to get family counseling with her therapist at the time and I agreed, with the prerequisite that I sit down and speak with him privately before a family session.  She wanted no part of that.  I suspect that she had told him all sorts of horrible things about me and didn’t want me to upset the image of me she had created in her mind.

Am I really that horrible of a person that you can’t see the truth that’s been in front of you all these years?

Why did she cut you off from your family?  Why did we never see your family for holidays, birthdays, or just because, at anytime after I was about 10 years old?  Why did you allow her to poison your mind about your family, about me? You knew she had anger issues stemming from her childhood, why didn’t you help her get real help?  I believe she suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and they’ve been treating it since the mid-60’s.  Back then it was known as Hysterical Woman’s Syndrome.  Ironic isn’t it. Wouldn’t you have truthfully called her hysterical?  Especially when she was throwing all sorts of tantrums and having what she termed a ‘nervous breakdown’ every weekend?

I know you’re angry with me.  I know you don’t understand.  That’s the point.  You don’t want to understand.  You don’t want to see clearly.  You don’t want to rock the boat.  But sometimes when the boat gets buffeted and blown around, the junk get thrown out and you’re left with what’s really important.

Frankly, I’m not sorry about what I felt I had to do six years ago.  I’m sorry that it had to happen, but I’m not sorry I stood up to her, then you, and made the decisions that I did.  I felt I had no choice if I was going to have any chance at trying to get healthy and breaking the cycle.  Mom’s family’s dysfunction is very deep and strong.  You allowed it to grab hold of your family.  I’m not claiming that I made all the right decisions.  I still examine myself and how I ended up here.  I’m not claiming any kind of self righteousness.

I spoke with your sister about the situation a few years, when Grandmother died.  I didn’t come to the funeral.  I’m sure that made you angry.  The truth is that I knew that Mom would waste no opportunity for a public showdown and argument.  I also knew that you would try to “control” my mother.  I did not want you to have to worry about that on the day you buried your own mother.  Your sister understood why I did what I did.  She understood the choice that I made and agreed with it.  You see, I don’t think your family is blind.  They knew what Mom was like but they also respected your wishes and your marriage despite the destruction they witnessed. We talked about the significance of Proverbs 14:1:

“A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.”

There are no winners here.  There are no sides here.  All that remains are ruins.  What remains is distrust, resentment and pain.

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2 thoughts on “Dear Dad

  1. “Through these letters, I came to the conclusion that I was not yet ready.” How awesome that the exercise was fruitful. When I was prego and throwing up childhood issues for some curious reason, my amazing Christian therapist advised that I write my dad in crayon. The literal representation of the little girl. I resisted at first. Too touchy feely.

    It really helped.

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