Having a relationship
with my recovering abusive father
I am sure that you, like myself, probably have an awareness of daytime talk shows such as The Maury Show, Ricki Lake, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and what have you. You have probably at least seen ads for episodes that have as their featured topic of discussion fathers who are abusive to their children. These are heart wrenching tales which reveal some of the worst qualities in humanity and in men. Yet by the end of the program one, if not all, of these men of terror will have promised to repent their evil ways and be a “real man”. Some of them even manage to keep their life on track by the time the six month and one year updates happen, and I applaud them.
I am equally sure that you are likely aware of the results of child abuse by parents, whether from first hand (or belt, or switch, or rape, or abandonment) experience, study of the subject, or by knowing someone who has themselves experienced it. You may wonder why I did not just now say “survived it”. That is because even those of us who are lucky enough to have gotten out of the situation still able to breathe and live successful lives are still suffering from the effects. That being said, survivors we are.
One of the great legacies for boys, particularly boys who grow up to be men and enter into family situations of their own, is rage. That isn’t to say that this rage is limited to or more poignant for these men. Rather it is a legacy because of the situation these men find themselves in. Of course I am only one of a very large number of these men, and further more I avoid 12 step programs, professional therapists, and support groups like the plague, and thus these conclusions are drawn from interpolations of events in my own life and word of mouth.
As the title implies, my father has recovered. He has recovered from his abusive temper, from his drug use, and from his poor management of his relationships with women. He certainly hasn’t fixed all the damage he caused, but he has done extensive work in that amazing field called self-improvement. As the title implies, I also have a relationship with him. The truth is that I have three relationships with him, or rather I have a relationship with each of the three ways he fits into my life. The first aspect of that relationship is one of fear, the second is that he is a role-model for me (whether I like it or not), and the third is that I am his son (more or less).
Fourteen years after running away from home, during which time I have seen of my father, I still fear him. It wasn’t until last year that I stopped jumping when I heard keys in the lock of my own front door. For about five years afterwards I was terrified when ever a large black man in a black leather jacket got on the same public bus as me, or was on the same street as me. I have terrible nightmares where I am forced to “go back home”, give up my family and all autonomy, and be his son again. I usually get my assed kicked by him for some reason or another. When something bad happens to me, I hear his voice calling me shithead.
He is one of the most influential role models of my life. Besides treating my backside like his personal drum set, he taught me many things in life. I am the oldest son in the family configuration I grew up in. I learned a lot about taking care of my mother, my brothers, and threats there to. Oddly I never learned his sense of impeccable fashion or style, or how to charm the ladies. I learned how to lie, how to spot liars, and how to make quick judgments on who can be trusted and to what extent. I learned that family bonds are not a simple as 7th Heaven makes them appear to be. He taught me that my only ally is myself. Though, thankfully my wife has taught me better in the last couple of years.
I am his son. Even though we didn’t share ten of the most informing, if embarrassing, years of my life, he is my father. Now that we are speaking again, brought on by the death of my mother, I constantly want to lean on him for help being a father myself. I want to help him live the time he has left. I want him to love me. I want him fill those missing spaces that other people seem to have in their existences, their outlooks in life. I want him to share with me the sacred wisdom that fathers have about the true working of the world.
This episode of the Heyes show doesn’t end with some special moment that brought all of the pain and struggle of life into some clear focus. My father and I are not close as adults, as fathers. There is too much shame shared between us for that I think. While I’ve come to terms with what happened between us, there is much he still has to atone for with the other children. What this episode does close with is the sincere hope that, in twenty three and a half years, my own daughter will be able to write a write up titled: Having a relationship with my dad.