Here are some excerpts from a note I wrote to someone recently:
Your dad loves you guys. He doesn’t show it like your mom does.
I did not like my father. He was an angry, physically violent man and as the oldest I got the brunt of it. He spanked me on my 16th birthday. Lot’s and lot’s of all kinds of physical and mental abuse. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him, I didn’t want to be in the same room with him. I wished many times that my mom would get a divorce. So I GET how you feel.
My mom chose to stay with him. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, because I think she could have found someone that would appreciate her and made her happy. I don’t know what would have happened to my dad if she had left. She felt a lot of loyalty and stayed with him, he died a couple of years ago. Now she is alone, 87 and living in assisted living.
As I got older and could clear the anger from my mind, I realized that my dad did love me. HE JUST DIDN’T LOVE ME THE WAY I WANTED HIM TO.
Your parents had a bad marriage. Neither was happy.
It may be that you can’t get past the negatives that you remember. I hope that’s not the case. I hope that you might be able to step back at some time and see that your dad is human, and like all of us is not all good, or all bad. Neither of your parents was ever going to be happy if they stayed married to each other.
I am close to several dads that are agonizing about the anger and resentment that their kids have for them. As a parent, and as their peer, it would be very easy for me to look at this and condemn their kids as being unrealistic and ungrateful. But the fact is I didn’t want to have anything to do with my dad either. The difference in my situation and that of my friends is that my mom stayed with him and balanced the negative with her take on his good traits. And there were some, even though I didn’t see them for a long time. I doubt that I would have ever seen them if mom hadn’t pointed them out. Because I really didn’t want to see anything good about him.
My dad could piss off a saint. Mom called me the morning of their 50th anniversary party to tell me that it was cancelled and she was “going to divorce his ass”. I don’t remember what the fight was about, but they made it to the party. She was able to stay with him because she chose to see his good points.
The truth is I don’t think I would have had a relationship with my dad if he and my mother had divorced.
We justify leaving a relationship by listing all of the faults of the person we are leaving. Human nature I guess. How often are we able to step back and say yeah, they do have all those faults, but there were some things that were good too? That is certainly not going to happen in the early days of hurt and anger. But I would hope that there would be some balance in the memories after a while.
Probably not though. It seems that the longer we hang on to the hurt and anger the bigger those things are. Until that is all there is. If the other parent is chiming in on the negatives, the child really doesn’t have a chance to pull their head out of their butt and look at the situation with a clear head.
I don’t think anyone sets out to have a bad relationship with their kid. I know my dad’s father was a real SOB that was physically and emotionally abusive to his kids as well as his wife. His family was relieved when he died. Thing is, we learn by example. My dad didn’t have counselors and self help books to teach him how to parent in a different way than his father. He and my mom fought about it, and he made some adjustments. But it was an uphill battle.
We are getting smarter about this stuff I hope. There is a lot of information out there. Blogs, books, seminars and counseling are available. Of course you have to recognize that there is a problem and be open to change. That’s a big step right there.
So if you are one of those people that has cut a parent out of your life, or you are thinking about it, take a leap of faith and acknowledge that your parent loves you. Maybe not the way you want them to, but in the way that they know,. Can you remember good times? Can you look in a photo album and see that there were trips and swimming pools, joy, laughter and love?
If you look back with honesty and cannot see any good, then so be it. As I have said before, you have to remove yourself from toxic relationships. But recognize that you may not be looking at the relationship with clarity.