My girlfriend and I have very open communication. We’ve grown a lot together in the past year and a half (or so) and with that what we’re able to talk about has grown too. A few months back we had a conversation about our exes. I like talking about past major relationships and why they didn’t work it because it gives me a kind of reassurance that because of those relationships and those mistakes, we’re working out and won’t make those same mistakes. I hadn’t thought too much about why my last major relationship ended, other than that I just didn’t love him anymore (and that I had cheated on him). But then in talking about this and that and why I didn’t love him anymore I finally realized this, “I didn’t want my kids growing up with a man like my father.”
That’s been sitting with me for years probably but that conversation was the first time I had ever said it out loud. It was true that I didn’t want my kids to grow up with a man who probably didn’t really want to have them in the first place, or a man who was withholding with his affection or easily angered. But I think also I didn’t want kids growing up with me?
I grew up describing myself as the same person as my father, but my mother’s twin. As I’ve grown up I’ve switched this up almost entirely but I still remember those ways that I remain like him, and all the ways I vow to change.
My dad is an angry angry guy. He’s angry and sad and doesn’t know how to take that anger and the sadness and make it constructive or useful. He went to therapy for a few months on and off but eventually stopped returning the appointment reminder calls and we never spoke of it again. Over the years we’ve shared a lot of surly, bile filled car rides by being angry at each other and not having the common language to turn that anger into understanding. Instead we would sit in the awkward silence, I would eventually put my headphones in as loud as they could go and stare out the window all the way home. He used to use this anger in his classroom. He used to say that his students were more afraid of him because his anger and disapproval was so quiet. I knew that disapproval well.
Apart from the silent, biting anger was the occasional explosions. These were few and far in between, but I’ve never forgotten. I’ve never forgotten the slammed doors because I left a dish in the sink, or the curses hurled at me because of a forgotten towel on the clothesline. I won’t forget the day I was afraid for my life in the truck, or the bruises across my baby brother’s chest because he wouldn’t get into his car seat fast enough.
I vowed in that moment to never let my anger get the best of me. I vowed to never let it scare my loved ones, like I was scared of him.
My dad doesn’t communicate. Not only that but he doesn’t ever really talk either, about anything. That isn’t us, it isn’t our style. He’s tried, maybe, to come close to connecting with me emotionally about anything but it’s so uncomfortable I shut it down. I hate to think I have real and true “daddy” issues, but I have found it incredibly difficult to connect emotionally with any cis-man since then. It was no wonder to me that my parents got divorced. I admired my mother for sticking it out 20 years with a man who definitely never talked to her about anything real, a man she probably didn’t even know. I applauded her for being the only one to try and communicate to fix things with them, every day for 20 years.
I am not one to be confused with a good communicator. I don’t like giving voice to my feelings or admitting when I’m upset or angry. I like to think of myself as independent, even solitary. I don’t really need anything or anybody, I am myself to give to whoever needs me, but I don’t need anyone to do the same for me. Because of this people-pleaser kind of attitude I’ve become also, a terrible communicator.
My dad and I are, for all intents and purposes, no longer speaking. For the foreseeable future I have cut communication and have no intention on rebuilding any bridges with him. I struggle with the simple fact that he was never truly abusive. He never hit me, although I was sure he would eventually. He never belittled me, or called me names, or did anything that we’re taught equal abuse. But there’s damage done. There’s damage to my ability to have relationships, or to trust people, or to see any cis-man as a safe place for me. If he should ever pop up on my phone again I’ll have to make the decision whether or not to answer. I won’t be like him in this relationship, I won’t be like him and lean on my crutches, I won’t be like him and give into my anger. I want my kids to be proud of their role models. I want them to want to be like me someday.