Archive for Father Daughter
I have tried to talk to my father about the problems with our relationship since my first child was born over 20 years ago and although he pretends to listen to me, he never listens to me. I know this because he never tries to change anything about it. My father is emotionally unavailable. Not just to me; I believe he is emotionally unavailable to everyone. He sent me a birthday card this year and it said how he had all these fond memories of me. I wondered if he knew who he sent the card to? What memories? But I am tired of asking and last year when my father called to ask “if he was able to arrange it”, could he stay with us and attend our daughters graduation, I told him that I was tired of having the same old discussion with him; seeing him just hurts because it is a big reminder of his disinterested in me and how he delivers that same message to my kids about them. I told my passive abusive father that our relationship was pretty much “no relationship” and I was tired of telling him how much he discounts my kids by cutting them off and never listening to them when they are talking. I told him that I was tired of constantly being reminded that I have never been important in his life by his lack of interest in my life.
I told my daughter about my decision and because of the frustrations that all my kids have with their grandfather, she understood my decision. I told him (and my daughter) that he was welcome to come to the event, but not to stay with us in our home. There is of course way more to this story, and years of dysfunctional history behind this decision but for the purpose of this article, I am going to leave it at that for now.
Last month I got a letter from one of my half sisters. We have our emotionally unavailable father in common but we have different mothers. I think I was 16 or 17 when my sister was born; we have never actually lived in the same home or even in the same city or province and don’t really know each other all that well but like all good victims living in the dysfunctional system of victim mentality, I covered up for my father when it came to my half sisters (and to everyone else for that matter) and even believed all my own lies up until about 7 years ago when I faced the truth about my life and my dysfunctional parents.
There are a few things that I want to point out about her letter that are very common to the dysfunctional family system. Please keep in mind that my half sister is a victim of the family dysfunction and in this case she is just as much our fathers victim as I was.
The following letter was sent to my daughter with a CC to me because Read More→
Since it is father’s day, and not all of us have a great relationship with a father, I thought I would write something about difficult father daughter relationships. I have a father who is still alive and sometimes I wish I could write more about him, but there just isn’t much to say. To put it bluntly, he can’t be bothered with me. This relationship that I had with my father is equally as dysfunctional and devaluing as the relationship I had with my mother, it was just “different.” I spent years as a child trying to get his attention, but I failed to capture his interest. I used to think that perhaps if I were a boy like my brother who was gifted in sports he would have noticed me, or perhaps that was only about the sports and not really about my brother.
My father is really into himself. He has this sort of happy go lucky personality and I always thought he was great with people but the truth is that he is really terrible at relationships. He is really only interested in Read More→
One of my mother’s complaints was always that my father was “the hero” in my eyes. She said that I never criticised him and I acted as though he was “perfect”; that he left our family and then he made a new life for himself, but that none of us kids ever found any fault with him; only with her. She said that he got off “scot free” and she got stuck being the “bad guy.”
And even here on my blog, “Emerging from Broken” I have been pretty easy on him. But recently, inspired by fresh pain that my father has caused me, I realized it is time to write more about my father and the lack of contribution that he made to my life.
My father never “saw” me. He never tried to get to know me. He didn’t seem to hate me, he didn’t seem to resent me, he never called me names like stupid or ugly and he didn’t hit me, but the thing is that he didn’t really do the opposite of those things either. He never saw me as a person. He was emotionally unavailable. It is as though I didn’t have a father. Read More→
A belief system that says, “I am a nobody, I can’t do anything right, I’m just stupid” wreaks havoc in a few different ways. I believe we were born with an unconscious sense of our own value; deep down, in each of us, there “dwells a beauty”, a person who is loved and can love. But trying to function with a totally opposite belief system creates a swirling, anxious situation inside, as if two rivers are colliding head on into one another and the water is all confused. In my last three posts (1, 2, 3), I’ve been describing my Dad’s belief system and how it was passively handed down to me as a child. His belief system also created havoc in my family, just not the really obvious easy-to-see kind.
Someone with a “I’m a nobody” belief system still wants to be valued, because they are human. Because my Dad didn’t value himself he sought to find his value in other ways. One of these ways was to put a lot of responsibility on his family to do the work of his own failing self-esteem. He believed that he was loved if his wife cooked and cleaned and took good care of him. He believed he was loved if we didn’t say a mean word towards him or be upset with him in any way whatsoever. If he put himself down, we would disagree with him and try to tell him that the opposite was true. Because he didn’t communicate his thoughts and feelings, my Mom, brother and I were forced to try and read his mind. If he was in a bad mood we ALL could tell- we became so skilled at reading his subtle signs and passive communications at the expense of learning to communicate for ourselves. If we sensed he was upset, we would do the work to try and make things better. Though my Mom would try and encourage better communication, he was so extremely uncomfortable and uptight about trying that things would end up more anxious than before. He was the passive King in our home and we learned to treat him with kid gloves. In living this way, my brother and I learned that love was all these things. Love meant compensating for someone else’s poor self esteem. Love meant not making the other person upset. As children who did not know this was so backwards, it also meant sacrificing our own needs to be built up and paid attention to in order to build up our parent. So the cycle continued. My brother and I grew up with this huge sense of lacking and low self-esteem of our own. We naturally lived to please other people. And all the while, the pain was brewing deep inside.
The last five years have been a process of seeing these things as the truth of my story. In learning the truth that all these subtle “leeching” dynamics between a parent and his children can have just as much damage as more physical or obvious kinds of abuse, I was exposed to a whole new world. I learned that these things were not my fault. I learned that my depression and anxiety has definite reasons and weren’t just symptoms of a messed up person.
Of my two parents, my Dad’s belief system had the most impact on me. Deep down I believed I was a “nobody” as well and I relied on other people to tell me that this wasn’t true. This wreaked havoc in its own kind of way, testing relationships and causing me to miss out on great opportunities that I felt I just wasn’t worthy of. As an adult, the responsibility to live differently is now in my own hands. Now that I know that this belief system is not my real inheritance, not the one I was meant to have, I can choose to embrace a new one. I can choose which river to follow. Today I am working to change my belief system. Today I take on the primary responsibility of nourishing my own self-esteem. Today I am taking another step into freedom and living in the truth.
At the heart of the devaluing belief system (click here to read Part One) is the lie that as human beings, we are not valuable in and of ourselves. We exist to be used by others. Our own desires aren’t important. Other people’s desires trump our own. Our feelings and thoughts can’t be trusted. We are not capable of living our lives to the full. We don’t deserve to live our lives to the full. This belief system manifests itself in all kinds of ways. But the lie at the heart of it is the same.
Today I will describe how parents teach their children this belief system even simply in how they treat themselves. My Dad never told me I was a nobody, but he lived like he was one. He is also intelligent and talented, but he never believed that about himself. In my childlike observance, I saw repeatedly how he was uncomfortable accepting compliments and also giving them, how he did jobs and favors for others even if he didn’t want to because he didn’t believe he deserved to say “no”, how it was safer for him to spend hours watching TV or reading the paper instead of engaging with us, how he put himself down, even calling himself “stupid”, how he always took someone else’s opinion to be superior to his own. He didn’t offer his true self to his family, rarely sharing what he really felt or thought about something. I got this message from how he lived his own life: don’t flourish, don’t attract attention, don’t fly too high, don’t shine too bright. If other people were successful or happy he was quietly critical or suspicious of them. Be wary of the world because it’s a scary place. This may sound like the wrappings of a humble, unassuming person. But it was not so innocent. How a parent treats their own self is a huge message to their kids about what it means to be human.
As an observant and impressionable child, I grew up in this “lowly soup”. Even though it was never spoken to me, I naturally believed that because my Dad thought so little of himself as a human being, I must be little too. Even though I excelled at school, learned to play the piano, won awards, and succeeded at being popular, there was always this deep deep down feeling that I really had nothing to offer, nothing from my true self would be good enough. I didn’t even have practice in knowing what my true self was! In squishing himself, my Dad’s belief system squished down the spontaneous buds of my own real self. And as a child I had no way of knowing this was happening- I accepted it as the normal reality. As an adult, I have to acknowledge that it DID happen, that I did receive a passively given faulty belief system from my Dad, in order for me to be free from the lies that entrapped me.
Thankfully today, I can choose a different kind of inheritance. I love what Darlene wrote on our facebook fan page the other day: “I am not defined by who they think I am. I am not defined by who THEY say that I am. I am not defined by what happened to me. I am defined by my heart; my tenderness and compassion for others; by my purpose. I am an individual, worthy and valid. ~ Darlene”
My Father was a very passive man who seemed to be very happy with his job, his family and his life in general. He didn’t beat me or abuse me in any other physical way, but he didn’t bother with me much either. As a child I didn’t recognize that I had to work hard at getting his attention. I didn’t realize that I was inventing things like nightmares and tall tales in order to get a response out of him. I was just a child wanting my father to notice me. Ironically, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I was constantly reprimanded for doing things to get attention.
My father was very well liked; in fact he was popular. He was known for his jokes and stories and for his ability to entertain everyone with his singing and guitar playing. When it came to me however, he withheld. When it came to me, he didn’t seem very interested in being my father. My Dad withheld his interest in me and his attention from me. He did not offer input into my life; there were no discussions about school, boys, hobbies, friends or any of the other things I heard and imagined other girls talked about with their Dads. My father was not emotionally present. I don’t recall resenting this fact; I didn’t know anything different. This was just the way it was.
My father also withheld everything from emotional involvement to simple conversation from my mother, which is likely the real reason that they eventually divorced. He just tuned her out. When I was younger, I believed that he got tired of her extreme ranting and nagging; that he left her and she deserved it. The real truth is that she tried so hard to get his attention that she got a little bit crazy after years of having little to no impact. My point is that as the child of that marriage, I thought that was how life and relationship worked. The wife or girlfriend tries harder and harder and the husband or the guy is just the way he is. If there is failure, it must be the women’s fault; my fault. I didn’t think about my father’s passive behaviour as a contributing factor to a failing relationship, contributing to both the failure of his marriage and the failure of his relationship with me. I didn’t question the inequality of the responsibility. I didn’t know that this was passive abuse, and I certainly didn’t know that passive abuse is as destructive as any other type of abuse.
This laid the foundation for me to be attracted to men who made me work to be noticed by them. My relationships with men never started out that way, but they always seemed to quickly end up that way. I didn’t realize that relationships were a two way street because I alone carried the burden of the relationship with my own father. Not only was I willing to take the entire burden of the relationship responsibility, but I didn’t know I was doing it. Part of the reason that I tried so hard without realizing I was doing so, was because I had always had to. It was what I was used to. I had no frame of reference about what a healthy relationship was. From my experience, I only knew that I had to try harder.
I had to learn what a relationship was before I could have a healthy one. Just like in all other areas, I had to learn the truth before I could live in it. I didn’t know that I was just as valuable as everyone else or that the burden of all relationship shouldn’t be on me. I didn’t realize there wasn’t equality in the relationships that I had, just as I didn’t know that there could be equality in relationships since I had not seen an example of it.
Learning to accept abuse, even passive abuse, rarely begins in adulthood.
I welcome your comments on this post, and look forward to your opinions.
Bright sunny blessings,
p.s. it is not my intention to suggest that males that grow up in the same type of home do not suffer from these same issues.
It was so subtle. And I was entirely defenseless to protect myself from it. I had no reference point in my youngest years to be able to say, “Hey, believing this will play out badly for me in the future. I’m going to decide to believe differently.” It was what I naturally took to be “normal” because it was my normal. It was the home I grew up in. It was the two most advanced human beings that I knew, modeling to me what it meant to be human. Being 100% impressionable, I watched and learned and without even thinking about it plugged what I saw into my first and most important belief system about who I was and what it meant to be valuable.
For so long I could not figure out why I struggled and struggled with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I had no traumatic event to point to in my childhood to explain it. When I thought about my past I just felt lost and hazy. In my present, I was anxious, quiet, afraid to assert my real self, not really knowing who my real self was. I grew to assume everyone else was better than I was , even though I was smart and talented. The common slogan of “just be yourself” always appealed to me, made me feel excited, but I never really got it. Inside I just felt empty. I habitually admired other people, and eventually I learned how to act like other people in an attempt to feel like I was somebody, that I had something, something in myself that I admired in them. I was always trying to be somebody else… because I didn’t know how to be me. Because I couldn’t figure out why I struggled so much, I really felt like there must be something wrong with me. I was weak, somehow faulty, just prone to be depressed. Later on in life I beat myself up for not believing enough that God loved me, that I really must be failing spiritually if I was so depressed. It must be true, because what other explanation was there? Somehow, I was doing something wrong.
The belief system that became such a powerful force in my life had a beginning somewhere… The beginning of this belief system, passed down to me like a bad kind of inheritance, was so hard for me to see because it happened so passively. The lies were never said to me verbally, like “Carla, you are worthless. You’re just one big screw-up. You have nothing to offer.” Nope. My parents never said things like that. How did it happen then that I grew up in a definite state of repression and eventually depression?
There are different pieces of the puzzle, as enforcers of the belief system cropped up in different areas of my life. But I’m focusing a lot on my parents now because they were my first teachers and therefore the most powerful ones. My Dad has his own story of brokenness. If you know my Dad you may feel angry or defensive reading my posts because he is a very nice man. But the belief system that caused brokenness in my Dad’s past is the very same one that caused him to contribute to my broken past. Exposing how the belief system was passed down to me leads to understanding, and understanding leads to healing and freedom. This is why I will write so candidly. In seeing how the belief system was implanted in me in my earliest years, I become free of the lie that I was just born faulty, born with the tendency to be depressed, born with a weak mind or weak soul. This is the truth: I wasn’t born with it, I was born into it. I wasn’t born to be depressed or to struggle with low self-esteem. I learned it from somewhere and just didn’t know how to get rid of it until now. The cycle of lies will only die if they are exposed to the light. I’ve already written about one aspect of the belief system my Dad passed down to me in “The Unengaged Gardener”. In my next post, I will expose another aspect.
In reading Paulo Coelho’s amazing book “The Alchemist” I was so inspired by the main character Santiago, on a quest to find his treasure. He reflects to himself that “he had to chose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. ‘I am an adventurer, looking for treasure,’ he said to himself.” We are adventurers on a quest for our treasure, the treasure of knowing the real truth about who we are and why it has been so hard for us to believe that truth. This quest will definitely lead us through painful territory. But the treasure is worth it. I’m excited to be on this journey with you!