What I remember of my dad was that he was always gone. I could not rely on him to be home, and when he was, I could no rely on him to be a stable, steady influence. Sometimes he was in a good mood, sometimes he wasn’t.
I’m still mining my latest romantic disaster for childhood healing. The familiarity of neglect was strong, and even as I write how my dad was, this is an exact replay of how this latest man was…distant, unreliable, hot and cold. It made me wonder how he ever ended up in a relationship with anyone, and again, I look to my dad’s pattern to learn about men. My dad married someone with whom he could forge an extremely superficial relationship. As I struggle to grasp what that means I think it means a relationship based on appearances and not things of substance, such as true compassion, self-reflection, or relational values. Both he and his wife abandoned their families, their children, so they could come together and worship things. They have no relationship to speak of with their children…no Thanksgivings, or Christmases, or birthdays. No celebration of family but a life lived in celebration of things. These materialistic values hold them together and they miss a whole other part of life….the part of humanity and real love.
But there is still a little girl inside of me who wants my father’s love. She has starved herself, bent herself into emotional pretzel shapes, made herself very small and needless and obsequious, so she could be non-threatening enough to win her father’s love. She has transferred this same longing to men in her life, and has chosen men who are materialistic and unavailable and unreliable like her father. Over and over, she tried to bend to accommodate the wishes of men, to guess what they wanted and second guess herself.
Lately, this little girl has been blended with my inner system in an attempt to heal. I have had a lot of trouble letting go of the latest unavailable man, a real asshole after all. One of the biggest indicators of being an asshole is that they SAY they’re not an asshole. They SAY they’re not runners. They SAY they want words and actions to match. But they don’t actually DO what they say. In fact, they do the opposite then deflect blame to you. I’m mad and want to tell him off, and I might call him up for coffee to say what needs to be said. I’m sad and rejected and want to apologize (for nothing, really) and make up with him and “get Daddy’s love” this time. These parts of me are important, and they remind me, it wasn’t just my dad, it was that neglect causes cycles and ripples of neglect everywhere.
My mom worked so hard to please my inconsistent dad. She worked all day long, even longer, while my dad was gone “working”. When she caught my dad cheating, a whole cascade of events was set into place and I remember my mom, my young mom, making some decisions out of the pain of her heart, out of her grief and hunger to heal. She would look for healing in other men. I remember one time she was at a lover’s house in the 1978 red Grand Prix with white leather interior she had bought with money from selling the cattle on the farm. My brother and I watched as she went into this guy’s apartment. I don’t know how long we were in the car, but it must have been some time because my brother and I had time to have a “Coke fight” and coat the insides of the car with sticky, sweet Coca-Cola. We had to have been 7 and 8 years old. Somehow my mom found a towel and was pissed off.
But we were just spectators, pushed out of our own life and into hers, along for the ride.
I was introduced to porn at another lover’s house once we moved to Ohio. He had a stack of magazines two feet high in the bathroom. My mom would take us over to his house and leave us to our own devices while she shut the bedroom door and spent time with him. Of course my dad was nowhere around, and in the wake of his considerable violence, I had never considered that no one was taking care of me or my brother.
Yet somehow I felt tightly held and the need to make myself small. Again, these threads of memory- being exiled, being left out, being not seen, being criticized, numbing out- carry through so many situations and become the parts that narrate my adult situations. So that when I am loved and cared for, it doesn’t register the way it would for someone else. And I can absolutely tie any romantic disaster back to a childhood moment, or feeling, or sometimes even a memory.
My mom’s story is inextricably linked to mine, as hers is to my grandmother’s. The horrors we suffered at the hands of men and the ways we tried to adapt are written in our bones. Our new stories await, in the lives of my daughters and in the ways we heal. I have repeated, to a certain degree, these moments of disconnection and neglect with my own children, by choosing men who were not available, and by choosing the needs of men over my children’s needs. I spent a whole marriage choosing a man’s needs over my children’s, and that created disconnection and grief for my children and myself. I sacrificed years of our lives to a controlling man, believing his beliefs about my unworthiness and setting a shitty example for my daughters.
No more. The legacy of neglect gets healed here.