My earliest memory of my father involves a trivial incident that happened
when I was 3 or 4 and playing with some cousins. The incident was
trivial but what I am feeling in the memory is not trivial at all.
In that first memory of my father, when I was just a little boy, what I
feel is absolute terror. As I sit here writing this, tears come to
my eyes because it is very sad that little boy was so terrified of his
Dance of Wounded Souls
My father never beat me, or physically abused me (with an exception
that I will note in a few moments) but he did rage. He was/is a perfectionist
and he raged when things did not go the way he wanted. I was just
a little boy who couldn't very often do things perfectly.
The reason my father raged is that he was raised to believe that the
only emotion it was acceptable for a man to feel was anger. He had/has
absolutely no permission to feel scared or hurt or sad. If he feels
any of those emotions he turns them into anger.
In general, in this society, we are taught to approach life from a position
of fear, lack, and scarcity. Coming from a place of fear and scarcity
causes people to try to be in control to protect themselves. My father
got a multiplied sense of this outlook on life because he grew up in the
Great Depression. It doesn't matter that he has made lots of money
over the years and has a lot of security now - he still reacts from fear
and scarcity because that was his childhood training and he has never done
anything to change it.
My father always wants to be in control because of his fear. One
of the results of that is that he also doesn't have permission to feel
too happy because being too happy feels out of control. Who knows
what disaster might lurk around the next corner? Don't let your guard
down for a minute!
What a very sad way to live life.
My father is an emotional cripple. And he was my role model for
'what a man is.' I don't remember being told 'big boys don't cry'
or any such thing - but I sure remember that my father never cried.
There was an incident that happened when I was about eleven that I understood
only after I got into recovery. At my grandmother's funeral, my father's
mother, I started crying uncontrollably and had to be taken outside.
Everyone thought I was crying about my grandmother but that wasn't what
I was crying about. I started crying because I saw my uncle cry.
It was the first time in my life I had seen a man cry and it opened the
floodgates on all of the pain I was carrying.
How sad it is that that little boy was hurting so much.
My father has never said "I love you" to me. In recovery I have
said it to him directly and the best that he could do was to say "same
How sad that my father is not capable of saying "I love you."
At a point in the very beginning of my Codependence Recovery, I wrote
a letter to my father - not to send to him - to get in touch with my feelings
toward him. I wrote a sentence that I intended to say "Why was nothing
I did ever good enough for you?" When I looked at the paper what
it said was "Why was nothing I did ever good enough for me?" That
was a real turning point for me. It caused me to realize that, though
my father traumatized me as a child, I was the one who was perpetuating
what he taught me and perpetrating on myself. That was when I really
started to understand that healing is an inside job. Because, though
my father is probably never going to say "I love you" to me, I can say
it to myself.
How sad that I couldn't learn that I was lovable from my father.
About the physical abuse thing. Although my father did spank me
on the bottom when I was a kid, I do not consider that to be physical abuse.
I did not feel any lasting trauma from those spankings so I personally
do not feel that they were abusive or excessive. What my father did
do that was traumatic and excessive is take me down and tickle me.
I hated that. I hated it so much that by the time I was about 9 or
10 I heard someplace, in some context, about "mind over matter" and I willed
myself not to be ticklish anymore. I realized in Recovery that tickling
me was probably the only way it was okay for my father to be physically
intimate with me. He certainly would never hug me - so his way of
being physically close to me was to tickle me.
How sad that my father's only way of being physically intimate with
me was abusive.
So, you might have guessed by now that I am feeling a lot of sadness
about my father as I write this column on Father's Day. I am also
feeling very grateful and blessed. I do not have to be like my father.
Because of the wonderful miracle of the Twelve Steps, the knowledge of
Codependence and the tools of Recovery that are available to me, I can
change my childhood training - I do not have to be like my father.
My father has never had the opportunity to honor and own his fear; never
had the blessing of grieving - with heaving sobs and streaming tears -
the pain and sadness of life. Because my father never got to do these
things, he has never really owned himself. He has never truly been
able to be fully alive - he has endured, he has survived - but he has never
honored the pain of life or felt the overwhelming Joy of being alive.
He has never truly lived.
How sad that my father has never been able to own the sadness of life
so that he could feel the Joy of it. How wonderful that I can cry
tears of sadness for my father and for that little boy who was so terrified
of his hero.