Reading this brought up some memories and feelings, more than a few that I work hard to keep burying. (This is your trigger warning.)
“The third Sunday in June is a challenging one for those of us with fathers who were destructive forces in our lives. A missing father leaves a void—a toxic one with life-altering damage.”
Years ago, my father and I had a fight — nothing physical — while doing some yard work at my brother’s new old house. Dad has a strange obsession with work. Workaholic does not describe it accurately. I describe it as puritanical. But even that word does not seem to fully envelop it.
Anyway, I walked off after telling him that I never wanted to see him again. This became even more uncomfortable because I was staying at my parents’ house. I made some desperate pleas to friends looking for another place until leaving for Seattle but I could not find any options and I didn’t have the money for a hotel.
Since then my grandmother has died, which left us an opening for reconnecting. She was suffering from heart failure and Dad had called to let me know that she did not have long. Unfortunately, she didn’t. Thankfully, however, I spoke with her a few times before she passed.
The last time we were together, I was spending the night because she did not want to be alone. Her new husband, who my father hated, was in the hospital. Casablanca with Bogart and Bergman was on TV so we sat chatting and watching. I love that movie. I have so many fond memories of her.
I am glad she lived so long. Living in Seattle and with some serious health problems myself, I did not have the chance to visit her and other relatives in Oregon much, as I did when I was younger.
I did get a few chances to talk with her about Dad. Why was he so violent? Did Grandpa ever hit him? Only once, she said. I have been trying to unravel this for years.
Then my younger brother relayed a story to me. He was in a car driven by our uncle and he shared how our Dad would beat on him when they were growing up. Our uncle described him as the neighborhood bully. And then it all made sense. My father was a bully. He had never grown out of it. He had never grown up.
Now, I had been bullied in school year after year. I was considered a nerd and unpopular. I had friends and a happy-go-lucky attitude so it wasn’t hell per se. I would do my best to laugh off anything negative. And it worked most of the time.
An even bigger problem, however, was my father. He was violent. He was abusive, emotionally and verbally. He stands tall. He is a huge, intimidating man. He remains intimidating to me to this day.
Learning that my father was one of these bullies was a revelation. I pictured Dad as one of the bullies I had experienced in school. He was one of the bullies who targeted people like me. He IS one of the bullies who targets people like me. It is his nature. That is who he is — his natural state, like a wild bear. Of course, this does not excuse his behavior. He needs to act like a man, like a father, not a vicious animal.
After repeated episodes of hitting her and his own damn kids, Mom gave him an ultimatum. We kids did not know that she had. Stop the violence, or she was leaving him. I wish she had. But her threat did the trick. He reformed himself. The transformation was remarkable. He became a better, different husband and father. He stopped being violent with us. His attitude was mostly better, but he would sometimes revert to his old nature. The farther from that ultimatum, the worse he gets, I think.
Unfortunately, he also relapsed into the physical violence a few times, conveniently when Mom wasn’t around. The last time he hit me was August 25, 1993. I made a mental note of that date. I still do not trust him. And the sound of his voice grates on me. I do not like the way he treats Mom. He is so damn condescending sometimes. He can be an arrogant son of a bitch.
I sent Mom flowers and good wishes on Mother’s Day. But I remain confused on what to do about my bully Dad. I cannot stand him. But should I at least send him a card or something? Life is so messy and so damn confusing.