In the book “When Will I Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” there is a chapter titled “Where Is Daddy?” which made me think about my own father and my relationship with him throughout my life. Thus far, I’ve been looking at my relationship with my mother and other females within my family of origin as well as the females within my husband’s family, so I thought maybe I should touch on my father.
While in therapy and many times throughout my adult life, I’ve been asked, “Where was your father while your mother was being so abusive?” To be honest, I’m not certain I can answer that.
When I was about six years old or so my mother started to use me as a confidante. She talked to me routinely about how upset she was with my father, that he was having an affair with another woman since the first year of their marriage. She talked to me about his sexual desires, the reasons they slept in separate beds. She shared many personal details that, as a preteen, I simply didn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend.
My father was almost never at home. He worked more than one job most of my childhood. When he was home, he was sleeping and we had to be quiet, or he was working in the yard, around the house. (He loved planting flowers and shrubbery and keeping the yard looking nice was important to him.)
Whenever he’d leave the house to run an errand, if he didn’t come right back, she would start to speculate about where he could be, usually suggesting that he was with ‘the other woman’. I can remember several times, he left to go to the grocery store (we lived about 2 min. from the store) to pick up one item and didn’t come back for hours. When he did come home, he was often drunk, so drunk he fell up the stairs on his way to bed, or fell asleep on his recliner or the couch.
One Christmas, we woke up in the morning to open our presents and my mother didn’t wake my father so we could all gather around the Christmas tree together, when we went to sit on the couch to open the gifts in our stockings, she screamed at us, scaring us, telling us we couldn’t sit there because of father came home drunk Christmas Eve and fell asleep on the couch where he peed himself.
He went to visit his brother often, when he did so my mother would tell us he preferred to be with his brother and his children more than with us.
There were times when my mother and father fought, terribly. Things would get broken. I can remember coming down stairs to go to school and finding glass on the floor and iced tea splashed on the wall in the kitchen and another time when we came downstairs and found the ‘snack bar’ that divided the kitchen and dining room smashed and broken.
I learned to hate him. He was never there, he didn’t protect us when my mother raged and hurt us and when my parents divorced he didn’t even go to the custody hearing, he didn’t get visitation scheduled.
When he came to the house to visit with us, they would always fight at the door, we only ever went home with him one time, and he would always end up offering us money before giving up and leaving.
He moved to Virginia to be closer to his mother, but after having financial problems he came back to Pennsylvania. His car broke down and he called his brother but he was working, so he called my mother who agreed to go pick him up. (I never fully understood why, after how horribly she talked about him, especially knowing he’d remarried.) When she brought him to our house, for the night, until he could go get his car and talk to his brother, he ended up staying for about a month.
He slept in my bedroom and I ended up on the living room floor sleeping in my sleeping bag. I saw my mother and father kissing, being affectionate (something I NEVER saw when I was growing up). They were talking about being together again. I recall crying one morning before school, asking my mother why she was doing this, if she hated him so much, didn’t trust him, didn’t want us to have a relationship with him, how could she have done a complete turn around? She told me it was none of my business, she didn’t have to justify her actions to me.
Eventually, his new wife, the woman he’d had an affair with while my parents were married, showed up at our house saying she wanted her husband. I remember feeling so threatened, so confused, so insecure. Later that night, my mother and father had a heated discussion in her bedroom and there was a huge bang, a crash and he came out of the room and left the house. She’d thrown him up against the wall, breaking the light fixture. She kicked him out.
When I was 19 and left home, I had been dating a boy (that became my husband) who’s family knew my father. He learned I was not living at home any longer and made contact. I was hateful, disrespectful, I didn’t want to see him, I had been groomed all my life to see him as a villain, the reason our family broke up, as someone who didn’t want his children.
My husband’s sister really bullied me, playing the guilt card. She kept telling me “he’s your father, you owe it to him to at least hear him out.”
My Dad and I spent a lot of time working things out. For the first time, I got to hear his point of view, learned that there was more to my parents’ relationship than I’d known. Having been the recipient of my mother’s rage and explosive tendencies, especially after their divorce, I found myself far more able and willing to listen to his explanation for the way things happened.
Thankfully, I got to know my father for the first time in my life. I discovered he was a creative and artistic person, just as my mother was. He liked working with his hands, creating things from wood, growing flowers, doing crafts. He had a great sense of humor and an incredible laugh, one that I share with him. He was a giving and caring person, helping out anyone who needed a hand. He had many friends and was well liked in the community. (A sharp contrast to my mother’s reception within the community and the neighborhood where we lived.)
My father was always there for my husband and I. He gave me away at my wedding, he included us in Sunday family dinners, we worked on crafts together and we spent every Christmas with him. He went out of his way to be a ‘father figure’ for my husband. He organized family reunions and made sure everyone attended and interacted and got to know one another.
Shortly after my 10th wedding anniversary my father was diagnosed with cancer. He got the diagnosis in July and on December 17, 1994 he passed away. I had been blessed to have a relationship with him for the last 11 years of his life. I hadn’t realized how many people’s lives he’d touched, how loved he’d been, until several hundred people attended his viewing.
While in therapy I was asked how I felt about my father not being there to protect my sister and I, if I was angry with him, but by that time, I had developed an understanding of my father, of the dynamic in my childhood home and though I didn’t agree with his way of handling the situation, I understood that his being absent from our home so much was his method of self-preservation. Being out of the house working, with his brother, visiting his nieces and nephew, getting involved in community activities and even having an affair had been the outlets that allowed him to cope with his miserable home life.
I knew, that the fights between my mother and father had been my mother being violent and my father defending himself. I knew that there was more to my father than the things my mother had shared with me, that her perspective on their relationship was one of resentment, jealousy and her own sickness, not being the center of his attention. She was bitter and wanted us to share her feelings, to support her point of view. Her distortions about my father were no different than her distortions about my Aunt (her sister) and Uncle, my cousin, my Grandfather and other people in our lives.
I had learned that my father went to his brother’s because my mother didn’t want my Aunt and Uncle on my father’s side coming to the house, she didn’t want my cousin’s to visit, I learned that my Aunt had asked repeatedly to have my sister and I visit, but my mother would never let us, that my cousins wanted to come over and play with us but my mother wouldn’t allow it. He went out to visit his friends because she didn’t want them coming to the house. I can’t think of a time while growing up when she had a friend visit our home.
I had found love in my heart for my father, and understanding. I had once been angry, but that anger had been replaced with empathy. I had forgiven him, for not being there, as a result of having experienced my mother’s controlling and demanding behavior first hand.
I think this understanding is why I have felt ‘indifferent’ about my mother for such a long time. I know that she’s in need of help but will never seek it out, I’ve learned enough about my family of origin to know that she hurt many people in her life in many different ways.
I used to be very angry about the fact that I didn’t get to have a ‘traditional’ childhood, that I had to grow up so quickly and take care of my mother, but as I’ve learned more about myself, more about her illness I’ve learned to let go of that anger and to focus on healing me and being the person I want to be.