Walking Away from Someone You Love (and Hate and Fear)
Photo by Lorna Tedder, copyright December 2006; Peaceful on the farm at sunset–a much gentler energy after Daddy died.
I hated him. I loved him, too. But this is probably the first time in my life that I’ve been grateful that Daddy was a tyrant. It’s afforded me the opportunity to see his traits in others and identify others like him.
Not at first. It usually takes a few interactions to really make that connection. I don’t fault myself for not recognizing it immediately. How can I? There were many people inside and outside my family who knew him only superficically but thought he was a good church man, a wonderful and doting father, a kind husband. But they didn’t live with him and see him with his guard down. So how can I assume someone else is fabulous just because I’ve been told some nice things about them? I can know them only when they show me their real faces.
Daddy is on my mind heavily several times a year–around Father’s Day, his birthday (both his legitimate and not-so-legitimate ones), and around the anniversary of his death, which almost two years ago. I don’t think about him much. I don’t grieve him. He made life hell for the people who loved him. Other than those few times a year, I really don’t think much about him and I don’t miss him in a sad way.
This is not one of those times.
For the past couple of weeks, memories of him have re-surfaced, triggered by upsetting interactions with new people in my life, ones I’ve never been a fan of. Two years ago at Labor Day, I left my parents’ house in tears, saying to my mom that I’d either see her at the holidays or at his funeral, but I wouldn’t be back before then. I finally had to put my own mental health and that of my children ahead of Daddy’s guilt-tripping, manipulative tirades that had all of us cowering before him. To some people, that made me a bad daughter for refusing to see him in his last few months, but his effect on my family was devastating, and we’d cry for days after each visit.
He had some truly bad health problems, yes. But it’s wasn’t his health that was upsetting. He had always been controlling and manipulative, so his health was just another way to draw us close and then beat us over the heads emotionally. There were many times in his last few years that I spent curled up and sobbing and no one knew. I am content with the decision I made.
Daddy was a textbook case (if there is such of thing) of Bipolar Disorder. Never medicated for it or for depression because that would have been a “weak” thing to do. I was there when his physician offered him a prescription and saw Daddy’s vile reaction.
He loved us, yes. I do know that. But he rarely showed it or he showed it in a way that was inherently controlling and painful. There were few kind words and I think his children were always hungry for them. We almost never heard them for ourselves, though plenty for other people.
There were times I tried to find a common ground with him, times when I tried to have a real relationship with him. If I broke through at all, it was only for a little while and then the old behaviors returned. These were the dynamics of our relationship and always underlying every conversation. I knew two years ago by the heaviness of the energy over him that he would not live much longer and that each time I waved goodbye, it was likely the last time. So I tried in that last year of his life to reconcile my turbulent emotions of dealing with his manipulations with my desire to make peace with him and him to be willing to see me as a child worthy of his unconditional love.
What I learned was that sometimes there is no reconciling it. No matter how much you want a certain kind of relationship with someone who has extreme emotional and mental issues, it’s just not going to happen. They are in control of the relationship, not you. Even if they want it, they may not be capable of it.
What I had to do, ultimately, was to take care of myself, to stay away from him, to get my own balance back. That meant staying the hell away from him.
Last night, over a glass of wine with Luna, I told her about my dad. Wise woman that she is, she asked if I had noticed certain patterns in my life. I tried not to laugh–she doesn’t know the extent of the self-inquiry I’ve done to work through all this. But she noted how I started with dealing with abusers at the closest level–through blood, my father as my primary role model–and progressed to spouse, to best friends who were abusive, to best friends/business partners/lovers who have been abused or are still tied to abusers and unable to walk away. I humorously suggested that there are just soooooo damned many abusive nut jobs out there that you can’t throw a stick without hitting one…or get into a relationship without one being attached somehow to the other person as an ex or parent or business partner. Luna noted that, for me, the tendrils of abusive people have been thinning out but they are still there. I think they probably always will be because I can recognize them and help other people understand them.
And for that, I guess I am grateful that Daddy showed me what such a person looks like and that sometimes you just have to let your abusers go and walk away, no matter how much you care. Daddy gave me a lot of pain in my life, but he also gave me something I can share and help others understand.