Lessons Learned From My Father

Today is Father’s Day. I perhaps naively bothered to call mine up a few minutes ago (he didn’t answer) despite the fact that he beat me as a child and robbed me as an adult, rendering me homeless… then disowned me when I dared to put my foot down (via small claims). It’s been almost two years now since we last spoke.

He has never apologized for any of his actions. Not once. And that’s not hyperbole. The man has never said “sorry” for anything he’s done to me. Ever. Even more frustrating, to me, is that he has never even acknowledged that any abuse occurred, opting instead to deny or deflect his own actions while simultaneously daring to lecture me about morality.

My extended family has never called him out on his behavior and has otherwise given him a free pass over the years. To some extent this is understandable, as he was exceptionally good at not leaving visible damage. But there was no excuse for my Mother.

Once while I was showering he came into the bathroom, reached in and slapped my chest with an open palm so hard that the water droplets caused grooved indentations in my skin. Aside from being such a bizarre and abrupt attack, this was one of the only times that there were marks and my Mother saw them, had me lay on the couch, and iced it down. He had left the house, presumably to cool off, but when he got back she shouted, “Look at what you did to your son! Look!!” His face went blank and he muttered something about not realizing how hard he’d hit me. What he failed to grasp was that it isn’t okay to hit someone at all.

The second opportunity my Mother had to step up to the plate was when he was repeatedly hitting me so hard that I was knocked clear out of my bed and crashed to the floor, where he continued to strike. Presumably she heard the thud of me falling since their bedroom was just below mine. She came upstairs and saw what he was doing, grabbed his arm, and said, “Stop it! That’s enough!” He shoved her away, called her a bitch, and continued to hit me. She left the room, defeated. From then on she never spoke up. In fact, she would later defend his most brutal assault on me in 2005 by claiming he had done so to “protect her” from… me? Yep. That was the cover story and they both have stuck to it ever since.

So sure, I have grounds to resent the both of them. As much as I’d like to, I can’t give my Mother much of a pass since she allowed the abuse to carry on rather than contact the authorities. But I think I need to cut my extended family some degree of slack for not intervening. There wasn’t much evidence for them to see except for the time my Father nearly broke my Mother’s nose, leaving it discolored and swollen. One of her sister’s saw the damage and asked her if my Father had done it and she admitted… quietly and on the verge of tears… that he had. To my knowledge this was the only public red-flag that he was a violent man, but sadly nothing was ever done about it. Somehow it was still swept under the rug. Oddly, both my Mother and that Aunt refused to speak to another sister of theirs for years because she refused to leave her abusive husband… go figure. I did reach out in a mass family email or two a few years back but only one Aunt and one Uncle (out of 20) ever really reached back to extend their support.

Rather than continue to vent about the damage my Father has done over the years and the bitterness and resentment I still struggle to purge myself of, I’ve decided to end this on a happier note with a list of positive parenting lessons he inadvertently taught me by doing the opposite

1) Never strike your child. Not only is it cowardly to assault someone smaller that can’t hit back but it’s also an ineffective learning tool. It might instill short-term compliance, but in the long run it will only serve as an obstacle to progress.

2) Embrace your child for who he/she is. Don’t expect your kid to necessarily share the same passions. Sharing DNA doesn’t make you clones of each other. While you may not end up having a lot in common and that may be disappointing on some level, the key is to celebrate those differences, to celebrate what makes your child unique. Eventually any initial disappointments will fade, replaced instead with newfound and unexpected joys.

3) Encourage your child to think critically. Blind obedience, especially if motivated by fear, is not healthy. Kids need to learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Providing the tools to help foster introspection, analysis, empathy, logic, and common sense is paramount. Properly equipped, kids will be better prepared for life’s challenges.

4) You could be wrong. Even the best of parents make mistakes, which is why it is so important to embrace humility. Acknowledge mistakes, acknowledge you’re not perfect, and promptly apologize. It’s perfectly normal to be flawed, so be open about them instead of pretending to be holier-than-thou. If you wear your heart on your sleeve, your kid will have far greater respect for you.

5) Live by example. If you set rules for a household and then you break those same rules, expect your child to likely pick up on it! And if you hypocritically punish him/her, then respect for either the rules and/or the parent will start to break down. Consistency matters.

6) Do not indoctrinate. No matter what religious background you may hold, no matter what your traditions may be, do NOT raise your child in any specific faith. It’s an abuse of power to brainwash a kid into believing something solely because you also believe it. Sharing personal preferences and opinions are one thing, but religious faith is something a person should decide for themselves as an adult.

7) Love your child unconditionally. It might be an old and tired platitude, but it’s true. Nothing else needs to be said to explain this one, though I would like to add additional emphasis to “unconditionally”.

8) Listen more, talk less. You may think you have all the answers or that you have your child completely figured out, but in both instances you would be mistaken. If your kid does something you don’t approve of, ask questions before jumping at the chance to lecture. A thoughtful line of questioning will allow your child to discover a more meaningful answer on his/her own. Never underestimate the power of self-reflection at any age.

I could probably come up with a few more but that’s a good start, I’d say. My parents, my Father most especially, may have screwed up royally but the silver-lining is that I now have a pretty decent handle on what NOT to do as a parent. I’m not about to have kids anytime soon or anything but when that day does come… I’ll be ready.

Oh, and Happy Father’s Day to all the men out there that live up to the job description and are truly there for their children. Kudos to the good ones!

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