Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Too many posts

I have like five posts in which I try to write something about my father, but I can't seem to finish them.

I have a post on how I think that reflecting upon and understanding my own abuse and its effects on me makes me a better foster parent.
I have a post about forgiveness and what I think real, genuine forgiveness is, and why I think it is literally impossible for people to forgive abusive parents. Not psychologically difficult, impossible. When you really forgive someone part of what you do is agree to try to somehow take that thing out of your relationship. You forgot my birthday, but I will not let it count against you. I said something that hurt your feelings, but you will "let it go." We both agree to at least attempt to return to the relationship we had before the offense.

But there is no relationship before the offense for survivors of abuse. There is no way to even try to "let go" what happened, take it out of the relationship and have anything left. I can imagine "letting it go" but in doing so I also imagine letting him go.

And so what could it possibly mean to forgive this person? I can somehow let go of the anger, probably. I can get to a point, have got to a point, where I genuinely wish that good things happen to him. I don't want for him to suffer, not anymore. Is that forgiveness?

Is it forgiveness if I am still jealous of his ex-wives becuase they are allowed to divorce him and move on? No hosptial will identify them as next-of-kin if he is dying. No one will be shocked that they don't have the expected reactions.

One of the things I figured out in the past year, something Gawdess has in her post today, is that even if we forgive them in all the ways that are possible, that still doesn't make us better. Because it turns out that the wound in us is not about them. Our problem isn't that we hang onto anger and won't let it go. The problem is that we were injured.

I have a post about all the good reasons for backing out of this vacation and the reasons that I know I won't, unless my sister does too, and she won't. That post includes parts where I try to figure out why Roland is committed to going, and to thinking about what it will mean to take Brian. I feel like I am not going to take Brian to visit his grandfather, who is a man who shows affection buy spending money and falls asleep while watching TV, but to meet my father for the first time.

And I wonder if it will break his heart to see the other side. I wonder how much my father will keep it under control.

I tell myself Brian will be 14 and I have never hidden the truth from him. I have warned him, and told him that if it is bad we will leave.

I see flashes of things that could happen. I see my father being surprised that we want to get food for the cottages, that we are all hungry, really? I see him wondering why we won't just wait until tomorrow to buy food. I see him getting angry and telling us if we have to have food now then go and buy it. Giving us too little money and trying to make us feel unreasonable. I tell Roland that I think these things and wait for him to reassure me that my imagination is running away with me. Roland says, "Don't worry. WE will buy the food."

It is what I am afraid of, what my sister is afraid of, that we will be with my father and be those little helpless girls again. The little girls who are told that we are loved so much that he would do "anything" for us, but who are made to feel guilty because we are hungry.

There is a post about why my sister seems to need to go, and I feel compelled to go. I wonder if it is just co-dependence. Have we just not broke free from him? Does my sister also have a sense that this really could have be the last time we see him? For years I have thought that after he retires he will have nothing but this project, these cottages by the lake we are going to, to keep him together. Once that is finished what will be left?

Will he have any reason not to drink himself to the grave?

And now he is retired and the cottages are built and he is drinking and calling my sister and crying.

And I wonder if my sister also feels like she has to go to this vacation because this really could be the last time to face him.

And do what?

Maybe nothing.

Nothing except stand together and say, "Yes. What we remember is real. It really happened."

And wouldn't it be ironic if I start to think of this trip as a journey to face the demons of my childhood, to face them and not be afraid, only to find that he has managed to sober up?

Wouldn't we all have a good laugh over that.


  1. I am just saying that I am copying a chunk of this post about forgiveness and keeping it forever.

    "Our problem isn't that we hang onto anger and won't let it go. The problem is that we were injured."

    Maybe as a tatoo or a tshirt or graffiti on every public surface.

    I don't pretend that my physical scars on my body aren't there and I don't hate them and I am not urged to "let them go". So I am not going to do that to my emotional ones either.

    You are preaching to my own personal choir.

  2. Maybe this time you will find a broken old man who is sober enough to be told some basic truths, i hope so anyway.

  3. I don't think forgiveness means trying to engage in the relationship in the same way as before. I think forgiveness means some level of empathy and some letting go of what you thought the relationship was or should be. I think we forgive when we want to either retain the relationship in some form, or we need to forgive for our own growth. I tell my children to forgive, because that maintains the relationship (if they want to maintain the relationship) but not to forget, because not forgetting keeps them safe.

  4. "But there is no relationship before the offense for survivors of abuse. There is no way to even try to "let go" what happened, take it out of the relationship and have anything left."

    That's exactly it. Thank you for writing this post - it really spoke to my heart. I have such a hard time with people telling me to forgive the person who hurt me. Even more so have I a hard time with people telling me to forgive the people who hurt my siblings.


  5. I feel as though in a way I have forgiven my mother, but I will not forget. I had to make a choice. Lose her, or change how I am with her. I chose the latter.
    She has a personality disorder - Mommy Dearest (movie) is like watching a motion picture about my own life, down to getting whacked with wire hangers.
    Now she focuses on tormenting my father. When he complains, I remind him 'you picked her. I got the same shit and had no choice, but you PICKED her'.
    I also find solace from knowing my biological parents are a mess. Had they kept me I would have lived an abnormal life, anyway.
    I figure it was my lot in life to endure hardship of one form or another.
    For some reason I am glad you are going to see your Father. At the end of the day, your heart knows he is your dad for better or worse, no matter how big an asshole he's been or is now.
    My assvice is to stand your ground, demonstrate you are not that child anymore. You have the support of your family. Your son will benefit from this, seeing what else is out there in the world. He may some day meet another abuse survivor and your allowing him this experience will only help him.

  6. Steph,

    I have seen my father quite a bit, especially in the past 10 years. He comes to visit almost every summer, and has arranged other vacations similar to this one. Though of course he did not build the places we stayed.

    I have been different with him. I don't fall into the same patterns. I have had boundaries. The reason he calls my sister recently and not me is that he knows that if he calls me drunk I will hang up. We have had many friendly conversations.

    It doesn't feel like a relationship because I don't share anything meaningful. It has been a long time since I was that child, but our relationship has felt odd anyway.

    What is different this time is that he is drinking, and apparently drinking heavily. I expect that during the week we are there he will drink only enough to keep away the DT's.

    So THIS visit seems like returning to my childhood in a way that other visits did not. And I think what you are advising me to do is what I meant by facing the demons and not being afraid. I am an adult now and if he does not buy food I will. If he gets maudlin, I can go for a walk.

    Writing here has been helping to work through a lot of thoughts and feelings though.

    This is not the first time in the past 20 years he has returned to the bottle, but it may very well be the first time that I have been with him while he was.

  7. Process,

    I don't disagree with what you are saying, but I feel like you missed the point, which you may not have. It just feels that way. Part of the complexity with forgiving a childhood abuser is that it is difficult imagining going on the "the relationship" in any way at all. I can stop being angry, and find myself genuinely wishing good things to happen to him, both of which I mostly have. But I cannot imagine any relationship with him that will feel safe.

    Making polite conversation with him when comes to visit his grandchildren, learning to be relaxed when he visits, even enough to have fun during it, isn't the same thing. I share nothing with him. He does not really know me.

    We co-exist without animosity.

    And that is as far as I think it is safe to go. I do NOT think that it would be safe or healing to try to express more.

    What I have realized is (1) this letting go falls short of what happens in genuine forgiveness; (2) it is as far as I should go and that means that complete forgiveness isn't possible, which is okay; and (3) the degree of forgiveness that is possible will not, as some people have suggested, make me all better. "Letting go and moving on" is not the same thing as healing.


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