Weakness is amplified by an inability to introspect, to change, and put ones own interests beneath those of our loved ones.
In one of those late-night conversations fuelled in part by too much to drink, I once shared with my father’s wife that I believed that his children were successful in inverse proportion to how much exposure they had to them. Rather a stinging comment. She did not disagree. Indeed, the children they have had together are damaged in ways big and small, as are we all.
While it is often hard and complex to understand the psychic disturbances that arise between mother and child, these issues which have arisen with our father are very clear and easy to identify. He was a bully, a nasty man, and he cut us all in many and different ways.
For some reason, my father never struck me. Not once. All of my siblings were struck to varying degrees. I am not sure why. Either he saw something in me that made him not want to strike me, or he, like everyone else in my family, was afraid of my tongue. Why? Because one of my self-protective mechanisms was always a willingness to speak truth, no matter how sharp. And one of the by-products of my ADD, at least that is where I think it comes from, is a hyper-sharp perception of emotional truth. Indeed, I can remember a time when I was visiting him and he was so enraged by something I was thinking that I knew he wanted to beat the crap out of me, but instead he lay down on my bed, as if felled by his own rage, and argued with me in the meanest and nastiest way about how stupid I was, how wrong I was, how I would never amount to anything, blah, blah, blah. I would have preferred a physical thrashing. Though in truth, deserved neither.
My crime? I was reading the Lord of the Rings. Actually, I was re-reading it. He regarded the Lord of the Rings as a “waste of time”, as “fantasy escapist nonsense”. He was certainly not without a point of view!
And that was my father. He was brutally withering, and his form of abuse was verbal. I think of the damage he did to my siblings, to their confidence. Fortunately for me, he was never around during my formative years—I barely saw him until I was 7. And by the time I spent any time with him at all, I was a fighter, protecting my inner flame, and I was ready to fight back.
But we need our fathers too. Do I blame him so much? I’ve let go. I have distanced myself from him, and appreciated him socially, as he was a charming man. Or at least he could be. But I also realised that he was weak. He cheated on my mother, and not just once. Worse, he told his children, and there are some things even with the passage of time that remain unacceptable. He needed the validation. He still does. He belittled everyone around him—and as it is with bullies, they are the wimps in the real world.
Sitting with my mother’s sister, in a sense keeping vigil during her long, slow decline, I am relishing the things we get to talk about. Getting to know my mother from a sister’s perspective. Seeing the dead with the clear mindedness of the dying. Being able to speak honestly and openly about things which might die on our lips because our guard might be raised. This woman was very fond of my father. She had me read some of his letters to her out loud—she can no longer see the page or hold the paper, but her mind is still with us.
And as I read his platitudes to her, I was struck by his total incapacity to self-reflect. He wrote to my aunt about his divorce, how things just happen, that try as they did, some things “just happen”. It’s called adultery, Dad. It also happens when someone isn’t willing to put in the work to make a relationship thrive.
I also knew that my mother was a challenging person. She was highly educated in an era where not all women went to university. She was tough, a fighter, self-sufficient, incredibly attractive, and she challenged him. I think he just wasn’t man enough for her. Whoa! Coming from me?! Yes. In this case, what is a man? I look at a “man” (though I hold these traits for a woman too) as someone who has the strength to champion his partner’s frailties, to hold her up, and to help cultivate her feelings of being special, of being a princess. I ask that he support her emotionally, and in any other way that is required for her happiness. I ask him to be willing to look into his own soul and to commit to change when necessary, even when one does not understand.
The person who cannot do that will not stay married long. Or if they do, will not have a rewarding partnership. I regard such a person as weak. My Aunt said, “I always liked him,” and I agreed, “he’s always been charming,” but she also added something when I told her I found him to be a weak man, incapable of introspection. She said, “that’s exactly what our father said about him. That he was a weak man.” I was fascinated by this, because my grandfather was a kind, loving, and important patriarch—long-lived and longer remembered. He was gentle, but also buffeted by tragedy. He was also clearly perceptive. My father was weak, and as a consequence, he damaged the lives of everyone who depended on him emotionally. So you see, being weak, isn’t just about you. Especially if you have a family.
When you are incapable of introspection, you are incapable of growth. When you are incapable of growth you don’t just harm yourself, but you harm the people you make commitments to, both passively and actively. And in my father’s case, sometimes you can add being abusive to the list.
While I can appreciate his charms today, I find myself grateful for having spent so little time with him growing up and into adulthood. Keeping him out, has helped me be a different person, a strong person, and one who has ever been ready to change, to adapt, to grow.
I also consciously made choices about raising children that were intended to break the cycle that repeats from generation to generation, and thereby creates a toxic behavioural inheritance. First, I took a decade off of work (at least formally, though we continued to make money by running a business from home) so that I could be a present father in my children’s lives. Second, I told them already from a very young age, about the importance of standing up for their hearts. I explained to them that nobody was ever perfect, that we may try, but that sometimes we don’t do the best things for the people we love. I told my children that a parent’s duty is to teach how to do things, how to fly, how to be free, and not to take their dreams away. And I made them promise me, already from the age of two, that they would speak up if they ever felt I was taking their dreams away. It was a kind of kiddy safeword, and in truth, they have both used it—and I respected it—stopping whatever it was that was the offending behaviour, exactly when they said it…and apologizing.
There you have it. My father was a role model as a man I did not ever aspire to be.
Mistress has helped me to find comfort in the parts of me that are male. And indeed, something she said to me really stuck. She celebrated a male’s desire to support, to be a solid foundation, to always be there, and a willingness to stand backstage. These are all qualities which resonate with me. It is just one of the small ways that Mistress has helped me accept my manhood and to begin to let go of decades of misandry, and self-hate. Because yes, having no real positive male role models in my own life has made me look in suspicion at those parts of me that are classically male. Without consciously setting out to do so, she is helping me find peace with a part of myself that I have always rejected.
I wrote about how she was turning me into a “straight” man, [you can see that post here] and perhaps this is why. She is making it okay to find positive qualities in this part of me.