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An Early Valentine’s Day Post: I am My Father’s Daughter

Next week is Valentine’s Day. So, I thought I would write an early post about it from the perspective of someone (i.e. me) who deeply desires “soul abiding” relationships, but who struggles greatly in that regard.

So, you know what is troubling for me is to look in the mirror and see myself becoming like my once alcoholic father who with the help of Seagram’s Gin would make grand physically violent scenes demanding that everyone—my mother, older sister, and I—look and see him and his power. Yes, my father was a profoundly broken man who inwardly desired acceptance and, most importantly, to be loved. My father needed the healing and rejuvenating power of love. But, because he was not given those tools as a little black boy growing up in Bryan, Texas he sought to gain acceptance and love through fear and intimidation. He became an abuser.

Now that I think about it, to do what my father did requires that you find ways to cover your eyes from seeing the act and consequences of your abuse. My father used Seagram’s Gin with a hint of ice to mentally block the terror he saw in my eyes when he with bare knuckles blackened my mother’s eyes and body. All abusers—white slave owners, dictators, child molesters, rapist, and, simply, spiritually broken people—must find ways to reduce the victim to an object in order to abuse them or find ways to mute the memory of their victimization. Yep, Seagram’s Gin was my father’s choice of denial.

Indeed, my father was once a broken man and now, I, his daughter, am in many ways a broken woman. Like my father I too seek love and acceptance. But, do I physically abuse people to get it? No. But, I do enjoy performing grand scenes of revelry of what I like to call “taking up space.” Meaning, in public or private with people I know or don’t know I have the tendency to make myself the “center” of conversation . . . the “center” of the action . . . the “center” of the controversy. This ideal of centering one’s self in some ways can be a profoundly liberating experience if you have lived your life only at your margins, however, it can be a deeply oppressive action when you expect people around you to hear you, see you, bow down to you, or love you simply because you are the center.

Yes, in some ways, this issue of centering is how imperialism works among other systems of oppression—heterosexism, sexism, racism, class/caste systems. And, yet, again, like all abusers, I too must find ways to blunt the memory of the teasing, the passive aggressive manipulating, the whining, the excessive good deeds, the bending of myself to please people, and the “Eternal Girl.” Yes, these were/are the tools of my trade to become the center. These things taught me how to center myself and force people to give me acceptance, and, most importantly, love. But, the question is how do I blunt the memory of my passive aggressive manipulations? Do I go into a drunken rage like my father? No. But, I do use the seemingly benign belief that I am not like my father to keep me from seeing what my actions are doing to the people I love. And, what my actions tend to do is push people away or silences them.

My father and I used different weapons to force acceptance and love, but the use of the weapons emanate from the same childhood trauma of abandonment, rejection, and abuse. I tell you, when I came to this realization I cried uncontrollably for hours. First, I denied it saying, “I could never be like my father.” [Oh, how I hated him for his abuse and blamed him for my insecurities.] But, then a good friend told me how I had treated her and I instantly saw within that I had become my father. I, the daughter, who felt terrorized by her dad’s physical violence, had become him. I had become an abuser . . . a passive aggressive abuser. With every moment I sought to center myself at the expense of other’s boundaries, happiness, and safety I performed my father’s drunken script.

“You better love me or I will . . . [whine, tease, be extremely nice, be unnaturally understanding, appear weak and helpless, allow you to use me, etc.]”

Yep, I sought to control people through their emotions.

Yes, I am my father’s daughter who is trying to unlearn behaviors that when I was younger helped me to survive living in a violent home. But, as a twenty-something year-old woman I can’t continue to let the 8 year-old traumatized child make decisions for me or instruct me on how to gain acceptance and, most importantly, love.  So, on the Eve of Valentine’s Day, I ask my beloveds (both romantic and non-romantic) if they can love me knowing all this about me. Can they stand to see me naked in this way? Can they love me when my trauma trumps my better judgment and care for them? Can they forgive me when I fail in de-centering myself? Can they love me when I find it hard to accept and love myself? All these questions strike directly at my fears of being alone, rejected, and abandoned.

I tell you self-reflection will make you see some ugly things about yourself. For years I hated and blamed my father for everything that went wrong in my life and the life of my mother. But, I now know he was a broken man who experienced the same upbringing I had and found physical violence as a way to protect himself, gain acceptance, and love.

So, this Valentine’s Day, I would encourage everyone to do some self-reflection work and see how your childhood traumas play out in your adult relationships because we can’t have healthy relationships unless we look ourselves in the mirror and see the reflection of who we really are . . . the good . . . the bad . . . the ugly . . . and the father.