I Can’t Fucking Say That!

I had my therapist session today.  We discussed many things, but the part that really stuck out for me was this.  I was talking about how I was worrying over Father’s Day.  I don’t want to send my father a card, but I usually do.  In addition, with my mom being here, she’ll probably want me to talk on the phone with him as well.  Needless to say, that is not high on my list of things I want to do.

Ed. Note: The above was written yesterday.  The rest of the post will be written today, tomorrow, whenever.  My therapy appointment was on June 9th.

I worry about shit like that until I am miserable.  It will run around in my head until it’s all I can think about.  I was telling my therapist how I had no interest in doing either, but I don’t know how to tell my mother that.  Several years ago, I stopped sending my father any birthday cards or Father’s Day cards (fun fact.  In Taiwan, they have a Father’s Day, August 8th, because August is the eighth month, and eight is ‘ba’ in Taiwanese, so ba-ba would be father (using different tones), but no Mother’s Day), and my mother informed me that my father was very hurt by this.

That’s the way our family rolls.  My mother relays a message guaranteed to exacerbate a situation under the guise of trying to ameliorate a situation.  Does she actually think she’s helping?  I don’t know.

Anyway, I brought it up to my therapist, and she said, “Minna, I want you to think about saying something like this.  “Mom, Father’s Day is very difficult for me because of my issues with Dad.  I do not know if I will be sending Dad a card or calling him on the phone.  Please don’t push me to do either.”

My response?  “Fuck, no!  I can’t say that!”

Therapist:  “Which part?”

Me:  “Any of it!”

Of all the family taboos, this is the biggest one:  Thou shalt not say or do anything that will dispel the notion that thy father is a cherished and beloved member of the family.

My father.  He has ruled the family with an iron fist.  Most of my childhood was spent learning how to cater to his mercurial moods as well as even less savory things.  We had to tiptoe around him and not tell him things that might upset him.  Of course, you never knew what that might be, but you had to try and guess so you wouldn’t be subjected to one of his famed tantrums/silent treatments.

Anyway.  My mother has gone to great lengths to coddle my father’s feelings and to keep her fantasy of the ideal family intact.  As I have discussed with several friends, if she didn’t have her denial, she would have to face the fact that much of her personal life is a lie.   I am not sure she can handle that.

And yet, my father is the white elephant in the room.  When my brother, my mother, and I get together, we are fine.  It’s always been like that.  We know how to groove, and somehow, the three of us offset each other’s weaknesses.  You throw my father into the mix, however, and everything is just wrong.  Oh, I should clarify that when in Taiwan, even when my father was not with us, it was stressful because I wasn’t on my turf.

So, back to what my therapist said.  She hit a nerve with that statement because my father is the one topic that is utterly taboo in my family.  My mom and I have been negotiating the waters of our professional relationship with some difficulty.  We work in different ways, and she’s not a very good boss.  She wants to be able to control my intent and my emotions as she pays me to do whatever work.  For example, she said she wanted me to want to do the work.  I told her she couldn’t buy my emotions.  She said I would work better if I wanted to do it.  I said, “No.  I will do the work well because that’s what I do.”  I’m lazy as hell, but once I actually work, my OCD kicks in, and I work hard.  She said, “Well.  You’ll do the work well.  Can I say that you want to do the work well?”  I said sure, but it seemed odd to me.  I will do the work well seems much better than I want to do the work well, but she preferred the latter.

In addition, she gives me a time-frame that is actually not a time-frame.  She doesn’t like to give too specific deadlines because she said that would make her anxious.  Such as her book.  She said it needed to be done by December whatever.  I got it done by then.  It turns out that she wanted it like months earlier.  Well, she didn’t tell me that because SHE would have worked on it right away and then sent it out.  I, on the other, hand, work to the back end of a deadline.  I don’t think it’s a good habit of mine, but it’s how I work.  Therefore, if she wanted it done by, say, September, then she had to tell me that.

We worked that out.  The next hash was over a chore she told me I had two weeks to do, but then she started asking me when I was going to do it.  When I asked when she wanted it done by, she said she wanted me to come up with an independent schedule.  I said, “It’s obvious you want it done today.  I don’t like to be manipulated.”  I was right.  She did want it done that day and finally just said it.

This is how she communicates.  She won’t come out and say what she wants because she wants YOU to think of it first.  I realize that many women tend to do this, and it’s about power.  I know she has no power with my father.  If she wants him to do something, she has to make him think it was his idea.  He doesn’t respect her very much, which is sad.  She is a powerhouse in her field, but he considers psychology to be lesser somehow.  When I told him I was going to be a psych major in college, he tried to dissuade me because, as he said, “Who knows where psychology will be in ten years?”  Yeah, psychology really died out in the last fifteen years, didn’t it?

Another reason my mom tries to get me to come up with the idea herself is because she desperately wants the real world to align with her fantasy world.  In her fantasy world, she has a daughter who is as industrious and hard-working as she is.  Her daughter would be a Christian, married with children, a homemaker as well as a career woman, and she would do it all with a smile on her face.  My therapist said that part of the difficulties in these discussions is because my mother has to deal with the real me and not the ideal daughter she thinks I Should Be.  You know how some parents tell their kids, “I hope you have a kid who does to you what you did to me?”  I sometimes feel like that curse.  I am nothing she would have asked for in a daughter.  Yes, I feel guilty about it, but I’m tired of feeling inadequate.  And, as my therapist pointed out, the more I accept myself, the less I will react to my mother’s ongoing disappointment and disapproval.

Boy, I really wandered far away, didn’t I.  I’m not going to bother segueing back; I’m just going to make a leap.

After I said I couldn’t say any of that to my mother and explained that I couldn’t possibly shatter the last family taboo, my therapist told me to continue what I’ve been doing, and I’ll be feeling the exact same way when I’m fifty.  I retorted, “My father will be dead by then.”  She asked me if I thought that would really make a difference.  She pointed out that my mother would still say something like, “Oh, it’s Father’s Day–”  I interrupted and said, “She’ll be dead by then, too!”   Then I thought about it a minute and said, “But you’re right.  As long as my mother is alive, the hagiography to my father will continue.”

As I was leaving, my therapist pointed out that I was having difficult discussions with my mom about other things.  She noted, “If I had told you to think of having these discussions a couple of years ago, you would have said the same thing you did today.”  I agreed this was true.  As is my wont, I joked, “So, that means I’ll say that to my mom about my father a few years from now?”  We both laughed, but she had made her point.

However, as difficult as the other conversations are, they pale in comparison to the one in which I mention my father, my childhood, and any hint that I still believe he molested me.  Again, the myth of my father is the last, strongest, most devastating taboo that surrounds our family.  He is tangential to our actual familial connections, but he’s the power, nonetheless.   And, as long as I allow the myth of him to continue, I will feel restrained in my relations with my mother.  She is so involved and invested in him, I don’t know how she would respond if I started chipping away at that particular illusion.

Deep down, one of my fears is that she will choose him over me.  She did the last time I brought up the memories I had of him molesting me.  She said that it couldn’t be true because she would have to leave him if it were.  In addition, all the times she curries messages from him to me (or my brother), she ignores the fact that neither my brother nor I have any contact with our father at all.  As I have stated, if he weren’t still married to my mother, I wouldn’t have anything to do with him at all.  I think the same could be said of my brother.   At his best, he was a distant father who was a petty dictator within his family and had no ability to truly connect with another human being.  At his worst…he destroyed my innocence and my childhood.   As I grow old, I can respect the things he did professionally and politically, but on the personal side, I have zero respect for him.

And yet, on some level, I am still protecting him.  I am still holding up the illusion that he is a good father and a good husband.  I do this mostly out of fear–fear that the whole family will crumble if I speak my truth.  Fear that my mother will fall apart.  Fear that if I finally tear down that particular wall, there will be nothing left of the family.  I know, rationally, that if that’s the basis of our family, there is no there, there.  However, emotionally, I still feel as if I’m the one stabbing our family in the collective heart.  In addition, my mother is old and wedded (pun intended) to the idea of being my father’s wife.  How the hell can I look her in the face and say, “Mom.  I see Dad in a very different way than you do.  I have no fond memories of him.  In fact, I only have terrible ones.  I do not want to talk about him.”?  How do I tell her that every time she mentions him (and she does it a lot–more than she ever has), I wince inside.  It’s like a thin stiletto slicing into MY heart to hear her speak of him.  It doesn’t matter if it’s something complimentary about him or merely something mundane–she pierces me every time.  How do I respond?  I go very very still and try not to breathe as I give one word responses.  And, because I’m a fucking idiot, I ask follow-up questions.   If I don’t, I will hurt her feelings, and we can’t have that, can we?  I have been well-trained to always think of other people’s feelings–so much so that I have a hard time thinking of my own.  I think this is another reason I can easily hurt myself whereas I go to great lengths not to hurt others, and then I feel disproportionately guilty and horrible when I do hurt someone.

I don’t know how to wrap this up because I don’t have any deep insight into the question of what to do about my father and the myth-making thereof.   I think I’ll just stop here.

16 Responses to I Can’t Fucking Say That!

  1. I think you said it perfectly in your blog: “Mom, I see Dad differently than you do…” You can say this!

  2. Print this out and leave it on her bed. Then you’ve “said’ nothing and she can take or leave it as she chooses. (She’s going to do what she wants anyhow, right?)

    Eventually, you gotta live for you, despite the bullshit you’re handed from her.

  3. Kat, hmmmmm….That might actually work.

    Kel, or I can email it to her, and she can ignore the email! Brilliant. I agree with your last sentence, especially the eventually part.

  4. You´re not gonna like this, but it strikes me as key.

    You wrote, “Deep down, one of my fears is that she will choose him over me.”

    Hasn´t she done that your entire life? If you have any evidence to the contrary, you have yet to blog about it.

    Do you remember what I think is the smartest thing I´ve seen you write? Do the math. You have the power. And you have the friends.

  5. Rob, damn it, stop being so logical! I guess I should rewrite that to say, “Deep down, one of my fears is that I will have to finally acknowledge that she chooses him over me.” Ouch.

    Yeah, I remember what you said was the smartest thing I’d written. I hear you loud and clear. I may not like it, but I hear you.

  6. Rob is right… she’s done that over and over for your entire life.

    And you’re right, that sucks; it hurts.

    And there’s no way you could face up to that (especially in the face of what your father did) when you were younger.

    The irony is that as long as you don’t confront this, part of you stays the powerless little girl… even if a large part of you realizes that you’re a powerful, grown woman.

    Ultimately, the little girl you were still needs help from a strong and caring adult. Your mother was never able to be strong and caring for that little girl or to give her the help she needs.

    But you can do it. All the stuff you’ve been working on and dealing with for the past year or so is reconnecting you to that little girl… and she really needs the help that only you can give her.

  7. Alex, noooo! La la la, I’m not listening. Apparently, I still have a layer of denial which I have yet to pierce. Damn.

    I know that no one can take care of my little girl, but me. I am just not sure I am equipped to do it. There is a reason I never had children, you know.

  8. I think your mom’s been choosing her illusion of your father, of you, of your brother, of your family, over any real member of your family.

    You are not to blame for failing to be the fictional daughter your mother wants. That is entirely her problem. In fact, if she would just pay attention, she would realize that she has a really amazing daughter. But then, maybe I’m just biased 😉

  9. Choolie, you are definitely biased! You are right, though, that my mother is choosing her illusion of the perfect family over any individual member in said family. It’s clear when she’s talking about my father that her memories do not match up with the actual experience.

    See, if I actually believed I was amazing, then maybe I could look at things the way you do. As it is, I end up thinking I must have been switched in the hospital at birth.

  10. Ahhh, but the truth remains…you ARE amazing.

    Maybe if an unhealthy part of your family dies, a healthier one can rise up later?

    You are a smart cookie and even if you don’t believe you’re amazing. You are, and your heart, knows the right thing to do, listen to it.

  11. whabs, you speak words of wisdom with your second sentence. I know that I cannot sustain the illusion any longer–the price is too high. I have no faith that there is a healthier way to be in my family, but as my therapist once said, faith comes through action.

  12. Although I can’t truly put myself in your shoes, our families have more similarities than differences. One question I ask you (and myself) is if I am protecting my parents or protecting myself.

    On my more rational days, I know I am protecting an image that I don’t want to have a screwed-up family! I wish I could live more in “denial world” like the fam. Wouldn’t life be much easier?

    Deep down, we both know we choose to live in “reality” because it is better and healthier for us both.

    Don’t drink the kool-aid. 🙂

  13. Yelli, welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting. I think I would have to say that I am seventy percent protecting the image of the family and thirty percent protecting myself from having to deal with the ramifications of tearing down the illusion. I did try to live in denial world for fifteen years. It didn’t work. Reality is healthier, though I am not sure I would say it’s better. Oh, I know it is–it just doesn’t always feel that way. At any rate, I have no other option at this point so I guess I have to give this reality thing a chance. Welcome aboard!

  14. And yet you will also soon realize that you can’t be healthy FOR your family.
    Should you chose to let the ties that bind fall to the wayside, you will see, even if your family isn’t doing anything differently, as you start to live more true to yourself, they will have no choice but to interact with you differently.
    Baby steps get you far.

  15. whabs, that’s true as well. I have already seen that an adjustment in my behavior means an adjustment in their behavior as well as they cannot react to me in the same way if I don’t keep doing the same thing. More on that in the latest blog entry.