The Long Hard Road

The visit from my father is over.  It was really difficult to get through, but it wasn’t impossible.  Until the airport and dropping him off.  I will get to that in a minute.

The night I went to get him, he arrived around 11:30.  We got home after midnight.  We chatted some, and then I went to my computer room to hop online.  I had the door mostly closed (but not all the way so the kittehs could come in if they wanted), and I was startled the fuck out when he entered without knocking.  He said I didn’t have any food.  I said I did.  He said there was no milk or bread.  I said I don’t drink milk any more because of my dairy allergies, and I did have bread–it just wasn’t made of wheat.  He half-laughed and repeated that I didn’t have any food.  I repeated that I did.  I had just gone shopping that day and had plenty of food.  He left.

During the night, I heard him get up around two, go to the kitchen, rattle around the fridge, and then return to bed.  When I went to bed at 4:30 a.m., the light was still on in his room.

The next morning, I got up around 8 a.m.  He told me he had only two hours of sleep because he’d been so hungry.  I said that was too bad.  He had an  appointment in the morning and came back for lunch.  Then he started in on me about something, but fortunately, my brother dropped by.  My brother is seen as an adult because he’s married, and, quite frankly, because he’s a man.  Even when my father is lecturing my brother, he (my father) doesn’t demean him (my brother).  Oh, and my father asked my brother to fix a closet door.  My brother said, “You didn’t try to fix it yourself, did you?”  He and I exchanged conspiring eyerolls and grins because my father is horrible at fixing things.  He also has a magnetic field that kills all electrical things, but that’s another story.  It was nice to have that moment with my brother to lighten the mood.

Then, after my brother left, my father took a nap because he was ‘so tired after only getting two hours of sleep because he was so hungry’ before going to his afternoon appointment.  Then, we went to my bro’s house and to the Olive Garden for dinner.  Wouldn’t be my choice, but the kids aren’t very adventurous in their eating–nor is my SIL, actually.  Or my father.

My father mentioned once more that he only got two hours of sleep because he was so hungry.  Again, I didn’t say anything.

So, after we return home, my father asks me, “Why didn’t you prepare for my trip?  Was it because you didn’t have the money?”  I asked what he meant, and he said, “You didn’t have food in the fridge.”  I repeated that I had.  He said, “You didn’t have milk or bread or kiwis.”  I said, “I have bread.  I looked for kiwis, but they didn’t have any.”  He said, “They did.  I got them at Cub.”  I said, “I shop at a coop, and they didn’t have any.”  He was pouting, and I added, “You could have emailed me ahead of time to tell me what you needed.  You could have asked me to run to Cub and get you something.  You could have gone yourself.”  Cub is open 24/7, and it’s less than a mile from us.  My father:  “I didn’t have to ask you before.”  Me (desperately trying not to lose my temper and failing):  “You are a big boy.  You can ask for what you need.  I am not a mind-reader.

Later, as I thought about it, I realized that, yes, I did have milk in the house before, but that was because I used to drink milk.  Once I shed it from my diet, I didn’t buy it any more.  Same with bread.  I used to eat wheat bread, so I would buy it.  The only thing I ever specifically bought for him before a visit were kiwis, and I did look for those at the coop.

The other thing I realized is that my mom does all the grocery shopping in Taiwan.  All of it.  She does all the housework, too.  My father’s secretary does all the chores at the office (including printing out his emails so he can read them), so he’s used to women catering to his every need.  It was what he expected from me when I was a kid, and it’s still what he expects from me now.  Oh, and he couldn’t believe I didn’t have any oatmeal in the house.  Again, I don’t eat it, so I don’t buy it.

That was the first big conflict.  The second is a running family issue.  My father can’t deal with the cold.  And, since he can’t stand the cold, he can’t imagine that anyone else can.  So, on the day it was seventy degrees out, he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a light jacket.  I, on the other hand, was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and light-fabric pants.  He took one look at me and said I had to put on something else because it was too cold for what I was wearing.  I said it wasn’t too cold, and I had a jacket in the trunk of the car.  That was my concession as I drive with the windows down when it’s zero degrees out.  He told me that I could not go outside like that, and I was this close to saying, “Fucking watch me.”  I didn’t, though.  I simply went to the car, and he dropped the subject.

To add insult to injury, my bro was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt as well, and nada from my father.  Middle nephew was wearing a t-shirt.  Nothing.  Niece was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and he asked her if she should wear more than that.

He has done this since I was a child.  Back then, he used to say, “I’m cold–put on a sweater.”  He cannot comprehend how someone else could feel something different.  And, as my faithful readers know, I love the cold.  Anything over seventy is not comfortable to me.   Sixty is bearable, and under fifty is nice.  I prefer sub-zero temps.  I do not need a fucking jacket when it’s seventy degrees outside.  The only reason I didn’t wear shorts is because I knew we’d be going out to dinner.

The third irritant that stuck out in my mind was actually funny only because it was so fucking stupid.  He had an appointment Friday morning.  When he came home, he had a gift in his hand.  He gave it to me and told me to open it.  I looked at him strangely because he doesn’t give gift-wrapped presents.  He said it was from his appointment.  I asked why I should open it as I started opening it.  He said, “Because women like those kind of things.”  I said, “What kind of things?”  I wasn’t being a contrarian–I really didn’t know what he meant.  He said, “Women like this kind of thing.  I always bring the gifts I get in Taiwan home to Mom and let her open them.”  I was starting to get an inkling of what he meant, but I simply repeated, “What kind of things?”  He said, “You know.  Women like to receive flowers.”  I said, “I don’t.”  He said, “Women cry when they hear about a wedding.”  I said, “I don’t.”  He said, “Women cry when they hear about a baby being born.”  I said, “I don’t.”  He half-smiled and said, “Well, you’re not a woman.”  I finished opening the gift and said, “No, you just have a very narrow idea of what a woman should be like.”

Again, he was half-joking, but not really.  He has no clue what to do with a daughter who doesn’t wear makeup or make an effort to dress up all the time and who doesn’t care about gifts and holidays and whatever.  In the past, he gave me a French doll when I was twelve and was upset when I wasn’t thrilled (I never played with dolls except to cut off their hair and make them have sex).  My father went to a castle/hotel when he was in Banff, Canada, and afterwards, he had to tell me all about it.  He said, “They do weddings there.  I will pay for it if you want to have your wedding there.”  I just looked at him as if he were crazy.

However, the advice he gave to me when I was a teenager before I had my first boyfriend in how to attract a boyfriend pretty much encapsulates his entire thinking on the gender thing:  Let a boy help you with something like fixing your car.  Let the boy beat you in sports.  Raise your voice a few octaves.

That’s it.  That was the sum total of what I should do to get a boyfriend.  I looked at him and said, “If that’s what it takes to get a boyfriend, then I don’t want one.”

So, Sunday comes.  I am relieved because he’s leaving that day.  I am in the computer room surfing when he comes in.  He says, “Minna, could you come here a second?  I want to show you something.”

Now, I will say that my answer was snotty and terse because I don’t trust him.  To me, he does this shit to make me jump.  So, I said sharply, “What is it?”  He said, “It’ll just take a minute.  Let me show you.”  I said, “No, tell me.”  When he did, it was about the loose toilet and how he fixed it.  I said I didn’t need to see that, and he left.

Again, I admit that I was snotty and rude to him.  It’s partly because I had tried so hard all weekend not to go off on him (and not succeeding) and partly because of the mistrust I have for him.  I am not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  In addition, he did not say one nice thing to me during the whole visit, but only found fault.  That is the way our family operates, but it’s wearying, regardless.

Anyway, in the car (he drove), he was silent.  I asked if he talked to Mom, and he said, “Yes.”  I asked how she was, and he said, “Fine.”  I shrugged and tried to relax.  About halfway to the airport, it occurred to me that my father was upset with me and that I was supposed to ask why.  This is the pattern.  He gets upset, gives the silent treatment, and is cajoled out of his mood.  Or, he yells.  However, I think he knew that if he yelled at me this time, I would yell right back (and I would have) so he went for the silent treatment.

Honestly?  I didn’t give a fuck.  I was happy, actually, because it meant that I didn’t have to talk to him.  As we pulled into the airport, he made as if to park in the parking lot.  I said I would just drop him off.  Then, to my horror, he started crying.  Crying.  I have never seen my father cry.  Ever.  As we pull up to the drop-off area of the airport, he asked in a choked voice, “Why are you treating me this way?”  I slammed down emotionally, but I managed to ask, “What way?”  He said, “You are treating me so unkindly.  Are we enemies?”  He pulled out his handkerchief with a trembling hand and pressed it to his eyes.  And, even though I didn’t say it to him, my automatic thought was, “No, we are not enemies.  I don’t respect you enough to make you my enemy.”

Now, I have to break off here to do something out of the norm for me.  I am not going to recount the rest of the confrontation at the airport because it’s too raw for me right now.  I may write about it at some point, but I cannot just now.

Suffice to say, by the time I pulled out of the airport, I was reeling.  I had been gut-punched, and for five minutes, it was a toss-up whether I would crash the car or not.  On purpose, I mean.  I felt like a complete shit as I drove.  My emotions were totally out-of-kilter, and I was trembling as I drove.  I made it home in one piece, hurt myself, and then freaked out some more.  Finally, I sent out emails to five friends.  Each of them responded in his/her own way, which was exactly what I needed from that person.

Kel was sympathetic and tough.  She called him a shithead and warned me not to let him get what he wants (my emotional destruction).  She emailed with me throughout the day to keep me grounded.  She talked about her day and joked with me.  Humor always helps me.  Choolie was sympathetic and really had my back.  She knows how crazy you can feel when you’re around someone who sees the world in a totally warped way.  She reminded me that he was the one in bizarro world (with the help of my mother), not me.  I’m a freak–I’m not crazy.  Gregory was also firm with me in that he won’t let me bullshit myself.  In addition, he has a positive outlook that allows him to see a good outcome, but not in a Pollyanna sort of way.  He reminded me that it was over and that my father had to resort to those tactics because he had been losing the fight, as it were.  Kiki listened sympathetically and gently reminded me that I was giving my father an awful lot of power.  She gave him a slightly more sympathetic portrayal while validating that he had been shitty toward me.  She told me to call her the next night if I needed her.  Natasha had some pity toward my father while reminding me that I didn’t have to have any pity toward him whatsoever.  She emphasized that his issues were not my problem.  She asked what I was going to do about minimizing his effect on me, and when were we doing lunch?

From all five, I got love and unwavering support.  They are unequivocally in my corner and not shy about expressing their loyalty to me.  Thank you all for being there for me.  I love each of you very much.

In addition, Alex S., Fawn, and Dan emailed me asking me how the visit went and ee wished me luck in a thread over at BJ.  It touches me to know that people are thinking of me and wishing me well.

And, there are other people in my life I could have called upon if need be–including my brother.  What I’ve realized from this trip is that my brother is on my side, no matter that we have nothing in common.

The addendum to this is that my father called me today.  Apparently, the phone has been off the hook for the past few days (not on purpose.  It’s just an old phone and hard to hang up properly).  I finally discovered it was off the hook and put it back on.  I was expecting my brother to call me so when the phone rang, I answered it.  I normally don’t, and I wish I hadn’t.  It was my father.  Apparently, he had been trying to reach me for the last few days.  He even called my brother and made my brother call me (of course, my bro couldn’t get through, either).  Anyway, my father was in Montreal for a conference.  He asked if I would like to go to Montreal, and he said he wished I were with him.  He said the hotel was right in Chinatown, and he knew I would love that.  He asked what my favorite foods were, and right before he hung up the phone, he said with a catch in his voice, “I love you very much.”  I couldn’t say it back to him–I just couldn’t, so I said, “You, too.”  Which is a lie.  Then, I hung up the phone and freaked the fuck out.

You see, what I wanted from the trip was to show him a modicum of grace–not for him, but for me.  I cannot carry this pain, rage, bitterness, sorrow, and anger around with me any longer.  The only way I can get rid of it is by letting go of it.  Again, it’s not for his sake, but for mine.

On the phone today, he was trying–he really was.  And, I couldn’t give him anything because it just hurt too fucking much.  I couldn’t give him a scrap or a crumb or anything, and I know it hurt him.  Despite it all, I do not want to hurt him.  But, I cannot give him what he wants, and it broke me.  It hurt so much that I just cried for fifteen minutes straight.  I tried not to hurt myself (yes, it’s a compulsion bordering on addiction), and I held out for as long as I could.  I gave in, and it numbed me out enough to function.  Barely.  I talked with Gregory and Julie tonight (via the internets), and they were able to talk me down somewhat.

Still.  I sit here typing this, and my heart hurts.  It aches.  I don’t want to be like this, and I am afraid that I am running out of time.  Not just for me, but for my father.  After his visit, I felt that being around him was toxic and that I had to cut all ties.  Then, after the heart-wrenching phone call this afternoon, I felt an overwhelming amount of grief because I couldn’t give him anything at all.  He’s trying, really trying, and all I can think is, “Not now.  I can’t give to you now.”

I feel as if I’m ripping apart the family only to discover that there is nothing there.  I mean, there are relationships within the family, of course, but the idea of the Hong family is sheer illusion, and I’m the one doing the destroying.

21 Responses to The Long Hard Road

  1. It’s not so rare for people in close relationships to expect the other one to have ESP. Something about our brains seems wired to expect/hope that those we know through long and intimate experience should understand our needs intuitively. Doesn’t work that way. If you need something, ask. It may not fit with some romanticized notion of how things should be, but it sure makes life a hell of a lot easier for everyone else.

    With all the history & baggage with your family, maybe the best way to address issues would be by mail? Regular, old, snail mail. Things like phone calls and car trips can spring up unexpected things and throw you out of whack. With a letter you could order your thoughts, get things out the way you feel best expresses them, and gives the recipient breathing room before responding.

    Don’t think you’re destroying anything either. Coming out of an emotionally charged period like that is not the best time for a sober assessment of what’s going on; spend a little time distracting yourself before going back to it and poking around.

  2. Minna, an abuser is very, very good at manipulation. You know this.

    But let’s say…just hypothetically, that it’s a different motive. Let’s just say that your father is getting old, feeling his age, regretting his transgressions from the past, and wants to reconnect with his only daughter before it’s too late. We’ll just -say- that’s the reason.

    If this is really what he wants, then he needs to take the first step. He jumped to the tears of remorse and the reaching out and the invocations of love without hitting the first vital, unmovable step. He has not owned what he did. And I don’t give a flying fuck about “Taiwanese culture” or “it was different in those days” or “that’s not what people do” or “we don’t talk about those things.” Until he acts like a man and owns the abuse, he can NOT atone for his sins. And until he can atone, how can you truly forgive?

    You owe him nothing until he mans up, Minna, and even then, maybe not. Why the fuck are you injuring yourself because HE is hurting? That is such a crock of shit. Let him hurt for a while. You’ve been shouldering the pain since you were 7. I think it’s about time he took some of it.

  3. Yeah to what both Dan & Kel said. Hell yeah to what Kel said.

    I am envisioning that in some not-too-far-off future that you can assertively express your hurt & pain out loud to your father, rather than hurting yourself. Someday it’s gonna be embracing your truths & honestly asserting yourself in his direction that will heal you, not the numbing out. I am envisioning that day arriving and imagining the emotional freedom for you until you can get there.

  4. I am a writer. There’s nothing that enchants me more than a stack of blank paper and a new pen. So, I am all for what Dan said. If Dad is so ready to connect and pull the poor-me act, then go connect! Write it down – and mail it. Writing is not just creative – it’s cathartic – you know this. Even if he never responds, maybe just the act of putting your feelings into concrete form and then giving them away – or back! – to him will start you on a healing path. Oh, and also, what Kel said.

  5. I’m in the Kel Corner, too (the Kel Korner?) — although maybe we should all gather there and rename it the Minna Corner (and serve non-wheatbread sandwiches with Co-op veggies)!

    I’d respectfully disagree with Rose because sending anything to your father would be giving him power and I don’t think that would be helpful for you. (I also doubt that he would respond in any way that would be cathartic to you — and even though you know rationally he won’t ever change there’s still part of you that wants him to change and make right what he’s made wrong for the past 30 years.)

    Writing it down might be good — but giving him your most heartfelt, personal, and deep feelings would mean in a lot of ways that he wins.

  6. Dan, it’s true, especially in Asian cultures to expect loved ones to be able to read ones mind. Unfortunately, my talents in ESP do not lie in that direction. In addition, my mother has spent the last forty years catering to my father’s every whim, thus, allowing him to believe this is a reasonable request. Snail mail: It’s a good option. Destroying: My therapist pointed out that my relationship with my father (not to mention my relationship with my mother) is as real as it’s ever been, and it’s in part to the hard work I’ve been doing and my inability to function in the old ways.

    Kel, congratulations! You win the thread. I will be sending you your internets shortly. I love you, twin o’mine for your clear insight. You are right. This is a baby step by him. I can appreciate it without feeling I have to embrace him completely on the spot. Oh, and I fixed your typo. You’re welcome.

    Friend, keep envisioning that for me. I really need to get that particular shit (hurting myself) under control or channel it into something constructive.

    Rose, I hear you on the writing thing. Although I do all my writing on computer these days, I still get that same thrill when I pull up a new document. I think writing down my feelings is a good thing, even if I don’t actually send the letter.

    Alex, get in line. Kel is quite the popular girl today. I would not send a letter to my father right now for the reasons you mentioned and more. It was the reason (one of them) I didn’t bring up the abuse at the airport–he would have twisted it against me (“How could you think such a thing?” “Do you really think I’m such a monster?”, etc.). But, I do think writing it out will at least unravel some of the shit in my mind.

  7. Here here, Kel! Way to cut to the heart of the matter.

    Minna, you’ve recently forced both of your parents to deal with the fact that you are now an adult, and won’t be treated otherwise. Neither one of them know entirely how to deal with this new arrangement. Your father least of all. But that is not your fault. You’ve already done what you need to. Now the ball is in their court.

    I agree that your father will have to apologize for the real crimes he’s committed. If not, he’d better accept that he’s burned that bridge, and give you your space. In either case, it’s something he now has to do. You have no responsibility or obligation there.

    Lastly, I am so amazed at what you’ve done, at how strong you have been, moments of weakness notwithstanding.

  8. Iratwo, thanks for checking in on me.

    Choolie, another Kel fan, eh? I know that I have done what I can for now. I know that even though my father is trying, he still has far to go. Still, I can’t help but feel bad for him. He’s old. He’s emotionally crippled. He’s trying. I want to be able to give something to him before he dies; I fear that I will not be able to find it within me in time.

    My therapist said the same as your last sentence. I thanked her, and I thank you. It wasn’t easy, but I really had no other option. I simply could not return to my old ways.

  9. You have said you couldn’t give him what he wanted, and you shouldn’t have to.
    He hasn’t given you what you want; admission, acknowledgment, accountability…and he should have to.
    You stood your ground in the only ways you were able. He got the message, and responded. You said you honestly saw him try.
    Sadly, maybe that is all he will ever be able to do, but YOU can keep on acting differently. Maybe your family needs to feel tore up (down) in order to work at building something less toxic.

  10. Eh. I’m nothing special. I merely said it first.

    He did try, and that’s admirable. But a half assed effort will not and should not get him absolution.

    As for you not being able to give him something before he dies, bear in mind that this is not an “all or nothing” endeavor. To draw a parallel — when my father died last year, he had never owned any of the shit he heaped on me/us at all. He never showed remorse, nothing. But there were snippets here and there, when he was lucid, where I saw him as a person, and the way he maybe wanted to try to be. I won’t bore you with examples, but they were there.

    Now…did I “forgive” him? No. Why should I? But at the same time, I still gave up a few hours after work to go see him pretty much every day. I did some stretching therapy on his legs so his cramps would ease (for a while, I was the only one he’d allow to do it, in fact). I brought him his absolute favorite milkshake to get calories in him. Hell, I’m in possession of the very last photograph of him ever taken while he was lucid. My own mother didn’t even know it existed until I showed it to her a few weeks ago. I’ve never posted it anywhere or showed it to anyone outside of my immediate family. I couldn’t even explain to you *why* I took a photo of my father and me together.

    The afternoon before he died, his best friend was admitted to the hospital for cancer surgery and was on the same floor. My father really wasn’t conscious, but I had left work to see him, as we knew the time was getting close. I leaned over and told him that I was going to go sit with Don in his room for a while, since he couldn’t do it, and then I was going to take his grandkids to their sports practices because I knew he’d be pissed as hell if I made them miss their sessions. He couldn’t answer, but his face relaxed. Coincidence? Most likely. But these were things I *could* give him.

    So you absolutely have the capacity for compassion and gentleness, even if you cannot or choose not to forgive him. They are not mutually exclusive concepts. Don’t expect more of yourself than you can give, but DO allow yourself to contemplate the things you might be able to do instead.

  11. Admirable, but not accountable. And I don’t think that just because he made a little effort over what he can’t even own, absolves him.
    I do think whatever you need to accept to get peace in your heart is what counts.

  12. Since it’s Quote Kel week — “A half assed effort will not and should not get him absolution.”

    And even if he does it twice, that just makes him a whole ass!

  13. whabs, I know, intellectually, that I cannot just force myself to forgive him, nor is it actually desirable for me to just wave a wand and *poof*! It all goes away. I also know that I need to focus on what I can change rather than what I can’t. Thank you for your fierce support. It means a lot to me, and you are loved in return.

    P.S. I do think whatever you need to accept to get peace in your heart is what counts. I co-sign this 100%. Now, if I only knew what that was.

    Kel, it continues to amaze me that you were able to find that kind of grace for your father. The story of the photo you took of the two of you especially touches me.And, I don’t think it was coincidence that your father’s face relaxed when you told him that you would visit his best friend for him since he couldn’t.

    I hope one day, I will be able to find a fifth of that for my own father. Right now, though, I cannot. I just hurt, hurt, hurt, and I feel guilty because I cannot give him more. He called today to say that he was home safely, so don’t worry. I let the machine take it because I just couldn’t talk to him again.

    ETA: Alex, I just saw your comment and cracked up. Thanks!

  14. Minna — don’t be too amazed. You need to remember that I was in close proximity to my father for the past 13ish years. I also had three of his grandkids, and could see how he was with them. He would also make random attempts here and there to do something nice for me that never failed to shock me, quite honestly.

    You don’t have the benefit of any of that. Cut’cherself some slack.

  15. Wow. It’s my first visit, and even without knowing the backstory, I’m impressed as hell with how you handled all that.

    I don’t know if this helpful to you, but when trying to deal with my family, I try hard to credit them for the fucked-uppedness inflicted upon them by the generations before. At least in my family, the craziness and horror increases the farther you go back, so I can look at the problems I inherited as the echoes of chaos that have been reverberating for generations. In that context, I figure my job isn’t to be perfectly sane or whole; it’s just to be somewhat better than my parents, and to trim down the set of issues I pass along.

    By that standard, it sounds like you’re doing fantastically well. You’re dealing with your shit, and some of his. You made some progress for yourself, helped him see that there’s progress he could make, and you didn’t, as was perhaps your moral right, smother him to death with wheat-bread and kiwi sandwiches.

    So I’m with Kel: you have earned some slack-cutting. In my view, you have nothing to feel guilty about; you did not create this situation and you are doing your best to deal with it. Not just your best, but far more than him. And if you’re anything like me, that slack, and the healing that comes with it, may be exactly what you need to get to the point where you can work on your relationship with him. It’s like my friend the ex-lifeguard says: you can’t save somebody else if you’re drowning yourself.

  16. Being so late to the thread, there’s little I can add to the excellent advice your friends gave you here, Minna. Just remember that you do have many friends who are on your side. I’m happy I can be one of them.

  17. 300baud, welcome, fellow BJer. Thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog and to comment. You really hit it in one with the ‘you can’t save somebody else if you’re drowning yourself’ line. My therapist said to me that loving everybody (a comment tenet) includes loving oneself. She said most women forget that part and that I need to concentrate on that. I also like your line about trimming down issues, even though I have no progeny. Perhaps I can help my niece and nephews be better than I am. At any rate, stop by any time.

    Gregory, thank you for being you and for being my friend. I value your friendship very much.