The Ugly Truth

It’s my father’s birthday today.  Or rather, it’s the day recorded as his birth.  October 1st.  His parents didn’t really know when he was born, so that’s the date they picked to put on his records.  I had forgotten about it until approximately ten minutes ago, and then I thought about what to do.  Normally, I send an e-card and am done with it.  One year when I first started grappling with the molestation issues (over ten years ago), I didn’t send him anything.  I heard from my mom that he was ‘so hurt’ by that, even though my brother sends them nothing.  Ever.

This year, I was flummoxed as to what to do.  I decided to send a card, but what would it say?  I looked at different cards, and they were all too sappy for me.  I mean, I am not a sappy person anyway, and most certainly not when it comes to my father.  I found a simple one and wrote something like, “Happy Birthday, Dad.  May your year be filled with peace, happiness, and love.  Love, Minna.”

That’s all I could muster.  And, strangely enough, I meant most of it.

You see, in my last therapy session, I talked a bit more about my father’s lack of enjoyment for life.  As I’ve said, he’s traveled around the world, eats the finest food, and doesn’t care for any of it.  He can be excused for his lack of enthusiasm for the countries themselves because he’s mostly in conferences while he’s there, but he gets treated to the best food each country has to offer, and he appreciates none of it.

It got me thinking about what he does enjoy.  He likes watching war movies.  He liked playing tennis (though I think it was more the social aspect than anything else).  Other than that, nothing.  His life is pretty joyless.  Even his affairs were more about validation than for actual enjoyment.  As I have also documented, he doesn’t have much use for women.

The more I talked about him, the more I felt a…stirring of…sympathy for him.  But I will get to that in a minute.

On a wildly different track that isn’t different at all (bear with me), my aunt died a few months ago.  This is my father’s sister, a woman who had nothing but contempt and disdain for me for not speaking Chinese/Taiwanese (but, not for my brother.  Double standards runs in that family, I see).  When my mom emailed me to tell me the news, I felt nothing.  A few days ago, Kiki emailed me to tell me that someone with whom we had both worked many many years ago had died recently.    I had had a crush on him when we worked together, and he had been kind to and admiring of me as well.  I haven’t seen him in 16 years.  Kiki saw him a couple years ago, and she told me then that he had asked about me.  Just a few weeks ago, we were wondering what had happened to him.  I Googled him, but I found nothing, and believe me, that’s very unusual in this day and age.

I was shocked as hell when she emailed me.  He was only fifteen years older than I (roughly), which means he was in his mid-fifties when he died.  That’s so young.  And, I had just been talking about him so recently.  How the hell could he be dead?  I felt something else, too–grief.  Grief for a man I hadn’t seen in 16 years and had thought of not more than a dozen times in the same time period.  WTF?  I saw my aunt in December, and she’s family, and yet, nothing when she dies.  I know intellectually that there is a good reason for this dichotomy, but I still felt guilty about it.

Then, I thought about it some more.  It’s the whole blood is thicker than water maxim at work here.  I mean, I have met this aunt something like three times in my life.  Each time, she has been disapproving of me.  We didn’t speak the same language, and we are of different generations/cultures.   With my coworker, we were from the same culture; we were of a similar generation; we had mutual respect for each other.  We got along pretty well.  In other words, we were friends at the time.

This relates to how I’m slowly coming to view family in general.  Here’s the other thing I talked about in therapy–the things my father said to me during his last visit.  Bear with me as I rehash.  The first was his comment that I was not a woman because I didn’t fit his preconceived notion about how a woman should be.  The second was, well, this one I haven’t discussed yet.  As we sat in the car, I struggled to tell him how I felt about my childhood.  I wasn’t very smooth or articulate about it, but I really tried to be honest.  When I was done, he said, “So, I shouldn’t worry about you at all?  I should just live my life in Taiwan and not think about you at all?”  The third was the last thing he said while he was here, “Why should I care about you?”

Here’s the thing.  As much as those statements/questions hurt at the time (and believe me, they hurt a hell of a lot), it was actually a relief to hear them because they were the underlying principle of the family dynamics all my fucking life.  You see, in my family, love was bartered.  You didn’t get to be loved just because you existed.  Oh, no.  You had to give something in return.  Take my father asking me about my feelings for the family and the house.   He kept demanding that I love the house (and the family)–which would mean by extension that I loved him.  Hell, I didn’t even have to mean it if I could simply say the words he wanted to hear.

Once I realized that, I could also see that my father believed he was loved based on what he could provide.  So, the fact that I didn’t love the family or the house or whatever he gave me meant I didn’t love him.  That led me to muse more about him and his joyless life.  Yes, he has fame (in Taiwan), power, and money.  He is a well-known and respected man in Taiwan.  He is an economic advisor to the vice president (whom he knew personally before the man became VP).  That’s not small potatoes, by any mean, but think about what that is in comparison to being loved for who you are?

My therapist said that my father’s calling me demonstrated that he is trying to do something different.  It’s feeble and vague because he can barely fathom that there’s something other than what he’s done and known all his life.   She commented that he had something missing inside him, and he doesn’t even know it.  It’s true.  There is a component absent from him that makes us human.  I am not exactly sure what it is, but it’s sad.

I look at him and his joyless life, and I feel that stirring of sympathy again.  I think about my lost fifteen years which were really my dead years as well.  I felt very little joy during those years as I sealed myself up in a hermetic vacuum to try to avoid the crushing pain.

As I am now remembering, if i don’t feel the pain, the sorrow, and the grief, I cannot feel the love, the joy, the peace, and the happiness, either.  It’s a package deal.  I feel it all, or I feel nothing.

In the past few months, I have realized that I don’t want to be dead inside any more.  The shit I’m working on is painful and I’m in mourning and sometimes, the pain makes me want to die.  However, there are also moments of pure joy that make me want to weep because of the sheer beauty I am experiencing.  I have a cadre of fierce friends who will defend me to the death–even from myself if need be.  I have a brother who I trust implicitly to be there if I need him.  I have two cats who bring me more joy than I ever thought possible.  I have my talents that have sustained me even through the toughest times.  I have love.  I have pleasure.  I have joy.  I have moments of peace.  None of this would have happened if I didn’t start dismantling the family mythos bit by bit.

I won’t lie to you.  It’s not easy.  There are times when I think the grief is going to break me.  This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.  And yet, I really have no choice.  I refuse to go back to the walking-dead state I existed in for so long.  Right now, I choose life.  That’s enough for now.

12 Responses to The Ugly Truth

  1. I know you cannot see me, but I have my cheerleading sweater, short skirt, and pompoms out for you. (No saddle shoes, though; sorry. Bare feet!)

    I’m glad you are choosing to live, love, and be loved. It’s an amazing choice, difficult though it is.

    And if you have a shred of doubt, consider how much the Kellions fought over who got to hug you first, and how ecstatic they are that you are coming to see THEM (as is, not me!) later this month. Consider the food that you do love, whether made my your co-op, a favorite restaurant, or even me. =) Consider the pride you feel when you master something Chools has taught you. Consider the peace when the boys are snuggled into your lap.

    Joy is all around us. We just have to open our eyes to it.

  2. Cheers here, too! Awesome progress! Grow, Minna, grow! Understanding the past for what it was is bringing you more fully into the present and opening up so many possibilities for your future choosing! Hard work, I know, but so worth the tremendous effort.

    I am so grateful to know you and to count you in my circle of friends, Minna.

    Peace & love to you, always.

  3. No pompoms here, but I’m cheering for you as well!

    One thing that really stood out for me about this post — you note that your father has no use for women and that he told you you’re not a woman.

    It’s a struggle for him to accept you and you’re right that his attempts are feeble and vague.

    His struggle isn’t your struggle (and you don’t have to do anything about the fact that he’s struggling — you can just let it sit for a while) but your struggle *is* causing changes and those changes do ripple out into the world.

    Keep it up!

  4. Kel, oh I can see you all right–in my mind! Thanks for being one of my biggest cheerleaders. Not only do you look cute in your outfit, you have done so much to bolster me through the dark times. Life is, indeed, about the moments of pure joy.

    Friend, I agree with you on understanding/resolving the past being a way to a better future. Thanks for being on my side!

    Alex, wow. I hadn’t quite connected the two thoughts, but you’re right. And, much of my struggles as a teen/twenty-something was with what it meant to be a woman. Thanks for your unwavering support. It means a lot to me (even if you won’t wear the skirt).

  5. Minna, sending him a card with those words was incredibly kind and generous of you.

    I am glad you are choosing life, glad that you are finding reasons to choose life. How hilarious that I’m teaching you different ways to kill someone!

  6. Choolie, me being able to kill someone is part of me choosing life–MY life. I hope I never have to use it, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have every weapon available at my disposable.

  7. This is going to sound harsh.

    “Why should I care about you?”

    Because she is your DAUGHTER. YOU caused her to BE HERE.

    You know, I have an entire 20-minute rant about this, but the simple fact is if that if he doesn’t understand that, there is nothing I can say that will change the way things are for him. And there may be nothing you can do about it, either.

    I’m sorry things are this way for you. Pleased realize that, even though this IS the way things are for you, that doesn’t mean that that is the way YOU are (or have to be). You may not be able to change the circumstances, but it sounds like you are slowly starting to change yourself for the better.

    Keep going. Sometimes the only way out, is through.

  8. Jado, that doesn’t sound harsh at all. My instinctive response was, “It’s part of your fucking job, that’s why.” I didn’t say it, but I definitely thought it.

    And, you are right in that I cannot change him. If anything, this visit showed me how damaged he was. The more I can accept that it truly is him and not me, the better off I will be. It’s not easy, but as you said, the only way out is through.

  9. The last time I cried was just now as I read this post.
    I totally know where you are coming from. The fun part will be to see where you are going so I say with love, “You go girrrl!”

  10. Oh wow- just randomly found this and I have been there- there where you are right now. Be prepared for a rough ride– it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. At one point I completely withdrew from most of my family and friends because of the emotional energy processing through the abuse was taking. I asked for patience and saw them on the other side, and emerged a much better person. I had finally decided to deal with the abuse because I was so tired of the dysfunction in my relationships that it was causing, and I had met someone who I wanted to be functional with. It may be tiring, it may be scary, but it is the only way to heal. Good luck with everything.

  11. Robin, I am glad you stumbled on my blog and commented. Welcome. You are right. There is a point when the ramifications of the abuse are just too much to bear any longer. At that moment, you have to deal with the abuse in order to be able to make some sort of sense of it/come to terms with it. I won’t say make peace with it because I wouldn’t dare to presume. Breaking dysfunctional patterns is not easy, no. I am glad that you met someone for whom you wanted to try.

    Again, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Feel free to drop by any time.