“I can’t jack off forever. Right Matt, you understand?” I sit there listening, and smile when my husband responds with “I am not comfortable with this discussion”.
My father has just told us about his new girlfriend. He describes her as a “36-year-old hot broad”. He is cheating on his long-time partner, attempting to justify his actions by explaining that they never have sex anymore. He goes on to assure us that she is a “massive bitch” and a “cunt” anyways. I promptly draw his attention to the language he is using. Explaining how horrible it is for him to be speaking about the two women in his life this way; that it is misogynist. I know my attempts to reason with him will be to no avail. Regardless, I can never keep myself from trying.
To my relief, our call comes abruptly to an end. His partner walks in the room, he changes the subject and attempts to make us say hello to her. It drives me crazy how little he thinks about others when he does things like this. His partner and I do not have a good relationship and have made it perfectly clear to him that we both feel most comfortable having nothing to do with one another. For him to shove our video chat in her face so that he can get off the hook for a minute, makes me furious. I hang up.
Matt shakes his head and says “I can’t believe that he thinks it’s ok to talk to his daughter about jacking off and cheating on his partner. He is never going to change though babe. Maybe it’s time we give up trying”. A rush of shame washes over me. Despite the logic, strength, and security I have come to rely on Matt for, I’ve never been able to stop trying, and I still fail to recognise the severity of how inappropriate his behaviour is. I have to remind myself that considering this is a classic example of all my engagements with my father, it is not surprising that his behaviour seems normal to me.
My immediate response when upset by my father is typically to message my sister. Without hesitation I WhatsApp her.
At this point it was about 11 pm my time, and 6 pm back home where my sister and family live. I went to bed and stayed up fuming all night. This morning while showering I stood there crying, and tried to figure out why I was so mad. What was so wrong? Ultimately, this was nothing new. Last night was but a glimpse into the character of my father and the nature of our relationship. But I guess that was the issue. The source of my anger is complex and runs deep.
I often think about what I would say, or rather would want to say, at my father’s funeral. I run through scenarios of how to say what I need to say delicately; of what experiences to share which best capture my many emotions. In my imagination, I express everything I have ever wanted to say to him in a eulogy. I image the opportunity of laying his body to rest as being my opportunity to lay my anger and pain to rest. I was having one of these imaginative moments this morning in the shower and its meaning finally hit me. My desire to save my father the pain of knowing he has caused so much pain, was presenting itself in my subconscious in the form of this rather morbid fantasy.
I have always seen my father as too weak and immature to handle knowing how I feel and why. He is a severe alcoholic, which I think stems directly from feelings of immense self-hate. Knowing this, I have always put my feelings aside for fear of hurting him. Despite my anger and pain, I love him dearly and want him to be healthy and happy. But I realised this morning that I can no longer protect him if it means hurting myself. As my father, he has massively shaped who I am, and in order to fully understand myself, I need to reflect on my relationship with him. It will be painful and emotional, but I am finally ready and I think I know why.
This past July I married the love of my life. A feMANist who took no issue with me keeping my last name. We walked down the aisle together, hand in hand, symbolising that we were entering into our marriage as equals. I told my father that he would not be walking me down the aisle for this reason, and went on to explain that I was not a piece of property to be given away. I would not uphold a patriarchal custom for the sake of tradition. Although our decision to walk down the aisle together was ideological, deep down a part of me didn’t want to be “given away” by the man that had caused me so much pain.
Upon further reflection, I now think choosing to walk down the aisle with Matt was more than ideologically symbolic and emotionally protective. It was also because consciously or not, I have made massive progress in letting go of a man that can never give me what I need. The chance to feel loved, protected, and empowered by my father has come and gone. I have found what I needed in Matt, and now have the strength to be able to prioritise myself over the fear of hurting my father’s feelings. I am confident that I now have the support, and emotional and psychological strength and maturity required, to start grappling with my relationship with my father.
I have decided that the best way to do this is by writing a novel. I process my thinking and come to understanding best through written word. I am also an academic with strong qualitative analysis skills and experience working with life histories. So why not write my life history? Structuring chapters by anecdotal experiences with my father throughout my lifespan, and reflecting back as a young woman on how each has influenced and shaped who I was, who I am, and who I will grow to be. I can already see the chapters coming to life and writing themselves with beautiful eloquence. “Daddy Damage” - this will be a novel for mothers, daughters, fathers and of course, the researcher in me would never leave out psychologists and social scientists.
Right…now that that’s sorted, anyone know a good publisher?
Article by Unity Jane (January 5, 2018)