This piece was contributed by Aubrey, who has given permission to use her name. She has recently started blogging about her experience at Embracing This Moment.
The Back Story
My mother and father were very young, 19, 20, and not married when they had me. My father didn't tell his parents about me until my grandmother found me on the couch while he was mowing the lawn. I can't imagine that scene. How did he attempt to explain it? My dad's family laughs about it. I don't. My parents tried to make it work as best they could, but that wasn't much, their immaturity, their personalities, just didn't mix. When I was two, my parents separated. I grew up with my mother, and although times were hard, I am forever grateful to her for her sacrifices.
As a young girl, I felt like an outcast in my father's life. He had numerous women, and I felt like I always took a far distant third...job first...new fling second...me...oh yeah, the girlfriend comes to get me for the weekend. He rarely called me to check in. He barely saw me but two times out of the year--holidays, summer. By the time my father married and had two more children, I was 11, and I knew then it would be up to me to carry the relationship, so I did. I called him with exciting news. I made the investment in us. I wanted to believe I had a dad, so I told myself if I proved my worth to him, he would want me, he would love me. When I started college, near where he lived, the time we had to get together increased. I even lived with him one summer in between the school year. We really got to know each other, I got to know his new children and his wife. I felt comfortable with our relationship, I loved my dad. I felt like he loved me...
Fifteen years pass, I am pregnant and married, and we are still visiting frequently, spending holidays, weekends together. We have invested much more in each other. I want to be able to tell myself I have a good family, so I ignore my reactions to his expectations, ignore my gut instincts that tell me this isn't healthy, that this doesn't honor me. He was the first one at the hospital. He was the first family member to hold our son. He was so excited, so full of love. I don't know what happened. It all changed so quickly. Although I had intended to return to my job, at the last minute, we decided that my staying home would be the best option for our family. I asked him for help as we eased into the transition. In response, my dad said, "You are bringing financial ruin to your family. I cannot support you, and I cannot watch you do this." He meant it. He told me it was the worst decision of my life, and abruptly ended our relationship.
For a while, I waited, hoping he would come to his senses, hoping he would want to know his grandson, hoping he still loved me enough to forgo his bruised ego. And then, I got a voice mail from him. I could hear him talking with his friends. A baseball game. In a restaurant. He accidentally called me. I thought, maybe, this was my "in," this was my opportunity to get back into his good graces. I felt so rejected, so lost...really, what had I done to deserve such treatment? Followed my heart, my feelings, my passion for how my husband and I decided to care for our son? How could this be? So, I asked his wife if I should call him. She encourage me to do so. The next morning, however, he sent me a scathing email reiterating his previous desires to stay as far away from me and my family as possible. The emails continued back and forth for over a month. The hate. The hurt. So, I said what I needed to say about my truth, my experience, my reality...he continued to shame me for wanting to care for my child, continued to air his hostility and disagreement about my making the financial sacrifices to stay home. The final email was never read, I finally stopped the temptation I felt to sell more of my soul, my self-worth to prove anything more to him.
All along, it was such a false sense of hope. My father's security is based in his consumption. He prides himself with his money and his status. When I chose to give up all of those things, to simply love my child the best way I knew how, he felt rejected, and couldn't tolerate my independence and autonomy. In many ways, it has fueled the competitive and head strong nature in me, to find a way to make staying home work for us, to find a way to prove him wrong. It's also been very sad...this isn't how I pictured my life...this isn't how I wanted things to go. In the midst of all of these feelings, all of this grief, I came face to face with the reality that my dad is a narcissist. Everything in his life is an extension of him. The pressure I felt to be perfect, the pressure to prove myself to him, the pressure to follow his way of life...if I made even the tiniest of "mistakes" I was unloved, unwanted. The strong relationship I thought we built, in reality, was one based on the non-verbal agreement that I do what he said...that I follow his "infinite wisdom." When I chose against his judgment, he couldn't tolerate it. He said miserable things. It felt terrible to read the things he wrote in those emails, to be treated this way by him.
Initially, I wondered about what might happen with my dad's side of the family. Would he pressure them to cut off relationships with me too? This made it more of a challenge for me to recover from his decisions, more difficult to come to terms with the damage he was doing. If I only saw my grandparents at my dad's house on holidays, how would this work for the future? In the end, I found a way to manage my relationship with each of them individually. I don't discuss my dad with his parents. I don't discuss my dad with my half siblings. To my dad's credit, he has kept his life choices his own, and no one was forced to stop talking to me. I am grateful. My grandmother has tried to get us together a couple of times, but I've told her no. I think she is trying to manage her own anxiety around it, around raising a son that could do this to his own daughter...and it isn't really about mending my father and me, but more about her own worries and issues. And, frankly, that's okay. I know she loves me.
The only person to ever make me feel guilty about my decision to stay home, was my father. The only person to shame me, was him. My mother's family, my old colleagues, my husband's family, my friends--they all knew I would not return to work...they all told me that along the way, but I dismissed it, I wanted what I told myself about the financial security too. Fortunately, they all saw the loving mommy in my soul, and they have honored it...they've helped me learn to honor it too...and that's been an absolute blessing.
It's been three long years since those emails. I have come to realize that it's best for me to have no expectations about my dad changing, about him missing me "enough." It is easier to live in reality than it is to wait and hope. Every once in a while, I will feel a bit of compassion for him, his lifestyle, his pressures, and I am so sorry that our relationship has gone this way. Most days, however, I am simply grateful to be free. Free from the approval and praised based mentality, that if I do right, I am worth loving. It's still a long journey, but I am working toward a full embrace of my self-worth...free from outcomes and perfection...free from the story I told myself about what life "should" be.
The Bottom Line
I want to do the things for myself and my son that my father has been unable and unwilling to do for me...to validate my feelings, my perspective, my life...to love me unconditionally. It is so very important for me to honor myself, to honor my son...to never shame him for his perspective...to never tell him he is a bad person or unloved because I don't agree with his life choices. After examining my expectations of this toxic reality with my dad, I know I am better able to stay in the present moment with my family, my life, and my own perspective. To honor myself, to empower myself, to do and be different, is the best gift of all.