I guess just about everyone has this moment.
You know, where you realize that, no matter how hard you’ve tried to defend their actions or their words, your dad is still not that great man that you once thought he was when you were five and he carried you on his shoulders to bed every night. When he would race you while brushing your teeth together. When every night he’d ask “mermaid, or mummy?” before tucking you in. (Clearly mermaid indicates your feet are untucked giving you a tail.) How he would take you for rides in his convertible with the top down when he got back from work sometimes. The rare days that he would take you to the park and you would try to kick him as you were swinging and try to snatch his hat. His hand was always an image of safety. He, himself, was an image of security.
But as I grew older and more able to understand things, so did his need for other people to care for him emotionally. Anxiety and depression. A bad combination.
Those car rides turned into talk rides. He would unpack his burdens onto me, an 8 year old at most. It was my job to assure him he wasn’t crazy. Wasn’t a bad person or father. His emotional health was now my responsibility, as it had been my mom’s and my sisters’ before me (and largely still is).
Even so excuses on my part were still made.
“Wow, he’s so strong for being able to be so vulnerable with his child.”
“I can relate to some of the things he’s saying. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.”
Clearly this type of dynamic between a middle aged man and someone who’s not even ten yet is inherently unhealthy, regardless of relationship; family or otherwise.
Still he wasn’t extreme enough that I felt it was bad. Those talks were few and far between (though still notable enough for me to remember them today).
Fast forward some 7 or 8 years.
I’m diagnosed with Wegener’s Disease (Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis), and his world collapses. Suddenly death is more real than before. Anxiety becomes crippling. I am the reason he can’t sleep. The reason he looks so dejected. And it’s my job to take care of him. To reassure him. To make sure he’s the one who’s okay. Even though I am the child. I am the one who needs to focus on getting better. It is my job. His feelings are my responsibility.
But they aren’t.
He’s supposed to be the adult. Not me. I’m supposed to be out making dumb mistakes. Instead I sit and worry about him. About what would happen to him if I did make said mistakes.
This last week I have finally admitted to myself that my father is, on some mild level, emotionally abusive.
It is both freeing and scary. My dad is no longer (never was) the fantasy that 3 year old me had in her head. He is no longer a being of security. He no longer feels safe (hasn’t for the last year and a half.) But now I know. Now I can really allow myself to step back.
I have not been the kind of person who allows others to walk all over me for a long time. If someone treats me badly or is offensive to me I cut them out. I don’t let them get close. They become toxic to me. I’m slowly allowing that image to apply to my father (and my mother).
There are 3 more years in this house. Three. I can finally count on one hand.
It used to be daunting. But now I can’t wait. Once I leave I can finally cut him out. Put the needed distance between us (maybe enough distance to almost cut off contact). I can let the toxins leave my body. I can be responsible for my feelings alone.
The fantasy has finally been shattered I suppose.