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The Father That Wasn't

I decided to go back into the WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY back machine, and look at something I haven't looked at for a while. And you might get an A+ for looking at it and having the world's greatest reaction... It's my baby pictures.

Boy, it's been a minute since I saw these! And yes, I had curly hair and I was happy with it (as happy as a baby is supposed to be). I was definitely a cute little one, wasn't I? I wonder what this tiny version of me was dreaming about when I was out snoozing.

Looking forward to my next bottle of milk? Going on a fun train ride over a rainbow? Dancing with teddy bears? Snuggling with my mom? Looking up at all of the stars and actually touching them? Who knows? Dreaming big seemed to be the name of the game for me when I was younger. But all of that was quashed by some unexpected people that were supposed to love me and care for me. One - my older sister. And two - my late father. I know you've heard me talk about my father on and off for the past few years, but it's been especially rough around this time of year when I need love and support the most. And it involves a holiday that I've come to avoid (and I usually don't avoid holidays). Father's Day. Ever since I cut ties with my father back in 2017-18, I've slowly started to feel jealously and bitterness over everyone who has great relationships with their fathers, husbands who are great fathers, or any father figures who have been such a vital importance in the life of their children. Because I somehow got robbed by the opportunity to have an actual father in my life. I didn't have someone who said "I love you" on a regular basis or hugged me frequently. I didn't have someone who looked forward to playing with me when I was younger. I didn't have someone who took me to Daddy/Daughter dances. I didn't have someone who took me on adventures in nature or trips across the country. I didn't have someone who actually listened to me when I needed to have a heart-to-heart. I didn't have someone who helped me out financially for college when I needed it the most. I didn't have someone who enjoyed the birthday or Father's Day gifts that I put a lot of effort into. I didn't have a father, at all. And that broke my heart for a long time. When I was younger, I went downstairs to see my father and say hi because I wanted to hug him. He ended up spanking me for no apparent reason, and I ended up with a lot of tears and sadness. When I was getting Father's Day or birthday gifts for him, I felt proud of the effort of getting him new socks, some videos/DVDS, and books for him. When I visited my father some time later, I discover that my gifts were never used, let alone opened. And I felt horrible because it made me believe that he didn't care about me. When I was getting ready to transfer colleges and it was time to discuss finances, I reached out to my father for him to co-sign on loans. But after my older sister wasted all of the money she got in college on partying and eventually dropping out, my father refused to help me. I was heartbroken and betrayed. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't understand or even help my father that wasn't my father. Why was he so cold and distant? Why didn't he give me hugs or say "I love you" to me? Why didn't he take me out on amazing trips or adventures outside of our hometown? Why didn't he appreciate all of the gifts I gave him for his birthday or Father's Day? Why didn't he help me out financially in college when I needed it the most? Why did he see my three mental health illnesses and medical needs as problems instead of being supportive? Why did he stay where he was instead of spreading his wings and flying like I'm doing now? Why didn't he get help for his issues and difficulties like I'm doing? Why, why, WHY?!?!?!?!?!?

This week's post is bound to be emotional for many of you who have not-so-good relationships with their fathers (or mothers, or significant others) and struggle with celebrations like Father's Day, birthdays, Christmases, or other important holidays. But it's also for ALL families out there. This one is all about the things you should NEVER be to your children, and how you can break the generational trauma that's been brought upon you over the course of many generations and ancestries in your bloodline.

For those of you who don't know, my father emotionally, verbally, and sometimes even physically abused me for much of my life. And if you've been in an abusive relationship before, you probably know that much of the behaviors exhibited on you may have been considered normal to you, and didn't think that it would be a problem... Until it became a problem. For me, I didn't know or understand why my father did these things, and I just thought that maybe he was having a bad day and that the next day things would get better. In some cases, it did. But a lot of times, it didn't. To make matters worse, much of my father's behavior was passed down to my older sister, who in turn emotionally and verbally abused me. Sometimes even financially abusing me. I guess that's why I always have a hard time with money because I was always treated like a bank by others and never paid back or even treated to something nice after helping others financially. Maybe part of that was the abuse and being led to believe that I didn't deserve anything nice with my money. Or, in the case of a particularly painful memory, I would be considered ungrateful if I didn't help out. Long story short, I needed to hold onto some funds when my mom asked me for help when I was younger, and when I said no and started crying, my sister berated me and told me that I would be forever an ungrateful daughter if I didn't help out. Somehow, it was at that point, my eyes slowly started to open... And I began to see that this kind of behavior wasn't okay, and I didn't deserve this pain. Especially from the two people who were supposed to love me the most. That sort of was like a betrayal of trust and love for me. And family shouldn't have to be like that. But sadly, there are some families who are like that. But we'll get to that later. For much of my life after college, my relationship with my father went downhill, almost to the point where I didn't recognize him anymore. Especially when I was scared to talk to him or even have a relationship with him. And it all stemmed from another painful memory. When I first realized that my sister was abusive, I reached out to my father to let him know what's going on, and wouldn't you know it, the first thing he said to me was: "You should've done something about it." He basically put the blame on me for not doing anything about my relationship with sister and how she pretty much damaged me and severed our relationship forever. It was as if he didn't care or want to be a father to me when I needed him the most. I guess it's no surprise that for the next few years, apart from graduation, we were practically strangers... Especially after my mom and I moved away from the Midwest to the East Coast (Mid Atlantic, to be precise) to get away from my father for good. I only communicated with him via email for my birthday presents and Christmas gifts. But it had gotten to the point where even that wasn't good. I just didn't have it in my heart to have any communication or relationship with my father ever again. So, in 2017-2018, I cut off all communications with him, including on Facebook. It was time for me to heal and move on without him. But life, as they say, has a way of throwing curveballs... In the most unexpected ways. In mid 2018, I learned that my father was not responding to phone calls or texts, and was soon discovered to have cancer all over the body. This came from years of smoking, not managing his diabetes, and other health problems. In layman's terms - he was dying. He didn't have much time left. And to make matters a bit more difficult, my sister was the one who had to tell me this by phone, even when I didn't want to talk to her (I also cut off my relationship with her, including all communication). I had to be cordial, of course, which is not easy to do, but in our conversations, I discovered something shocking about my father that I never knew: He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder... And never sought treatment for it. It turned out that he was also in an abusive relationship with his father and older brother, and they didn't exhibit feelings of love or understanding with each other. No hugs. No "I love you's." No familial comforts. No support. No nothing. It seemed that the generational trauma started from my grandfather, and it may have gone on much further back than that. (This is where I'd like to be on Finding Your Roots to discover more information about my father's side of the family.) There was a mix of emotions as I processed this news - shock, outrage, confusion, and sadness. Mostly outrage. Why didn't my father get help or seek treatment like I was doing for my three mental health illnesses that came due to the abuse I suffered at his and my sister's hands - major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? I overcome the shame and discomfort, even at times when it was especially hard to be vulnerable. Why couldn't my father do that? What was so wrong with him that he couldn't see that his behaviors and parental methods were harmful to me...

And damaged our relationship, a relationship that I fought so hard to keep together and bring love to the very person who was supposed to love and care for me...

But didn't? I wish he could've seen how hurt I was, and how much I tried to love him. I wish he could've known that what he was taught and what he saw in his own family was harmful, and harming us as his kids. I wish he could've heard my cries and understood just how deeply lonely and sad I was without his presence. Needless to say, there's a lot of things I wish he could've done and said to repair our relationship. But he didn't even put in the effort (or least tried to put in the effort) to break the generational trauma and start over. Could things have been different if he did all of those things, like getting treatment for the bipolar disorder, apologizing for his issues, and even took a step to repairing our relationship by cutting out harmful individuals and healing our relationship? Well... I'll never know. He died in September 2019. My family knew about my complicated relationship with my father, and they respected my decision to not attend his funeral. But before his death, both my cousin and my sister wanted me to say something to my father before he passed. Just so he could hear my voice again before he departed this life. Believe me when I say this, I didn't want to say anything because if I did, it would be a lot of tears, screaming, and blaming him for the way he raised me. But somehow, I ended up speaking to him... And I forgave him for the way he treated me. I wanted to cry. I never thought I could find it in my heart to forgive him at that moment. And in some cases, I'm still learning to forgive him for the way he treated me. Forgiveness doesn't happen in a day... It takes a lifetime, and an effort to change and not repeat the same actions that damaged the relationship or situation in the first place. It can come at you in waves, or sometimes a water spout of emotions when you least expect it to. Maybe it was that simple act of hearing my voice and telling him I forgive him that allowed him to be at peace and depart this troubled life. For me, it may be a while before I can be at peace with my father's upbringing and the way he treated me... Perhaps the rest of my life, if at all. When the people who are supposed to love you and care for you don't do that at all due to abuse, narcissism, or even their own upbringing that was instilled in them without any effort to pivot and change, it can create a lot of strife... Division... Pain... Sorrow... Frustration... Distrust... And fear. One thing I've discovered in recent years on holidays that celebrate families, like Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparents Day, or even the major holidays that bring people together, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, or any holiday under the sun, it can be hard for people who've had or are currently having complicated relationships with their loved ones and don't want any reminders of the holiday because of a single event or multiple events that brings up some painful memories. Some companies would go out of their way to offer the option to opt out of receiving emails on these particular holidays since they're doing their best to be considerate to others who find certain holidays a bit more difficult than others. Major companies and brand names need to get on the bandwagon with this, too. I just don't celebrate Father's Day anymore because of how difficult it's been for me, and for many of us who have complicated relationships with our fathers. As sad as this reality is, there are just some families that are just plain messed up. Someone I know has an entire family who was raised on being perfect in everything they do, not including love or understanding one another (flaws included). The matriarch and patriarch instilled in them fear and selfishness when they weren't good enough for their love or even a "good job" when they got a good grade or were doing something they've worked hard for. From there, the parents brought their generational trauma onto this individual, sometimes even guilting them into doing their will with things like "your parent will die if you don't do this" or "it's all your fault that this happened." It's not easy to see why parents are the way they are when they raised us, but I think the general consensus is that if they didn't have any love from their parents or from their parent's parents before that, or even one traumatic experience (or multiple experiences), it's easy for those behaviors and traits to be passed down onto us and repeat some of those actions. For them, they may never see the error of their ways, or if they do, they may try to put the blame on someone else or not take responsibility for their own actions. Or they may feel shame for realizing their errors and having to seek help because that was not with how they were raised when they were younger. Or they may feel like they've lost so much already and there's nothing else for them to lose and they end up doing nothing. Or they may have taken the easy way out and abandoned their families and loved ones, leaving the next generation without any way to heal or move forward in an understanding, compassionate way. Whatever the reason, they didn't see themselves as part of the problem and wanted to avoid taking steps to change their toxic habits and behaviors for their loved ones, or even themselves. Listen up, people: There's no perfect family out there. Period. But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be an effort to take a hard look at yourself when people, relatives or complete strangers, call you out on your harmful behaviors on its effects on others. Even taking the initiative to get help to end this generational trauma, toxic attitude, and mental & emotional damage that was put upon you from previous generations and you're unknowingly placing on your current progeny. I want you to know something important (that's often been said by others, including me) - there's no shame in getting help, if it means healing the wounds and damages brought upon you by your parents and grandparents so that future generations don't repeat the same habits you've had instilled in you. I understand that there's a stigma against getting help, whether from a therapist, psychiatrist, or group counseling. I understand that your parents or grandparents had these principals of sticking it out or making it work when there's toxicity going on in your life or that the harmful behaviors are "normal." I understand that making an effort to change past behaviors and beliefs take a lot of energy and time out of your life when you would rather hide your face in the sand like an ostrich and hope that the problems go away on their own. I understand that you were initially taught or even led to believe that some of these harmful behaviors and toxicity are a part of the culture and that there's no point in fighting back or going against tradition. But here's something my mom often reminds me when I often feel regret for something that happened in the past that I had no control over or had a bad habit brought upon me by my father and older sister: That was then... This is NOW. NOW is the moment that matters, not what was instilled in your family generations ago, especially if it involves abuse of all kinds, manning up or sticking it out when things get tough mentally and emotionally and crying is considered a shame, keeping quiet or looking the other way when relatives sexually assault or even worse, or even putting the blame on someone else when your harmful behavior/habit is damaging relationships, particularly the people you love. You do have the power to end the habits, beliefs, and other familial doctrines that was brought upon you from previous generations. You can say that you don't agree with your parents and grandparents methods of rearing you, especially if it causes emotional and mental trauma and you don't want it to spread to future generations. You have every right to admit that you were wrong and not be afraid of this admission, and actually take the steps to do something about it so that no one else goes through what you went through growing up. You have the right to against what your culture or religion dictates and be the person you want to be, especially if some of the principals and customs are harming others and putting future generations at risk of repeating them or having them forever instilled in their psyche. Families can be messy at times, take it from someone who knows that all too well. That doesn't mean you have to put up with the toxic behaviors and generational trauma just so you can spread it to future generations and keep things together because you love your family and don't want anything bad happening to them. It's a word that's often abused too often: Love. There's the kind of love that you have that's unconditional, selfless, and thoughtful which keeps families together, along with patience, kindness, understanding, listening, and agreeing to disagree. But then there's a love that's so blind and oblivious to other's pain and trauma that it often gets disguised, even misused, to help keep families together. And that can come in the form of guilting others, shaming others, threatening others, or even hiding your face in the sand or keeping quiet just to keep the peace and not have things fall apart. If you find yourself doing this form of love, chances are things will fall apart quicker before you can say "Bob's your uncle!" And it will be that much harder to pick up the pieces when there's so much damage and trauma that hasn't been dealt with in a way that helps bring peace, understanding, and some form of closure for everyone involved. Sooner or later, someone will speak up and stress that the toxic behavior and instilled beliefs are harmful and damaging the people they care about, and unless you see that and make changes... Everyone will get hurt in the end, not just you. In layman's terms, you need to let go of your pride, stop hiding your head in the sand, ignore culture's tactics of shaming you or guilting you for getting help, It may be about you, but at the same time, it's not ALL about you. If you don't do this for yourself, do for the people who love you and care for you the most... They may be among the first people to walk out of your life forever if you don't. (This week's post is especially heavy for those of us who have complicated relationships with our families, particularly our parents. I'm putting this out there now: I'm not a therapist or psychiatrist, but if you or someone you know needs help with dealing with the toxic behaviors and habits brought upon you by your family or loved ones, please don't hestiate to contact a therapist or psychiatrist. They do want to help you, and there are methods and steps that can be taken with their assistance to help you become the person you meant to be, someone that's broken the habits and ideologies brought upon the generational trauma and toxiciity. Here's something else that's important: these are my observations and thoughts on this issue, and you are welcome to disagree on anything I've said. What I won't tolerate is disrespectful behavior, offensive language, and hateful words towards one another. This space is for having meaningful discussions and reflections, and if you can't even do a simple thing as being kind to one other or even agreeing to disagree, I will block you.)

If you had a complicated relationship with a parent like yours truly, I bet this question has buzzed around your mind more than once: WHY? Why did you treat me the way you did? Why have you never said you're proud of me? Why have you made my life so difficult? Why did you make me feel so small? Why couldn't you have changed your destructive ways for me? Why didn't you seek help for your issues like I did? Why can't you see how much you're hurting me? Why haven't you said "I love you" to me... at all? WHY????????? For many of us, we may never get the answer we seek, and that's heartbreaking. I'm still grieving over the fact I will never talk to my father again and have a heart to heart with him about this, and I've come to conclusion that I may never get the closure I needed so badly. And for a lot of you, I'm pretty sure you're feeling the same way as I do, whether that's with your father, mother, grandmother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather... you get the idea. First of all, it's okay to feel this way. Sadness, resentment, frustration, confusion, outrage.. the whole nine yards. We may never repair the damage our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents have left us due to the generational trauma or their unwillingness and stubbornness to change their ways, and it's a hard thing to accept. My first suggestion is to take all of the time you need to grieve and slowly move on to a place of acceptance and understanding. Grief never goes away, not totally, anyway. It can come when we least expect it... Especially when there are holidays that remind us of how complicated our relationships are with those who were supposed to love us. I can't promise you you will ever feel better after experiencing familial trauma and discord because there's always something that's bound to come up when you least expect it and you have to face in order to move on. But what I can promise you is that you're not alone and it's okay to feel all of the emotions and thoughts that come your way. I know it's hard to hear this, but it bears mentioning: You're NOT your parents. Or your grandparents. Or your great-grandparents. Or your siblings. Or your aunts and uncles. You're YOU. You have the right to be your own individual, even if it means having to stray from the patterns your parents grew up with and were taught by their parents. Just like they have the right to break apart from the generational trauma and the things they were taught by their parents and grandparents. But like many things, you can only control you, and forcing people to see things your way only brings more discord and division. And sometimes, people may never see the harm and damage they've caused to others because of fear - not wanting to hold themselves accountable, placing the blame on someone else, holding onto their pride as if it's a medal of honor, or just hiding away because they believe it will go away on its own. In cases like this, you may have to do something totally unexpected and - dare I say it? - going against familial culture and tradition. And that's cutting them out of your life for good. Your mental and emotional wellbeing matters, and it's okay if you have to do this in order to heal and move on. It's scary, yes, but in the end, you have to do what's best for you and your loved ones. You matter to us, and even if your loved ones who are so damaged by their issues and generational trauma may not see that, you still matter. You're still valuable. You're still intuitive. You're still enough. You're still worthy. Because you exist. Take that as your new point of view. And one more thing before I forget... I believe ALL companies and organizations should make an effort to offer an opt-out email message on the major (if not all) holidays if there are events that are harder for some to celebrate than others due to familial strife and discord. Or just plain bad memories with family. It's certainly helped me make it through Father's Day. But what would help me and a whole lot of others make it through holidays like Father's Day even more is all of you out there leave a place in your hearts to love those of us who struggle on holidays like this because unlike many of you, we were robbed of the opportunity to have a loving relationship with a parent, or even our entire families. Keep on posting how great your parents, spouses, grandparents, and family members are... But don't forget to love on all of us extra hard who don't have it so lucky. We matter, too, and it's so easy to get lost in the shuffle of all of the glowing pictures of strong, loving relationships in families when there are so many of us who didn't have that chance... And may never get that chance (God forbid). For those of you out there reading this and are struggling with some tough relationships with your loved ones right now: You're not alone. You NEVER are alone. You're strong. You're beautiful. You're handsome. You're kind. You're funny. You're intelligent. You're creative. You're amazing. You're talented. You're gracious. You're great. And you do matter to us. You have me rooting for you in your corner... Always.

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