Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Winning the Emotional Lottery

My father never talked about his childhood.  He didn’t talk about growing up or what it was like in his household with a single mother in the 60’s and 70’s.  He never talked about his mother.  He never talked about his father. He never talked about his siblings.

I don’t know 90% of my father’s family of origin. Most certainly more.

Once, when my wife and I were over there some years ago, he let slip that he’d done “hard” drugs and alcohol in his early adulthood years (mostly teens if I’m remembering that right).  When pressed, he clammed up and didn’t speak about it again and made it clear that he wasn’t going to talk about it.  He said that he didn’t need to go into details of his childhood because I didn’t need to know about the “crazy” stuff he did. 

Why did I want to know, he asked. 
Because I want to know you, I responded. 
He clammed up even more.

Another time, long before I met and married my wife, I can remember him telling me about how he witnessed his father hit his mother brutally, and then how his father ran away from that family only to turn up 35 years later with a long lost sister in the deep south.  I think they thought he was dead.  My father never talked about how he felt when all this happened though, he just recited it as facts and I suspect that was part of his defense mechanism to protect his little self. 

Now that I think of it, I’m actually a little surprised my father didn’t go around beating his wives and girlfriends.  What kind of kid/adult would he have been if he was able to actually deal with his origins then?

Infinitely better than he is now I suspect…

So what I gather is that my father’s father was an ingrate: a white trash piece of slime that liked to beat his wife and his kids, and possibly whatever else he saw breathing.  I’m sure he was a cheater, an addict of various sorts, and perhaps a Narc.  Or a sociopath.  Or a psychopath.

Whatever way, I don’t know my father’s father’s first name, so I can’t even do a search on the interweb for him.  But anyway, it then doesn’t really surprise me that my father acted the way he did, he did what he needed to, to survive (emotionally).  He never talked about anything because he either was ashamed of it, or it was too much for him to bear. 

It’s no surprise that my father turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with whatever catastrophes he suffered as a child.  It was his only avenue at that time since he saw his father do it, and probably his mother too.  His mother died of a stroke a decade ago.  I don’t remember him being all that sad about it…

That’s not to say he wasn’t, but perhaps it just shows how distant he was or made himself from his family of origin – which he was.  He didn’t even talk or see his brothers unless his wife forced him to, and even then, contact they had was minimal at best.

My father is a weak person, which is the reason he found his wife and her religion so welcoming: it was an easy way out for him.  When he “found” religion, it provided him an escape, it allowed him to not look inward and fix what problems he had because his god and his faith would do that for him.  It was like he won an emotional lottery or something – where he would always be forgiven for not taking steps to fix himself because his god would do that for him. 

My father’s Emotional Lottery winnings:
Here is your emotional payment this week, my son.
Aw, thanks God, you’re swell!  Listen, I’m going to need a bit more next week, think you can swing that for me?
Absolutely.  Keep on believin’!

I want to add that I am sorry for that little person my father has inside, and it is so evident that he didn't tend to his little person, and perhaps never will.  That little guy is so raw and beaten, there may be no coming back for him and certainly my father won't look inside himself to free his caged and wounded inner child.  In fact, I'm pretty sure he'd think that was a load of garbage and he will turn and has turned to God for that kind of help.  God can't help with everything Dad, some of that's got to come from you.

My father’s mantra: Don’t talk about it, and it goes away.  Not only was I getting this message from my mother (who also came from a toxic family of origin) but it was being reinforced by my father, despite what limited contact I had with him, being the only toddler of divorced parents.

So my father didn’t want to end up like his father on some level, but what he did wasn’t healthy either.  My physical needs were met: food, water, shelter.  And to my father, that was infinitely better than what he had and then I became “privileged” because my father didn’t have those things.  THEN, I owed my father.  Yes, he though, I owed him because I was privileged enough to not be beaten, to have food and water, and a place to sleep.  AND because I had not one, but TWO male father figures in my life, and he didn’t have ANY.

My father is a contradiction too.  On one hand he’s expressing his desire to have a relationship with me, but on the other, he’s expressed that my thoughts, opinions, feelings aren’t valid, that I’ve conjured them up from some faraway abyss.  A relationship will not work if there is no mutual respect, and my father does not respect me.  I’m just a silly man-boy with limited Familial and Life Intelligence.

I believe his faith reinforced some of these issues, especially with (and I’ve touched on this before) “honor thy father and thy mother”, and “judge not lest you be judged”, and “I’m faith-based, everyone else is wicked and needs saving”, and “forgiveness is righteous”.   I suppose I could go on and on.  Point is, these notions don’t work for everyone, and with me in particular, but since he’s the father, he knows best, right?

Nonsense.  Absolute nonsense.

I feel like all he does is hide behind his faith and somehow that exonerates him from having to do any work.

It really shouldn’t be that way.  Especially if he expects to have a relationship with his son – which the more time passes, I’m thinking he doesn’t – he wants ME to have a relationship with HIM.



  1. Great post. VERY insightful. You must be reading my mind today because I feel like what you've just written has a lot to do with what I just posted too -

    It's so, so important to share our histories with our children. Maybe because I believe that, at least in part, our history helps shape us. Ignorance is NOT bliss, and what you don't know can hurt you. I feel that it would have been better for you if your father had been able to talk about his FOO and the abuses he suffered. That would have been honest. That would have shown that he was capable of fighting the dysfunction from which HE came.

    He isn't the first generation change in your family. YOU are. He thinks he's changed things, but he hasn't. All he's done is pass off the burden of responsibility onto you. He is STILL a secret-keeper for his own FOO. He has chosen NOT to expose them, and therefore he is still protecting them and protecting his right to remain dysfunctional. He hasn't accepted his past or taken steps to fix himself. So far, I believe you are the only one to have done that. You are the only one who has broken free, who is working to change. The rest of the people - the ones you've had to leave behind - are too weak or ignorant to do what you have done, what you are doing.

    This was a really great and powerful post.

  2. You're right, hiding it will not make it go away, and sooner or later it comes out one way or another. Congratulations on choosing to be healthy and face the hard stuff and change it in your own life.

  3. "...AND because I had not one, but TWO male father figures in my life..."

    Somehow they don't seem to be the kind of father figures any of us would want our children to have to grow up with. --quartz

  4. Was the second father figure a step father?

    1. Yes, my mother remarried, lasted for 15 or so years. So I had two non-existent male figures in my life.