Father and Son – The End Of The Story

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At five years old I knew that if I ever had a son I would not treat him the way my father treated me.   With the innocence of a young child I already recognized the abuse for exactly what it was – I even understood that I would grow up one day, and I would remember everything he had done, and would continue to do, to me.  My father was an incredibly short-sighted parent.

I gave reconciliation an honest chance, and I invested myself emotionally to a point where I was risking my stability by continuing to allow him a place in my life.  The depression had returned, so had the anxiety.

When I met him for lunch, he gave me a birthday gift; a bottle of scotch and a very old copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights – a book he read to me as a child.  The note he enclosed was poignant, and it made me even more sorry I was there to tell him we would never be father and son.

I don’t want complete estrangement now – not like it existed for more than thirty years, but I can’t have a real relationship with him either, it’s just too painful.  He is an old man, but he is still the man who beat and neglected me; he is the man whose reprehensible behavior caused so much pain, heartache and suffering.  For so much of his life he was not a good man, he wasn’t even decent.

I do not regret the last year, or trying to find in Ed a solid reason to give him a second chance.  I really wanted to see him as a different person from the father I remember … if he is I didn’t get close enough to see; in the end I realized he will always be the monster who so cruelly and heinously abused his children.

It’s hard, and I don’t want it to be the way it has to be – don’t want to keep my father at a safe distance; that isn’t the way fathers and sons are supposed exist, or live.  I look at my sons – the way in which they interact with me, and I recognize the bond is unbreakable, as it should be …

but I broke the cycle of abuse, Ed did not.  I worked diligently to give my children emotional security, Ed did not.  I made sure they knew they were loved, wanted and valued, Ed did not.

You can’t start – when your child is fifty-two years old, trying to be a good father; that transformation must begin before your child is born.

I hate the father he was, and

pity the old man I know now.

And I hope …

that one day he will finally understand with depth and clarity everything he did …

he will experience an epiphany that brings him to his knees and humbles every fiber of his being; a transcendent moment with the power to make him see himself as he truly was …

and then deeply feel the pain, humiliation and shame of everyone he hurt …

not just his own children, but his daughter’s best friend.

and then …

I sincerely hope he finds a way to heal.

Because without the soul-searching, and the healing only it can bring, his life is nothing more than a cover-up …

his life today only a disguise that cloaks the sins of his past.

And that isn’t a life at all.

If the last year, and our attempt at reconciliation, was a chapter in the book that is our story as father and son, he now has all that he needs to write the ending …

it is too late for Happily Ever After,

but there is still a chance for honesty …

and depth …

and purpose …

and sincerity …

and meaning.

And as painful and tragic as the early chapters of the story are …

that could still be considered a Happy Ending.

It’s All Black and White

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Last night, Rhonda and I had a serious discussion about Ed – but at one point I had to laugh at the absurdity of his interaction with me; he does not address what I say to him, he addresses what he chooses to address.  I laughed because it made me think of Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin in the Saturday Night Live Vice-Presidential Debate skit; “We don’t know if this climate-change-whosie-whatsit is man-made, or if it’s just a natural part of the End of Days. But I’m not gonna talk about that; I would like to talk about taxes.”

Case in point: Excerpts from email conversations

Me to Ed: “You can’t have an emotional connection to Bipolar Disorder – that will always be relegated to intellectual understanding, but you are supposed to have an emotional connection to me … and that can only happen if you own your truth, all of it, and share it with  me.  The blog pretty much makes my life an open book – there isn’t much I don’t talk about; I’d like for you to be as open with me as I have been with you (the world). What happened to me as a child didn’t just happen to me, it happened to all of us, and whether we like it or not, it still impacts our lives today … if in no other way than the work we are doing to reconcile.”

Ed to me: “I can’t resond (sic) to how what that has happened to you in the past tense, not knowing didn’t place me in a place os (sic) being concerned about the situation your were in. But asking me know how I have felt since knowing and being involved with you directly is an entirely different question and something to which I can address.” (still not addressed by the way)

Me to Ed: “The thing is, you did know – you know what you did, you were there, you did it, and sooner or later you are going to have to face the fact that the man you understand yourself to have been the day of the church picnic – the self admitted abusive asshole you were that day, is who you were every single day of my childhood.  You were an abusive monster.  This may take longer for you to face and address, I understand that; in the meantime I look forward to knowing how you feel about all of this now.”

“One  more thing, I don’t know how any father can divorce himself from his children completely – no matter how long it’s been since  he has seen them.  I don’t think you have any idea what it means to be a father if you were actually able to do that.  There is a very simple and fundamental truth in all of this: if you had been the father you should have been, nothing – no force on earth could ever have come between us.  I am that kind of father, and I would have been that kind of son if you had been who and what you should have been.”
Ed to me:  “I can address this easiest, I was in constant prayer and concern for the whole time. Marie can verify this. Each year we visited a old friend of ours in Sonoma and the 1st thing he asked and we talked about was you and Elizabeth, and those conversations usually carried me through the rest of the year for missing you both.”
He doesn’t address what I say, it is maddening.  And now I have another question for Ed:  that friend in Sonoma, what the hell did you tell him all those years to explain my absence from his life?  I can ask of course, but it will never be answered …
and if it is answered, it will be some version of “I didn’t know why you abandoned me.”  I told him when I did it why, and I’ve told him many times since then – and he was there when he was beating me for God’s sake!
He knows.
He has always known.
But when you delude yourself long enough, as he obviously has, you end up believing in things that aren’t true – the past gets rewritten.
If he were any kind of man, or father, at all he’d tell the friend in Sonoma exactly why his children wanted nothing to do with him. He’d also explain this to his siblings and anyone else he has had to discuss my absence from his life with over the years.
Ed is not the wounded, martyred father – Ed is the Abuser who left his children no choice but to abandon him.
And now, today, I want justice and the whole truth from him — and that, after all he has done to me, is not asking for too much; on the contrary, he is still getting off scot-free.

Own Your Truth, All Of It

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The other day, in response to this post, my aunt Bev sent my wife the following message:

“Holy cow! I just read Tim’s blog.  Guess you can’t change the spots on a leopard, after all.  I can’t believe what an ignorant so-and-so Ed is.  Oh, wait a minute, yes I can!  I still can’t get the sound of Tim’s screams out of my head as he was beating him.  I don’t remember it happening every time I was there, but it happened a lot!”

My aunt is about ten years older than I am, and she was very often at our house when I was growing up – her support in recent months has meant a lot to me, and my family.

I’m coming to understand more and more Ed’s self-denial.   It isn’t that he’s denied beating me – he knows he did, but his recall is extremely limited.  My therapist thinks this is due to his unwillingness – ardent, decided refusal – to face the trauma of his own childhood, coupled with the fact that he beat me so often the events themselves have all run together in his mind.  There is also some serious cognitive dissonance: the man he sees himself as now is antithetical to the man he was in my childhood, and we are talking about his acceptance of the fact that he was an Abuser – a heinously bad father and human being.  Whatever the problem is, it is his to solve.

I’ve tried to be as kind as I can – tried to understand how hard it must be for him after all these years to be faced with an angry adult child who needs for him to revisit a past he has spent decades trying to deny.  But his alternate reality isn’t reality, and his rewriting of the story – to make it partly a work of fiction to ease his own mind, doesn’t work for me.  I have struggled and fought too hard to recover from my childhood to accept half measures – or anything less than total recall, from him now.  What he is doing is offensive, and it is insulting.

It really is puzzling to me — everyone who knew my immediate family – friends, extended family, teachers – even school administrators – knew he beat me.  And they all understand he was an abuser – it didn’t happen once, or even twice – he violently and cruelly beat me, often.

It is as though he takes some sort of refuge in not recognizing how frequently he hit me; to his way of thinking its easier to reconcile isolated events because those he can see as mistakes; the truth exposes him to be a monster – a man he just cannot admit to being. Or maybe he is just a  Stubborn, pig-headed Shockley.    If stubborn pride is the case, I can’t mean much to him …

And then there is the real possibility he made the attempt to reconcile – to the extent that he has, to appease the people in his life now. It wouldn’t look good at all – after they read this blog, or were informed of its content, for him not to reach out to me.  Was I a fool to give him this chance?  Perhaps …

what he does now will define him forever in my mind.

Arduous Journey

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None of this is easy, if I have made it appear easy, I apologize for the unintentional duplicity.

Depression is hard, and mine has returned.  It isn’t as deep and dark as it has been, not by a long shot, but I’m not exactly myself either.  To top it off, I’ve been hypo-manic as well – and mixed states are hard to treat.  I’m taking Lithium and Wellbutrin, and balance is returning, but the process is slower than I would like and I can be impatient.  I’m still working, still engaged in life, still involved with my family and friends – and I still very much want to be; that isn’t a facade – I’m not just going through the motions this time, so I know it could be much, much worse than it is; the benefit to having been here before is recognizing the signs quickly, before they spin out of control and drag you into the abyss.

Naturally, because I hadn’t been depressed for a long time, my therapist and psychiatrist began treatment by assessing what had changed in my life; “what were the triggers and or stressors?”  The answer wasn’t immediately clear, but over the last few weeks it has become obvious …

Ed – having Ed in my life is what has changed.  That isn’t bad or stressful in-and-of-itself, but the thoughts and feelings it evokes can be.  I shared with my sister that he is trying now, and I can see it – the things he has done for my daughter are thoughtful and kind and would be for any grandfather, but all I can think of is how different my life would be, how different our relationship would be today, if he had valued me in the way he values building a relationship with her.   And that is just one example …

I still don’t know if people change; I’m beginning to think they just acquire a better mask.  I’ve seen glimpses here and there of the father I remember – a man quite unlike the man he sees himself as today.

Early in our email conversations, he mentioned that he “checked in with me mentally every year or so.”  Aside from not knowing exactly what that means, it baffles me; I am his son, did he not feel a sense of loss?  He also indicated that he “sought therapy for anger” – anger he believed to be directed at me for having ended our relationship … he felt anger with me? I was incredulous.  Then I remembered, and it didn’t take me long – anger was always his go to emotion.  Was he grieving our lost relationship, as any normal father would; did he replace the pain he felt with anger?  Would he even recognize this if it were true?

I don’t buy his not knowing exactly what he did to me, don’t appreciate his inability to look at life as it truly was while he was raising me.  The deeper we get into a new relationship, the more this concerns and bothers me.  I know some things are best left in the past, and I’ve let go of a lot in the months since we began speaking again – but I’m finding that the past is made relevant by today, and that bit of irony can be cruel, messy and complicated.

Rhonda asked me the other night what I wanted from Ed now, and I replied; “I want him to be a dad.” The deeper meaning behind those seven words is this:  I want him to feel something about who he is to me; I want it to matter and to be important to him — I want him to view fatherhood like I do … and that just can’t happen; he has no idea how to be a father, much less a dad.  So I have forgiven him this shortcoming, but I’m still left with a man who makes almost no sense to me.

He has apologized to me, to Rhonda, to our children – and we all appreciate that, but I don’t think he has any understanding of the depth of what he did; how can he?  He refuses to engage, to remember.  He likes who he thinks he is now, facing the monster he was would be hell, but for his apology to have the meaning it should have, he needs to do this.  I need for him to do this – on his own, deep soul-searching – a willingness to face who and what he was.  A willingness to feel my pain, and my sister’s.

And it would mean a lot if he’d do some research, find out how to support a family member with Bipolar Disorder – if my child were diagnosed with an illness, any illness, I wouldn’t rest until I’d become an authority on the subject.  This is what dads do.

Reconciliation is a One Step Up and Two Steps Back process;  many, many stops and starts all predicated on the past as it is reflected in today.

It isn’t easy, it’s more complicated than anything I have ever done before.

Elizabeth

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So I took a deep breath, and emailed my sister this morning.  All the sharing on Facebook last week in connection with National Siblings Day made me think … and today I decided to reach out.

No idea what, if anything, will come of this.

Growing up, we weren’t close – in fact, we were often adversarial.  I’m told that in an abusive home, one of two things will happen; siblings will form an unbreakable bond, or they will have a wholly dysfunctional relationship with each other – we had a dysfunctional relationship; we hadn’t learned from our parents how to relate to anyone, it was all we could do to survive the horror of day-to-day life.

When I turned my back on my parents thirty years ago, I turned my back on Elizabeth, too.  Thus began my twenty-seven year estrangement with her.  Except for a period of time between early 2011 and late 2013, we’ve remained estranged.

I expect nothing, but I do hope she has found happiness.

Reconciliation Update:

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It all started last weekend, it was time to plan and book our next trip.

As my kids have grown up, I have learned that scheduling a family trip can be a daunting task — but I was determined, so we sat down with five different schedules and came up with a small block of time (read VERY small block of time) in which we were all available.

Destination and date chosen, Alaskan cruise in August,  it occurred to me that I wanted to spend some time with Ed; I wanted to reconnect completely – I wanted to be a family again.

This trip is special; it marks my daughter’s, – my my youngest child, eighteenth birthday, and her high school graduation … and I wanted my father to be part of it.

but I wasn’t sure Ed would say yes to my invitation …

So, I bet my wife dinner of the winner’s choice, prepared by the loser, that he would decline.

Her response, “YOU  will be making Osso Bucco with Parmesan Risotto, Caesar Salad and German Chocolate Cake …”

I emailed Ed, extending the invitation to be part of our family vacation.  OUR Family Vacation

And it turns out I will be making Osso Bucco with Parmesan Risotto, Caesar Salad and German Chocolate Cake – but not just for my wife; Ed and Marie are coming, too.

I will also be brewing some Blackberry Beer to celebrate the evening …

We have two visits planned for March – attending performances of Sweeney Todd and Disney’s Mulan, both of which my daughter is in, and in April my sons, father and I are participating in a poker tournament together …

It’s all going very, very well.

In Reaction to Denial and Harassment …

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I don’t know if anyone can explain what’s its like to be an abused child well enough to make others understand in a real or visceral way.  It isn’t just abusive events, it’s an every day awareness that you are helpless and vulnerable – at the mercy of people who are devoid of empathy; people who are supposed to love you and care for you.  It’s knowing that at any moment the violent and painful things that have happened before, will happen again.  It’s an ever-present feeling of anxiety, of being on the edge – of knowing all too well what happens when you make a mistake and behave like the child you are.  It’s a dark and insidious feeling you cannot escape, and it never goes away, never eases for even a second.  There is no respite, no shelter or calm. There is only fear and unrelenting comprehension that what you fear most will happen again, just as it always has — the only question is when.

Children cannot process trauma, it damages them and changes who they are – it literally alters their brain chemistry.  Beatings are traumatic, and they are permanently etched on my psyche.  I have no idea how often one of my parents hit me – when something happens daily, or even just frequently, it becomes part of the tapestry of your life; beatings in my house just were.  And along with the trauma of the beatings themselves, I had to live with the fear, pain – both physical and emotional, and the intense humiliation that went along with them.

I have no idea at what point it all became too much for me, when an adult diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Depression and PTSD became part of my future, and my destiny.  No one knows how much is too much for a child to bear and still end up being an adult who is well, and whole.  The affects of abuse –  extent of damage and long term impact on mental health aren’t the same for every victim.  Every child has his own breaking point, but once it’s been breached, negative mental health consequences are inevitable.

You can either accept that for the truth it is, or you can’t, but …

I’m growing very tired of people who deny, and who defend abusers – and the extent to which some will go is remarkable, and even illegal. A grown-up who attacks a child in verbal assault – her argument devoid of all critical thought and invalid in every way possible – her words designed only to wound and inflict pain on said innocent child – has crossed a line that should never be crossed.  No matter what she [the adult] thinks or feels or believes, attacking a child is degenerate.

 What my aunt said is so ludicrous it isn’t worth my time to defend, but my daughter was left feeling vulnerable and confused – my daughter who is unaccustomed to hostility, or adults who behave like children, was harassed and antagonized by a woman she has never even met – a grown woman who should know better than to say and do what she said and did.

My daughter, at seventeen, knows more about Bipolar Disorder, Depression, PTSD and Anxiety Disorder than most non-professionals will ever know.  She has been through hell because of what these illnesses caused; she knows what they are and she knows EXACTLY how I got them.  She has had trained professionals, many trained professionals, explain to her why her dad got sick …

but she is seventeen, and the idea that I am not seen as I truly am is challenging for her.  She knows I’m fine now, as I have been for most of her life; I’m stable, happy and emotionally satisfied.  She knows my memories are not distorted, or false.  She knows and understands, but she also knows she should not have to defend me to anyone, nor herself against wild accusations.   And she should not have to endure a verbal assault, especially one devoid of merit, truth, or even reality from someone who refuses to see things as they are and clings to erroneous, incomplete and untrue ‘information’ as though her life depends on it.

But that’s just it, her life – and the life of all who deny and refuse to recognize the truth, does depend on disbelief.  These people must be appeased and placated or they’ll be forced to face the truth in their own childhood, or worse – the childhood they gave their children.  My aunt isn’t defending my father, she is defending herself.  Nothing else could explain the vehement nature in which she spoke to my daughter.

We all do the best we can to manage our lives, and sometimes denial is the only thing we can do to get by – to make our past emotionally tolerable, to assure us that today has meaning, or is different somehow – but denial does not alter truth.

Anyone, including my aunt, is welcome to say anything they like TO ME – I opened myself up to potential scorn, ridicule, disbelief, insult, anger, indignation, denial, and accusation when I decided to tell my story in a public forum – but my children did not.

If you decide to confront me, know that I will not appease and placate you as others have.  I will not bow to your denial, or your self-righteous need to be heard.  I will not turn away from the truth I lived, or compromise for the sake of your comfort.

I know what happened to me as a child, I lived it every day.  I know who and what my parents were, and are.  I know what comes from abuse, it’s part of me now …

And nothing you can say or do, no amount of denial or refusal to see the truth can change that …

Although I honestly wish it could.

The New Year

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If I said, ‘so much has changed,’ it would not begin to explain all that I feel on the eve of this New Year.  It is far more true to say, ‘so much truth has been revealed.’

Also true is the fact that, at its core, my story remained completely unchanged; I am still a survivor of child abuse that led to a psychotic breakdown five and a half years ago.  I still have Bipolar Disorder as a result of the abuse – although here I am lucky; my Bipolar is atypical, and my psychiatrist has taken me off all meds, including Abilify.  The thought of not taking an anti-psychotic was terrifying at first, but I agreed to give it a try; it’s been more than six weeks now and I am fine.  No depression. No mania.  No signs of PTSD, and no anxiety.  I have Lithium, Depakote and Wellbutrin in my medicine cabinet, and my psychiatrist’s number is programmed into my phone, but I’m becoming more and more certain these things will remain merely precautionary.

Therapy wise, I’ve learned my triggers and how to disarm them; I won’t be cavalier and say, ‘the past can’t hurt me now,’ but I will say, confidently, ‘the past no longer has the power to derail my life.’ 

so much truth has been revealed …’

Ed’s coming back into my life has given me the opportunity to understand things in ways I didn’t before; to remove him from the whole and hold him accountable only for the mistakes he made – and separate from Pat, he is merely a man who made mistakes; he had no idea what she was doing to my sister and I while he was at work …

My wife has said in recent days, ‘this all feels like a movie, I had no idea people like Pat could be real.’  I know exactly how she feels. Pat is very good at presenting a different face for different people, and very few understand exactly what she is capable of; her manipulations know no bounds, no decency or morality.   And now, many years later, she believes her own lies – they have become her truth.

My mother did a number on me, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what she did to my father; she cost him his children and grandchildren. Yes, he made mistakes – did things he should not have done, but her exploitation of his mistakes – cold, calculating and cunning was far more damaging to me than were the mistakes themselves.  She wanted me to hate my father – she didn’t succeed; I don’t hate anyone, not even her, but I did turn away and close the door … I wouldn’t even hear him out; that’s on me, but it was certainly part of her design.

When I was little, not sure how old exactly but I know I wasn’t in Kindergarten yet, I would ride my tricycle on the sidewalk outside our house.  One day, I decided to ride it to the store.  This particular store was about a mile away, maybe a little more, and it was on a very, very busy street with fast moving traffic.  A policeman saw me – at this point more than half way to my destination, and brought me home where he proceeded to chew my mother’s ass for not supervising me properly; I remember this incident like it was yesterday – he even told her that, ‘next time, I could be bringing him home in a box.’  I had no idea what that meant at the time, or even why the kindly policeman was yelling at my mother, but she passed it all off like she’d done nothing wrong.  I was, of course, severely dealt with when he left.  I never told daddy …

and all the times she would leave me – abandon me – to punish me; at home, at the grocery store … we never told daddy; she made sure daddy would never find out what SHE had done by making me fear daddy to the depth of my soul.

And when Ed was accused of sexual misconduct, Pat seized the opportunity to insist my sister had repressed memories of Ed molesting her as a child … then of course, as the story goes, Pat herself repressed these memories for a time; although I’m not sure when that could have happened, I heard about it all daily for years!

The best gift she ever gave me was that she is a living, breathing example of what hate does to people …

what hating my father and blaming him for all of her unhappiness did to her is unfathomable in my mind, life and heart.

I cannot hate, refuse to hate …

even her.

So much of what she did seems unbelievable, even to me and I lived it – know its truth in every fiber of my being.  I don’t blame people if they question my story, in fact I get it; how can a mother, any mother, do what she did to her children?

What she is still doing …

I knew when I began this blog there would be those who might use my history of mental illness to suggest my memories are inaccurate, or distorted; I even knew Pat would likely use this tactic … it’s her style to be sure.  It was a risk I was willing to take to end the silence that was making me complicit in her lies.

For the record:

I left Pat’s house because she asked me to choose between Rhonda and her – I chose Rhonda, the best choice I have ever made.

I stayed away from Pat because I quickly realized how much happier I was without her in my life.

If our relationship had been steeped in a healthy mother/child bond, we’d have gotten past the rift that caused our estrangement.

It is all that simple …

miraculously, no one has defended Pat … and only Pat has suggested my memory might be less than reliable.

But it took a willingness to look at my father, to consider him separately from Pat – from her disturbed nature and troubled life, to really understand what happened to me as a child … to end that gnawing feeling that real comprehension was always just out of my reach.

Ed did this admirably – not by denigrating my mother, but by quietly and patiently letting me know who he really is.  He did it by revealing himself – he doesn’t hate, and he doesn’t blame anyone else for his actions or mistakes.  I can, and do, respect that.

We never leave The Past behind completely, It’s always there – always part of us.  But if we’re very lucky and determined, we discover Its truth — and what follows is a way to make sense of it all …

and then we can pick up the pieces, and even those we left along the way, and go on with our journey.

Happy New Year; may it hold peace, love, acceptance and the promise of a joy filled tomorrow – a promise only knowing the truth can bring.

End of the Year Thoughts: In My Life I Have Learned That …

Silence really does protect the Abuser, while further damaging the Victim.

Children aren’t as resilient as we would like to believe them to be.

Hitting and love are antithetical.

Knowing why and placing blame are two different things.

Accountability is necessary and good.

I don’t understand exactly what forgiveness is.

What I don’t know can profoundly effect what I do know.

It is OK to give my father a second chance, even though I believed for thirty years I never would.

I am a very good father, but I have no idea how to be my father’s son.

I know my mother very, very well.

There are people you simply cannot help, or save – no matter how hard you wish you could.

The past cannot be erased, but parts of it can be better understood – and understanding brings peace and the ability to let go.

It is never wrong to say, I’m sorry;  even when an apology isn’t enough, offered in sincerity and love it is something – a very big and meaningful something; it is a place to start … or end with integrity and honor.

Denial does not mean you didn’t abuse, it means only that you haven’t stopped abusing.

I had to walk away from parents, there simply was no choice.

I will always want and need to stay away from my mother, because the first rule of wellness is:  You Don’t Go Back To What, or Who, Made You Sick.

Life is worth living, and emotional wellness is more than worth the effort it takes to acquire.

My children are the best part of who I am.

I love hearing the word, dad – but I’ve forgotten how to say it myself.

People can change.

Family is everything; the only thing in life with meaning.

Although it is right to assess the character of others for ourselves, based solely on who they are to us, it is also true that considering what someone has done to other people in their lives – people they claim to love – can save us a great deal of pain; knowing how big an emotional investment it is safe to make in someone is invaluable.

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck – chances are it isn’t a goose.

Everything happens for a reason.

Eventually, we are all revealed to be exactly who we are.

Telling your story can set you free.

We should write gently on the tablet that is our child’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Clarity … part 1

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I’ve taken some time now to contemplate the meeting with my father – our first in three decades.  The shock of how things are playing out is dissipating, and I’m beginning to unravel a part of my life – my childhood, in even deeper ways than I was able to in therapy.

Our lives are not solitary, they do not exist apart from the lives of others, and we are affected not only by our own life experiences, but also by those of the people in our lives – even when their experiences appear to have very little to do with us, the impact these experiences can have on our lives is profound.

Amazing things happen when you begin speaking to people you haven’t spoken to in thirty years.  The picture of your life evolves; the colors become more defined, the image grows sharper, and the clarity runs deeper.  Gaps and missing pieces are filled in, and new understanding emerges.  The story doesn’t change, but it grows in wisdom and truth as it integrates the position of others.

Thirty years ago, I made a decision to cut my parents out of my life.  I did this based on years of abuse and a childhood experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  It was a good decision at the time, the only one I could have made and still know the outcome I have known – the good life I am proud and honored to call my own.

When I turned my back on Pat, I just did it.  I left her house and never looked back.  She didn’t try to talk to me, nor I to her.   She asked me to leave, and I did.  It was, in the end, that stark, cold and simple.  It was also one of the best decisions I have ever made; we have to get away from toxic people to fully comprehend the negative impact their lives have had on ours.

When I made the decision to walk away from Ed, he tried to talk to me – tried to tell me something – or many things, perhaps, that I wouldn’t listen to, wouldn’t hear.  I know they wouldn’t have meant anything to me at the time, they couldn’t mean anything then; I wasn’t ready to absorb his experiences as my own, nor would I have been able to understand; I was too young.   Still, today I feel something – not regret, but something, for the void he has felt for the last thirty years, a void my absence in his life has caused.  I did what I had to do, but today I recognize that my decision was based on less than complete understanding of many things.

He was far from a perfect father, he was even far from a good father – that will never change.  What has changed is my understanding of his life during my childhood.  We don’t unravel and untangle to place blame, we do it to understand – because within that understanding we find another’s truth, and in that truth the story or our own life all of a sudden makes a lot more sense.

My father has apologized for what he did to me, he even apologized to me for hurting my sister – an apology he would offer to her face if she would give him the chance.  He has apologized to my wife for all the pain he caused her as a result of what he did to me … he has taken responsibility for everything he did, and for what it ultimately caused.  He didn’t ask me to consider his life or his circumstances while he was raising me, didn’t offer an excuse for what he did – he just stepped up and did the right thing.

But now that we’re talking, the picture of my life as a child has fewer shadows – this is conversation between a father and his son, not assigning blame, but trying to understand …

I saw my parents as MyParents – one entity.  I didn’t bisect them, Ed from Pat or Pat from Ed; they were simply MyAbusiveParents.  Even though I knew from a young age there were differences in the things they did – Ed would never have left me alone in a parking lot at age 5, nor would he have intentionally left my sister and I alone at an amusement park – abandoning us was a PatOnly trick, I still saw them as a collective unit.  And together, they were mean and cruel and abusive.

What I see now is very different.  Again, he wasn’t a good father, but she exploited that.  We were afraid of Ed because of his anger and his beatings, but she used this fear to her full and twisted advantage; telling us our father had to beat us every month or so so we would behave.  She condoned and encouraged his violence toward his children; yes, he did it – and he could have, and should have, made a different choice, but exploiting fear in her children – fear she helped to create – is nothing short of vile.

I can remember being terrified, when Pat would take me to my room and then leave the house, (I was far, far too young to have been left alone) that Ed would come home from work before she came back – and I remember her telling me I’d better hope she came back before he got home so he would never know how bad I really was … of course this was because he’d give me the worst beating of my life for being so bad she had to leave me.  How disturbed do you have to be to do this to your child?  She was at once my tormentor and my ‘protector’ ….

Ed had no idea this kind of thing was happening – he worked six days a week when I was little, and I cannot and will not hold him accountable for what she alone did.

In therapy, when I once commented that I wasn’t a good person, my therapist asked me why I believed that, and I told him I had been an awful child – a bad kid my mother left alone because she couldn’t handle me, and my father had to beat the hell out of because it was the only way to make me behave – a beating was the only thing I understood.  He asked me who told me that, and I replied immediately;  “My mother.”   As cliche as it is in therapy to blame the mother, it was, in my case, true; deserved, earned and valid.  And understanding that she was wrong freed me from believing I was bad; something that was never true – never a burden I should have carried.  Not blame, understanding.

Even in an abusive home, where unspeakable things happen, knowing and comprehending who did what is so important to the story. Viewing Pat and Ed as One is unfair … to Ed.

She was cunning and shrewd.  She wanted me to hate my father, so she used Ed’s flaws and shortcomings to her full advantage; he hit me and I was afraid of him, so she used that fear – exploited it, deepened it, twisted it –  made me believe she ‘spanked’ me so much because I was bad, and if she could make me behave through ‘spankings,’ Ed wouldn’t have to beat me so much.

And then, when she wanted my (and my sister’s) unquestioning loyalty after she divorced Ed, she levied depraved sexual allegations against him — and unfortunately, he made these at least plausibly believable by committing a crime; Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor.   I tried to remain neutral in her war against him, but that was close to impossible given his actions and her determination.

She cast herself as the protector, always.  Justified every injustice, every vile act, every morally bereft decision by claiming she was protecting me from  someone, or something, even more terrible.  She twisted my feelings, thoughts and emotions – wrung them like a dish towel – until I was broken and damaged and had no hope of escaping the breakdown that came in 2009.

It took a long time, after leaving my mother’s house, to understand that her thought processes are flawed, her actions damaging and repugnant.  I had to separate myself completely not to have my own thoughts and behaviors reflect her’s.  I always knew she was vile, but I didn’t understand all of what that meant until I was away from it … and safe.

And I now know Ed was my mother’s victim, too …

When you take the high road – the right road in this case, and never speak ill of their mother to your children – even though you know she misses no opportunity to speak ill of you, you sacrifice yourself in many ways.  Ed offered no tit-for-tat, no opposing point-of-view, no salacious accusations to match her’s … he simply waited for her lies and warped psyche to reveal themselves.

In the first few days after our meeting, something about what was happening between Ed and I was gnawing at me – and that relentless, almost disturbing feeling, went back to the Universal Fact: Abusers deny.  He didn’t deny anything.  What’s more, he didn’t offer excuses or blame Pat … he presented himself as the man he is today, apologized to me and allowed me to reach my own conclusions.

And today I think he is just a man who made some very damaging mistakes – mistakes that deeply hurt people he loves; his children.

I can bisect MyParents, seeing them now as my parents … but I can’t give Ed back the last thirty years.  I had to be here today to give him tomorrow.  I had to shut him out, raise my family, even get sick to be in this place today … the place that allows me to see him differently than my mother portrayed him, and even separately from her.

If I hadn’t gotten sick, I would never have delved this deeply, asked the right questions, sought the truth or concluded correctly.  I would have held Ed, always, to the same standard of accountability I hold Pat – and will ALWAYS hold Pat; much of the damage is a result of abuse she alone inflicted …

What ifs are pointless, and when considering my childhood I wouldn’t know which of many hundreds of what ifs to choose to change the outcome, but … if he hadn’t hit me, and If he hadn’t been guilty of actual sexual misconduct always come to mind.  Both costly mistakes that had a profound impact on his life …

especially considering Pat was around to use his mistakes against him, to make sure his mistakes had deep, painful and catastrophic effects on me.