Many will tell you to just write him off. Stephanie March chose not to and shows you how she did it.
It’s hard to imagine a day in my life where I haven’t needed my Dad. Our relationship has been all over the map. We’ve been close, estranged, at each other’s throats, and back to close again. But regardless of the state of our relationship, I always needed him. Sometimes he was exactly what I needed and at times he was exactly what I didn’t. I’m positive there have been times where I was both things to him as well. It’s a fluctuation many can relate to in a world where everything seems relative.
My parents divorced when I was young and I experienced years of sexual abuse. The sexual abuse was, as you can imagine, not easy for my Dad to accept or know how to handle. His preferred method was to not talk about it and that’s still his preferred method now. For a long time this made me angry until I learned to accept that some people aren’t able to process trauma the same way or talk about it as openly as others.
It wasn’t my Dad’s fault for reacting the only way he knew how and he didn’t commit the crime. He was simply doing his best to parent when given unnatural circumstances.
This eventful childhood led me to dating abusive men when I got older, a common occurrence among survivors of childhood trauma. This is known as repetition compulsion and I was no exception. I met and fell in love with someone at the age of 18 that I stayed with him for over a decade. He was shades of cruel I didn’t even know existed. I stayed with him through his countless cheating episodes and forgave him after broken bones and concussions.
This, understandably, drove my Dad crazy. He was furious at me. But what I took as anger was his frustration at the circumstances. He was angry with himself for being unable to break me from my boyfriend’s spell. He was disgusted at his inability to save his daughter from further physical, mental, and emotional harm.
At the time I didn’t understand his anger. His anger made me angry and we fought. A lot. Which ironically only served to drive me closer to my abusive boyfriend. I clung to him and it felt like he was the only one who understood me, even if he used that understanding to cause me harm.
One night my boyfriend came home from binge drinking and partying. I had given up waiting for him, knowing his routine of coming in the next day at noon, and had gone to bed. He climbed into bed beside me and I begged him to sleep on the floor. In his drunken stupors he would often wet the bed. I reminded him of this as I pleaded but he flew into a rage. I curled up into the fetal position and put my hands over my face as his fists connected with the side of my head over and over again. My ear went numb and everything went fuzzy.
When it was over, I stumbled to the bathroom sobbing and afraid. My left ear was a furious red and several busted capillaries were already showing. I went back to my bedroom and saw that my boyfriend was passed out. So I tip-toed downstairs and debated calling the police.
I called my Dad and woke him up. I cried hysterically into the phone and asked him, “If I have him arrested and leave him this time will you help me until I finish college?”. My Dad’s response was anger. Anger that I had woken him up and annoyance at the entire situation. “What did you go and do this time?!” he seethed. I explained it was nothing I did to a Dad that should have already known that. “I just needed you to be my Dad, that’s all. I just needed you to be my Dad” I mumbled into the receiver before hanging up.
That day, I went to the police station and filed charges. I was afraid of leaving for good because I was scared I could not financially do it on my own. And I loved him in a way that I wasn’t sure would go away. I needed my Dad. I needed his love and reassurance. I needed his help. I needed him to say Dad things and tell me how much I was loved and how I deserved better. Instead, I got yelled at.
It’s not a nice memory and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of my Dad. But the truth is rarely pretty and this is it- unvarnished. My Dad and I have come a long way since those days in college. We talk more than yell and I’m old enough now to look back on that time in college with forgiveness and understanding.
He wasn’t a bad man, he was a good man dealing once again with unnatural circumstances the best way he knew how.
My Dad grew up in a home where love and emotions weren’t freely expressed. His anger was a product of his own not so easy breezy childhood. I once read a quote by Liza Palmer that said “Angry is just sad’s bodyguard” and it immediately made me think of him. It made me contemplate all he’s been through as a person in his own right and as a parent. It made me realize that his way of expressing his heartache was often through anger. I suppose his love was also somewhere behind that bellowing yell. In fact, I know it was.
He’s done a lot for me over the years, more than many parents would do. He’s been there no matter how many times I tried to shove him away. He’s listened, albeit impatiently at times, to hours and hours of me crying about heartaches. He’s made me laugh and, well… he’s been there. He’s simply been there.
I love my Dad for all of his foibles and good hearted intentions. I love him despite his sometimes terrible imperfect responses. I love him despite his anger. I’m thankful that this man is my Dad and that he has been there when he didn’t have to be.
It made me learn to stand on my own two feet and fight for myself when I had nobody else to fight for me. It made me take a hard look at my own faults and imperfections. More than anything, he’s taught me that I am loved despite our similarities and differences. I am loved and he’s been there ready to help me with the puzzle no matter how strewn and frustrating the pieces.