Michael Lombardi makes a good case for ghosting. Often thought to be selfish or immature, for Michael, it was about self care.
Recently, I have seen the topic of ghosting come up more and more. If you’re not familiar with ghosting, it is when you break off an interpersonal relationship, typically but not exclusively, a romantic one, by disappearing out of someone’s life rather than explaining your reasons for ending things. The response to ghosting seems to be universally that it’s not cool and is indicative of someone who is selfish and immature. In addition, it can escalate anxiety and conflict, causing more problems. However, there is an exception: the escape of an abusive relationship. I’m not proud to admit that I’ve done this. I ghosted the man I called “Dad,” my step-father who had been in my life since I was a toddler.
I grew up in a middle class family. Other than school, I was exposed to little socialization. My parents rarely went out together; there was no date night. They never went out with friends; they didn’t have any. The only people who visited were occasional family members at holidays. Depending on where he was working, my step-father was home most days between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. So, he was at home virtually minute I was as a teenager. He had a short temper, so I kept my head down and my mouth shut. I avoided typical, teenage debauchery. He was a tough love kind of guy. Hugs were reserved for things like graduating high school. At one point or another, he alienated every family member on both his side and my mom’s side.
My step-father belittled me on a regular basis, calling me stupid and other names. Now in my mid-30s, it’s hard to remember specifics, but frequent denigration undoubtedly contributed to my current difficulties with anxiety, depression, and horrible self esteem. While there was no physical abuse, I was terrified of him. He verbally and emotionally abused me daily, a psychological burden I carried then, and now.
When I went off to college, my stepfather would threaten to cut me off when I performed poorly. He wasn’t even contributing much financially. My father and step-mother were paying my rent, and I had a full academic scholarship for two years as well as 75% for the other two years. But, I still feared losing his support. That’s what an abuser does; he makes you feel like you can’t make it without him. And, he’d drilled it into me; I was stupid, despite an academic scholarship and so much other evidence to the contrary. After graduating from college, I was a high school biology teacher and lived a few miles away from my mom and step-father and was completely self-sufficient.
On Christmas Day in 2004, I went to see my family in the afternoon. We exchanged presents. I don’t remember the specific event clearly anymore, but it ended when my step-father made a comment that put me over the edge. It wasn’t particularly nasty, but I was tired of the way he treated me. I had reached my limit. I walked out without a word.
One thing my step-father used to tell me growing up was that I would need him long before he needed me. And yet, I never went crawling back. And he never reached out to me. A year later, I was getting married. I wrestled with the idea of whether or not to invite him. I didn’t want to be the guy who didn’t invite his dad to his wedding. He would not have known since we weren’t talking, but despite not wanting to, I sent an invitation. I figured I would be the better person and put the ball in his court. It was my last olive branch. I never heard back.
Through my sister, who was still living at home, I learned he wasn’t coming. I wasn’t surprised. He would never see the way he treated me as abusive. He would be the guy who says people are too politically correct. In his mind, going to work forty hours a week so that I was never hungry or cold meant he loved me. Unfortunately, being warm and full-bellied aren’t the only things kids need while growing up. So, he missed my wedding. He also missed the purchase of my first house, the birth of my daughter, and countless other things.
I would be genuinely surprised—and even feel some sorrow—if it affected his life in any way. But I don’t think it did. Here I am more than a decade later, doing just fine. I ghosted my dad. Maybe it wasn’t mature of me. But, I have no regrets.
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