My father was a harsh man. He said very little, never gave compliments or praise but was always quick with a rebuke or a critique. He was of Japanese descent, you see and that is what he learned from his own parents. I grew up in fear of him, his scowling face and hand that was always so quick to reach out and slap my face for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I lived in a world of silence because of that hand. His cultural heritage dictated his parenting style.
I wanted a very different father than the one I had. I wanted a father who would sit me on his lap and tell me a bedtime story and then tuck me into bed with a kiss on the forehead and a hug. I wanted a father who would sit at the dinner table and ask me how my day went at school and what I learned, who would review my homework with a questioning eye and with words of praise for a job well done when warranted. I wanted a father who would come to my high school glee club concerts and my high school theatre productions and the football games to watch me play in the marching band on Friday nights. But that’s not the father I got. Instead, I got a father who was unforgiving and relentless with his parental criticism, a man who never once told me that he loved me when I was growing up, a man who sat in stony silence at the breakfast table over his eggs and toast and never said, “Have a great day today!” All of this wreaked havoc on my own self-esteem.
I became sullen and rebellious because of this, I think. I wanted to be told that I was loved and appreciated and that I was smart, and pretty and a good kid. Because I never heard any of those things, I grew up believing that I was none of them. It’s no wonder I developed Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My lack of self-esteem almost dictated it.
When I was in high school I became sexually promiscuous, searching for the love I felt I could not get from my father in the arms of boys and men who I met at the discoteque downtown. By the time I graduated high school I had been pregnant twice. Both pregnancies were terminated with abortions.
Eventually I grew up and found a man who would marry me despite the fact that I was completely out of control emotionally. I had four children of my own and it was the act of becoming a mother which helped me finally put my own father into perspective.
I learned from my Mom that my Dad had been terribly abused by his own mother. She kept a pack of dogs out in back of her house and it was his job to go out and clean the kennel. If he didn’t do a good enough job, he would be locked inside with them and fed the same food she fed to them. I was horrified to learn from my mother that his own mother had sexually molested him for years as a child. No wonder he didn’t like females much. My feelings toward him began to change. I began to realize that he could not give me those things I had so desperately craved as a child. He was simply unable to do so. He could not hug me because he himself had never been hugged as a child. And one day, I decided to forgive him for all his shortcomings and the ways he had let me down. This came about when I was thinking about the ways in which I had let my own children down. I realized that, like my father, I had done the best I could with what I had to work with at the time. My father could not teach me how to have good self-esteem because he himself did not have good self-esteem. And so it goes. BPD is a generational problem because of this, I think.
Our relationship changed profoundly when I was able to do this, forgive him. I stopped longing for him to be a different way, for him to treat me in a different manner. I stopped being angry at him for being the flawed, wounded person he was. I became able to meet him where he was and stopped demanding that he come to me.
So, I started to talk to him about the things that mattered to him: golf and football and poker. I discovered a man who had tremendous insecurities and fears, a man who was terribly ashamed of his lack of emotional intelligence but who felt powerless to change it or improve it. I was completely taken by surprise by the man I discovered. I was able to forgive him for being human and not having the tools required to raise an emotionally healthy child.
My father passed away about four years ago. He had suffered a stroke which left him unable to swallow and after repeated bouts of aspiration pneumonia he finally succumbed. I am so glad that I was able to have this epiphany while he was still living and that I was able to salvage some kind of a relationship with him before it became irretrievable.