Time out

I am taking a time out from my family. My sister had a garage sale last weekend and we all were there to help. My mother took care of the kids all day and my sister was running the sale. My father and I set up chairs on her lawn and just kind of oversaw everything. I spent all of Saturday with my laptop, grading my students’ essays. My father spent all of Saturday making lewd comments about women’s bodies. I chose to ignore him, mostly because he talks incessantly and I just tune him out. However, he crossed the line a few times. Like when a teenage neighbor came outside in her high school cheerleading uniform and my father made comments about her body. I yelled at him and told him how gross he was being. I teach teenagers and he has two daughters and two granddaughters. It was just so inappropriate and disgusting.

By the end of the day Saturday, I really had my fill of him. When he isn’t being offensive, he is still annoying. There are times he is funny, but those times are sandwiched between him being lewd and also being demanding. We were all going out to dinner afterwards and I secretly told everyone else that I would not sit next to him at the restaurant.

On Sunday, I was unpleasantly surprised that he and my mom decided to come to my sister’s house again, but I didn’t say anything because I know she needed the help. Again, I got stuck with my dad most of the day, but I after a couple of hours, I knew I needed a break. I went home for a few hours and returned later in the afternoon in time to help clean up.

When the garage sale ended, we all helped clean up and I retrieved a table I lent my sister and put it on the curb to put into my car later. My dad asked who the table belonged to. I told him it was mine and that I needed to get my car. He either didn’t listen or didn’t hear me because one minute later he asked again. I told him I already said it was mine. “Scumbag.” That was his response. I was like, “oh that’s nice. I’m a scumbag because I answered your question?” I went inside the house and left shortly afterwards.

I texted my sister later: “I’m upset and disgusted about how dad behaved and how he talked to me. And I’m upset that I’m upset about it.” She agreed and had heard lots of his vile comments throughout the weekend, too. The annoying thing is that my mom is very dismissive about what he says…he’s always “joking” or “is getting dementia” or whatever according to her. None of us ever hold him accountable. There is always an excuse for him. And to be honest, for most of my adult life, I just shrug off what he says. It is just how we have all handled him for so long and since he has been better lately, we don’t really rock the boat. It is how it has always been. I know that does not make it ok, though.

Afterwards, I tried to explain to my boyfriend how I felt. He has only known my father sober, but he knows about my childhood. It isn’t even ancient history- it has only been about two years since he stopped drinking. It is REALLY hard for me to reconcile the person my father is today with the man he was two years ago. And it is also really hard that everything just changed overnight. My dad was an abusive alcoholic whom I only saw once or twice a year. He was hospitalized in a coma, recovered and stopped drinking. All of a sudden he is a “pretty normal” person and I have dinner with my family like four nights a week. But NOTHING has ever been discussed. We make zero references to “before”. He hasn’t been held accountable for ANYTHING. I know I am part of the problem, but I just go along with it. It is easier for my mom, it is too uncomfortable to bring up, the past is in the past, appreciate having a normal family while you have it, he’s wonderful with his grandkids and I want my nieces to have that relationship, etc. Those are all the excuses I tell myself.

I don’t know why he bothered me so much over the weekend. I think it was because it was SO much time together. Normally I see him for an hour or two and my little nieces a are there main focus and are distracting. It’s not like I sit next to him on the couch for two hours straight. I spoke to my therapist about creating better boundaries for my family, but also about me needing to say no. I don’t need to go to my sister’s house for dinner every night I am by myself. I can say no and stay home and have time to myself at my house. I feel this weird sense of obligation to always be there unless I have other plans. It was weird to be home alone Tuesday and Wednesday night, but it was also a much needed break. It made me realize how unhealthy and dysfunctional my family still is, even though we have the appearance of a “nice, normal family”!

Memories…

memories

Now that my father has been sober for over a year and a half, sometimes I struggle with writing this blog.  I started this in order to deal with the things that my dad currently did…the nasty emails, the horrible voicemails, the dreaded family holidays.  I tapped into memories occasionally, but so much was still happening when I started writing this that I very much lived in (and had to deal with) the present.  I find that now I have a tendency to think about and reflect on the past more often.  Doing so has brought up events that I have not thought about in many years.  There have been times when my sister and I talk about things that my father did when we were growing up and they just feel unreal…like hearing incredible stories from someone else’s life.  It is almost like having to still deal with him protected me from having to remember the past and now that he isn’t actively doing anything all those memories are flooding back.

My dad was such a belligerent drunk.  He was scary and threatening and violent and intimidating.  He bullied and harassed and screamed and threw things.  But when I think back to my childhood and teenage years, what I think about mostly is the psychological abuse he inflicted on us.  He did such bizarre and strange things. He recorded phone conversations…I thought I was so cool to have my own phone number and phone in my bedroom as a teenager, until I realize that he had an extension of it also installed in his office, where he would listen to my calls.  I don’t remember ever getting a piece of mail that was unopened.  I have almost an obsessive need to check my mail now as an adult…like I have to get to it before someone else does.  He followed my mother, sister and me.  I remember coming out of school as a senior in high school and finding a note on my car that I was “parked crooked”.  You know that song…”it always feeeeeels like somebody’s watching meeeee”…yea, that was my life.  I told my boyfriend the other day how I had gotten into an argument with my dad and then stomped away, like a 16 year old girl will do, and locked myself in my bathroom to take a shower only to have my father kick down the door.  There was just never any privacy.  If we slammed our bedroom doors, he would take the doors off the hinges.  If he was especially angry at night, he would remove the spark plugs from my car so I couldn’t leave for school in the morning.  Even when he wasn’t home, it was like I was on constant high alert.  I dreaded the sound of the garage door opening announcing he was home from work- I would get a pit in my stomach knowing he was home.  Any semblance of peace in the house was gone as soon as he walked in.  And on the days he was “normal” and didn’t drink, it was almost even worse, because I never knew what to expect.  At least when he was drunk, I knew what was going to happen.

One of my most vivid memories was my mother, sister and I going to Costco on a weekend when I was about 17.  My dad seemed fine when we left.  When we came out of the store a couple hours later, my father was parked in his carnext to my mom’s car in the parking lot.  At that time, Costco was almost an hour away.  It was like he couldn’t stand to not be involved in whatever we were doing, or he didn’t believe that we were where we said we were.  Obviously he was drunk, so he could not drive his car home.  My mother initially asked me to drive him home.  I had my license but there was no way I was driving alone with him for an hour.  Eventually, she agreed to drive him home in his car and I would drive myself and my sister home in her car.  I started to drive away and came to a red light to exit the parking lot.  Unbeknownst to me, my father ran after the car and completely scared the hell out of my by opening the driver’s side door and pulling me out of the car.  I screamed for my sister, who was 13 at the time, to get out of the car and quickly tried to open the back door to get my purse.  My dad jumped in the driver’s seat and gunned the engine with me still leaning into the car.  He then proceeded to pull out of the parking lot with the back door open and my frightened sister still in the passenger seat.  I screamed and yelled and my mom tried to chase them on foot.  Luckily, for some reason, my dad stopped after driving just a few feet and I was able to get back in the driver’s seat.  I remember just leaving and not even caring what happened with my parents; I just wanted to protect my sister and get us out of there.  I drove directly to my boyfriend’s house so we didn’t have to go home for a few hours.  The weirdest part about this memory is I vividly remember seeing a police officer’s car in the parking lot and kept wondering why he didn’t help us.  I even called my sister to ask her about this and she remembered it exactly the same (and mentioned it was one of her most vivid memories).

That is a more extreme depiction of what we dealt with growing up, but I have so many stories like that.  It’s weird how the mind works- I had not thought about that in years, but memories like that keep coming back to me at random times.  It is like now that my mind isn’t being violated by a constant barrage of daily crap from my dad it finally has a chance to recollect these old events.  I’m not entirely certain that this is a good thing at all, but sometimes when I tell someone a story like this and they are incredulous about it, it makes me proud that my sister and I survived all that craziness and became the people we are today.

A Delicate Balance…

I recently got a new car after 11 years…it’s very exciting, but it has indirectly caused quite a bit of drama in my life. After hearing about the car, my father started sending a lot of emails about it- asking questions about the APR, questioning why I got all the “bells and whistles” I did on the car, etc. He also stated he was disappointed I didn’t come and show him the car. I own a house by myself and am very conservative with my money and this car is definitely within my means and within the budget I had set for myself. Part of my dad’s emails stem from his sheer boredom and I understand this. My father’s emails are way better now that he’s not drinking, but they still are usually negative. I honestly pay very little attention to them and I don’t feel like I need to answer to him about my finances or purchases.

Long story short, after receiving some of these emails, my live-in boyfriend decided to email my father back “defending” me. My father copies my mother, sister, my boyfriend and me on all of his emails, so I guess my boyfriend was offended by what my dad was writing. I have not read the emails that were exchanged between my boyfriend and my dad, but I know my boyfriend wrote to my dad that I work hard and that my dad should not be making me feel bad about the purchase, etc. etc. He also told my dad that his emails make him sound like an asshole (again, I’m paraphrasing). My dad apparently responded that he was offended and upset (which is also what he told my mother). When my boyfriend told me he did this, he had already written my dad a second time doing damage control and apologizing. Meanwhile he told me that he doesn’t regret saying what he did to my father, he just knew I would be upset. My bf and I have discussed him wanting to email my dad in the past and I have always pleaded with him not to.

Needless to say I am very upset about the whole thing. On one hand, I understand that my bf felt that he was defending me. My mom said to me that part of her is proud of him for doing so and that she told my dad he should be glad I have a man in my life who sticks up for me. I know that any man who loves me is eventually going to have to deal with the way my father talks to me and how he often insults me or puts me down. On the other hand, I feel disrespected because my bf clearly went against my wishes and now I have a lot of anxiety about my dad and him. Ever since my dad had the stroke and stopped drinking (in October), things have settled down. He doesn’t leave me crazy, screaming voicemails, his emails are much less offensive and family visits have become almost “normal”. I explained to my boyfriend that I feel like my family is finally somewhat functional and that I resent the fact that he just created this drama. I was happy that my dad and my bf got along and that my dad liked and respected him. I know my bf was never thrilled about how my dad treated me (and my mom and sister), but he is able to see the changes my dad has made since his stroke. I just don’t understand why my bf would choose this moment to confront my father (because he’s read much nastier emails in the past).

I haven’t spoken to my dad since all this happened because I am so afraid of confrontation. My dad told my mom that my bf didn’t sincerely apologize (although my bf told me he did write two emails back to my dad apologizing and trying to explain himself). Even talking to my mom feels a little strained because there feels like an elephant in the room (and I am super close with my mom). My sister is being really nonchalant about it and keeps telling me it will blow over, but I’m still incredibly uncomfortable. I was looking forward to having a few family bbqs over the summer and now I am dreading what will happen when my bf and dad are together.

I’m just really angry about the whole situation because I feel like for two decades I had to deal with my dad being a crazy, abusive alcoholic and then finally…finally…things seemed like they were getting better and this happened. My therapist said she understands why my bf defended me, but that maybe he didn’t understand how much work and effort it takes for me to have a delicate balance of my family life just being “ok”.

We talked about it again last night and my boyfriend clearly feels awful about how upset I am and wishes he had never sent the email. But what’s done is done. My bf said he will call my dad to try to talk things out man to man, but I am nervous about that (even confrontation by proxy makes me anxious). I just wish I could forget about it and let it blow over, but as time goes on I am getting more and more upset and more resentful towards my boyfriend.

Answer: My dad is great!!!

New-Haven-Cold-Cast-Bronze-Crown-Pendulum-Clock

Question: What is a response you would NEVER expect to give when your friend asks how your day with your family was…

It’s just so weird. I still can’t wrap my head around it. My dad is sober. MY dad…sober.

Today, while my mom was at work, my sister and I went to visit my dad. Usually this is something we dread, but since he hasn’t been drinking, he isn’t being nasty or harassing us like he used to. I actually even had a pretty real conversation with him today that went like this:

Dad: “do you know that mom JUST told me last week that I went through withdrawal in the hospital” (for those who don’t know, my dad had a stroke in October and was in the hospital for a week with horrible withdrawal symptoms)

Me: “she just now told you that?”

My sister: “dad, you don’t remember ANY of it? It was really, really bad. I thought you were going to die”

Dad: “no, I couldn’t believe it when mom told me”

Me: “dad, you were freaking out and looked HORRIBLE. The doctors wouldn’t even let us come on the day that it was the worst, only mommy went”

This is where the conversation really got unbelievable…wait for it…

Dad: “I thought mom would be nicer to me now that I’m not drinking and smoking”

Me: “dad, can I tell you something without you getting mad??? When you were drinking, you were not the nicest person to mom or to us (um, understatement of the century!) You can’t just expect mom to be all lovey-dovey because she probably still is really angry with you at how you have treated her over the years”

Dad: quiet for a minute “yeah”

Wow. I mean, there have been moments where my dad has been relatively sober where I have been able to talk to him, but this is just so different. Everything is just so different. I think my mom and my sister and I are afraid to really trust his sobriety because he can’t drive yet. He might not ever be well enough to drive, but if he does get to the point where he can, that is where the real test of his sobriety will happen.

But, I have decided that I am just going to enjoy these moments I have with my dad while he is sober and stop thinking so much about what might happen. I mean, I can’t control it anyway! But it was nice to have an afternoon where we felt like a “normal family”, kind of like when I was a kid. In fact, while my sister was in another room doing something, my dad and I sat down with a clock that he built many years ago that I am going to inherit at some point (I was hoping today lol) and he showed me how he carved the inlay and taught me how to work the winding key and pendulum. It brought me back to when I was a little girl, back before he really became an alcoholic, when he would bring me down to his shop and teach me how to use his compressor or I would watch him cut wood on his table saw. It showed me that even though I know I can’t erase the bad memories from the past two decades, that there might still be time to make new, good memories with my dad.

So where does that leave me?

I feel like such a big part of my identity is wrapped up in my dad being an alcoholic. Let me stress that I have never used my dad being an alcoholic as an excuse for my own bad behavior, but rather that I have been a “child of an alcoholic” for over 20 years. Then very abruptly, my father stopped drinking- something that I never anticipated and still have a hard time believing. Even though he has been sober for a couple of months, I am still a child of an alcoholic and that hasn’t changed. Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t be happier that he isn’t drinking (he had a stroke in October that I think scared him straight), but just because he is not presently drinking does not just make all of the years of abuse disappear. My mom thinks that he does not really remember the terrible things that he has done while he was drunk (which was every day), but we all do. I remember. I haven’t quite figured how to reconcile the old image of my dad and the new one and how my father’s newfound sobriety affects me. I am not being harassed by his drunk phone calls every day and am no longer receiving two to three crazy, nasty emails every day (can’t complain about that!), but that doesn’t erase all of the belligerent voicemails on my phone or mean emails in my inbox from the past 15 years. Am I just supposed to forget everything and have a magical “fresh start” with my dad?

New year…new dad?

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

After being a raging, belligerent, violent alcoholic for over 20 years, my father is currently not drinking. He had a stroke at the beginning of October and was in a physical rehabilitation center until almost Thanksgiving. I figured that he would just go right back to drinking every day once he got home, but my mom says that he still isn’t. I ask her every day, almost expecting one day she is going to say that yes, he is drinking again (and smoking, which he quit too after smoking two packs a day since he was a teenage). It’s like I just can’t believe it. What I was even happier to hear is that he is actually being nice to my mom after treating her horribly for years and years. She described him by saying to me that “it is like a whole different person”. Obviously that is a huge thing and I am so glad to hear it, but it is just surreal. Hopefully he appreciates everything that she is doing to help him. I am actually even making more of an effort to call him and email him since he is no longer constantly harassing me (don’t miss THAT!!).

I looked back at this blog (since it was my new year’s resolution to write every month in 2013) and things have changed so much. It’s definitely a good thing, even though it was prompted by a scary experience (the stroke). I just look at how many times I wrote that my dad will never stop drinking- had you told me a year ago he would go a week without drinking, let alone months, I would have called you crazy!! I just wonder how long it will take me to really believe that he is going to stay sober…

Shut. Up!!

I had a realization yesterday with my therapist and it is this: I hate, hate, hate when people tell me what to do or give me their “advice” when it comes to my family, especially my father. And I really, really HATE when the person who is doing this has a “normal” family!! I mean, who the hell are you to tell me what to do? Unless you know what it feels like to run- literally RUN- from your father in fear of being hit, then shut up. If you haven’t had to deal with ruined holidays, DYFS, being harassed, secretly emptying liquor bottles and being called names by your parent, then shut the hell up. And until you have stood in front of a judge in a courtroom (on your BIRTHDAY) to drop assault charges against your father, then shut the f*ck up! If my friend who also has an alcoholic parent wants to offer me advice or suggestions, I am all ears. Otherwise, keep your “tough love” and your “I wouldn’t put up with that” comments to yourself.

I understand that you don’t understand- but here’s the thing…you don’t have to!!! I don’t expect anyone to “get” why I still allow my father to be a part of my life, but that is the decision I have made. He has a limited role in my life, but if I can talk to him civilly after everything he did to me, then you certainly can just suck it up and deal with it.

Us and Them.

US and THEM. I’m starting to realize more than ever that regardless of their good intentions, people who did not grow up in an alcoholic family just will NEVER get it. Please note I didn’t write Us versus Them, we aren’t against each other, we just come from different places. I think we can coexist happily in this world, Us and Them, but there are things that can’t be explained or fully understood by someone who did not experience life with an alcoholic.

I have been frustrated lately by my boyfriend and his feelings towards my dad. I know that the things he says and thinks are coming from a good place and that he cares about me so much he can’t stand to see my dad hurt me. That being said, he just does not understand that regardless of what my dad has done (or currently does) that he is still my father. I was talking about this with my therapist last week and she summed it up pretty well…we have more than one friend in our lifetime and usually more than one love, but we only have one mother and one father and there is no choice involved in that selection. My boyfriend thinks that I should just write my dad off…just like that. Looking at it from purely a logical standpoint, I can see why that makes sense. My father says horrible things to me, is drunk more often than he is sober and harasses me endlessly. But it is easier said than done. He’s not an abusive husband, he’s my dad. When I say that aloud, it makes so much sense to me. He’s my dad…period. And I do love him and it’s complicated and I have so many good memories of him from before he became an alcoholic. What I have done over the years is seriously limit the amount of interaction I have with him. I only see him every few months. I rarely talk to him on the phone and I only respond to 1 out of every 100 emails. Those are my choices. And if I ever decide to completely “write him off” it is not going to be to please someone else or because a guy gave me an ultimatum.

I know that my boyfriend just will never understand, through no fault of his own, of course. I am glad he can’t empathize and that he had a pretty normal childhood. But he is one of THEM. And I am one of US.

My boyfriend’s “daddy issues”

My boyfriend and I have been sorting out a few issues before we take the plunge of moving in together. I’m really happy to be with someone who is good at communicating, but I am feeling frustrated about one of the things we have been talking about. My boyfriend has a major issue with my father, which is in itself not very surprising. As I have written about before, I don’t actually see my father all that much, we live an hour apart (although I see my mom all the time). But, my father constantly emails and calls me. I have my iPhone set to not ring when he calls, but I haven’t found a way to not have the voicemail go off when he inevitably leaves a message. He leaves voicemails daily that range from “normal” to irrational, screaming, nonsensical, insulting drunken rants (usually the latter). My sister and I are just used to this and more often than not, I just simply erase the voicemail without even listening it. It doesn’t even phase me anymore, just the way his crazy emails don’t either. I mean, I guess if I have to be totally honest, they do bother me deep down, but I just know that it is beyond my control to stop him. Blocking his cell phone is not an option because then he would just call from their home number and I can’t block my mother, too.

My boyfriend told me that he would not be able to sit silently by when my father treats me badly. He has only been around my father a handful of times and luckily almost all of them went smoothly, but there was one bad holiday where my boyfriend got frustrated and said something to my father that was confrontational when my father was being nasty towards my sister and me. My boyfriend is not disrespectful, but he says that he will approach my father if it continues (not in a physical way, but verbally). The thing is, my boyfriend insists on listening to my dad’s voicemails when my phone beeps when we are together. He explained all of this to my sister and she has the same opinion I do- that if my boyfriend ever does confront my father, nothing good will come of it. My sister and I both think it would honestly make things worse and my dad would end up taking it out on my mother in the long run.

On one hand, I feel very good about the fact that my boyfriend wants to protect me and I think that is very sweet and comforting. But, on the other hand, I just cannot make him understand that NOTHING is going to change how my dad acts and that a confrontation between the two would just be unnecessary drama that would create more problems for me than it would solve. I understand that as a man who loves me, it is hard for my boyfriend to hear my dad berate me. But I am the one who has to deal with my dad and now I am worried that someday down the road there is actually going to be an issue between my father and boyfriend.