I never know what’s going to inspire me to write a new post here. Today, it’s this article from the BBC.
While I can’t relate to the economics that the author experienced, I can relate to this:
“My parents split up when I was young, but I grew up in a loving home. My mother taught me to read and write before I went to school.”
Except it was my father and my older brother Joe who taught me to read and write before I went to school. My mother was not interested, or “too busy” or something.
I can relate to the author’s sensitivity, too. I’ve read about the orchid/dandelion theory before, which also ties in with HSP theory, and I’m fairly certain I’m an orchid/HSP. (Interestingly, DH also seems to be an HSP, but he is an HSS as well.)
But what has really resonated with me is this:
“Angie Hart from the University of Brighton is a child and family psychotherapist who studies resilience. She stresses the vitalness of the support of at least one person who really cares in helping us to make changes.”
“The MP Frank Field… suggests parenting is “more important than income or schooling” in improving life chances. He stresses the role of mothers, in particular, in shaping their children’s future… the nurture I experienced in my early years impacted on my later life…in terms of who I am…”
It’s safe to say I never had the “universal” nurturing mother’s love — and you can’t miss what you’ve never had. But that “vital person who really cares” — I lost that.
I did have a nurturing father who was at home during my childhood, instead of traveling for work. I had that one vital person who really cared.
I used to think that I had a few more, in my older siblings.
I found one in my husband, although at the time of Dad’s death our marriage was less than 4 years old, and our relationship then was not one I counted on as much as the ones that had been around so much longer.
Then I lost my father, and then my siblings, and now DH is the only one I have left.
I always knew I would lose my dad early. It was apparent to me from early childhood. There was an occasion when Dad took me on some kind of riverboat cruise thing on the Missouri River. It was a beautiful Sunday evening. I was probably about 5 or so.
At one point, Dad sat me up on the railing and was holding on to me. I remember the breeze in my face, and his strong arms around me, and I felt happy and completely safe.
Then the boat captain made an announcement over the loudspeaker, of all things.
“Grandpa, we know you love your little girl…” was all I heard — I can actually still hear it when I think about it. The rest of the announcement was lost to me, but it was about how Dad needed to take me off the railing for safety reasons.
I was embarrassed, I think — what a stupid, tactless, public way to correct someone.
But I cried inconsolably, and for a completely different reason. Everyone thought I was upset at not being able to sit on the railing, or maybe because of the embarrassment of the public chastising, or of having my father mistaken for my grandfather.
I probably couldn’t even put it into words that day, but the reason I was crying was yes, because they had called him my “grandpa” — but not because it was humiliating that they got it wrong. It was because it crystallized something important about my Dad.
I already knew he was older than everyone else’s dad. That was obvious.
But what I knew right then and there about grandpas, was that GRANDPAS DIED.
I believe I had a classmate whose grandfather had died, and even at 5YO I was able to put two and two together.
And that fear stayed with me the rest of my life, until it finally happened.
I’m not sure I ever did explain to Dad just what it was that long-ago day that had me so upset. I do know that just after he was diagnosed with cancer, I visited him for a couple of weeks, and one night I was so upset, I went into his room and woke him up and cried all over him because he was going to die, he was going to leave, and I was only barely 30 and I felt the same way I felt when I was 5.
He replied gruffly, “Nobody’s dying yet,” to which I said, “Yes, but you will some day,” and he didn’t have an answer to that. So he just hugged me and let me cry. And in less than a year, he was gone.
So I lost my dad — my one vital, nurturing, loving parent — after barely 3 decades.
And in the same weekend, really, I lost almost all the other people who I thought really cared. The ones who said, “This is going to be tough, so we’ll all cut each other some slack.” The ones who said, “She’s the one who is going to take it the hardest.”
The bitter fact is that these people whom I had known all my life, the ones I would go to if I ever needed help, the ones who at least called on birthdays and Christmas and signed things “love” — didn’t.
Hell, some of them signed some very nasty emails with that word. LOVE. What a shitty lie to tell for so long, to a kid sister who implicitly believes her older brothers and sister, and who is dumb enough to believe it means something strong enough to matter.
Or maybe we have different definitions and expectations of what it means, because of the different ways in which we grew up.
To this day it’s hard for me to type it. I find it a hard word to use casually, even among close friends or with my husband. I stopped signing “love” on family communications quite some time ago, once I realized how hollow and meaningless it was in that context. It was just the word you were supposed to use when signing things to certain people. Automatic. Nothing really behind it. As I found out that weekend.
I thought I had a handful of people who really cared about me — and then I found out I didn’t. That’s what’s been so painful. It calls into question a lot about yourself. If all these people who have known me since my very first day don’t really love me, then the common factor is me, and it must have something to do with me. What did I do? How unlovable am I?
Of course, that is the scapegoat talking.
Well, as I now know, after years of asking questions and finding facts and working with professionals and facing up to some ugly truths — I didn’t do anything to earn that betrayal. And the common factor is not me, but a pair of women whose narcissism has poisoned our whole family.
I was never so relieved as when I found out there were words for the role I had been given, for how toxic our mother had been, for what had happened in our family.
And then, of course, I got angry. Very angry. Because I had been lied to for so long and made to feel so bad for so long, FOR NO DECENT REASON EXCEPT TO MAKE OTHER PEOPLE FEEL BETTER — and if you want proof of a lack of love, there it is.
Maybe the clue lies in when it all came out — when our father died. The “only” thing I did differently from my siblings with respect to our father is, I loved him as unconditionally as he loved me.
You’d think this score would be settled by the fact that they all apparently had our mother’s love, where I most certainly did not. I could clearly tell there was a difference between the way my mother and my father acted towards me by the age of 6, during the divorce proceedings, when I explained all the ways my Dad took care of me and my mother did not.
Of course, knowing what I know now about our mother and her version of love — yeah, I got the love of the one vital person who really cared.
And perhaps because they had a flawed model of what love is, maybe they never really learned what love is like when it’s real, or what you’re supposed to do — what you genuinely WANT to do — for someone you really love.
When I think about a mother’s love and what I missed out on, what was denied me, I never — NEVER — think about it in terms of my own mother and my siblings. If I’m honest, I’m not actually jealous of them.
No, the times when I feel that burning jealousy is when I see it in other mothers: thinking back to mothers of friends that I knew, or sometimes seeing complete strangers at the grocery store laughing, joking, and hugging with their kids.
And if I had to choose between my Dad, and what’s happened since he died, I’d still choose my Dad. His love was real and true, even if I didn’t have it for very long.
The funny thing is, the very first professional I ever spoke to about all this hit this nail on the head right away. I have mentioned two therapists that I worked with for months at a time — there was one other, a man whose name I have forgotten and to whom I still owe the paperwork for that one and only appointment, for which I still feel bad that he probably never got paid. (I was supposed to go back but I didn’t. In retrospect, I think it was too much for me at that point, and I was not ready to confront the reality of how shitty my family had been to me at the most vulnerable time of my life. I was not capable of facing up to having lost almost everything all at once.)
In late 2001, a few months after our parents’ deaths, I was severely stressed about the whole family situation and was on antidepressants. My oldest brother was getting married that fall and I was considering not going to the wedding. I can’t remember if it was my GP or my gynecologist who sent me to a therapist, after I probably fell apart during a routine exam, and described what was going on in my personal life.
I don’t remember much of what was said. I do know I cried a lot. The only thing I can remember is that after I probably asked something like, “but what would I say?” I can still hear him saying, “Why not just say:
“Dad and I loved each other, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
We went to the wedding. Of course no one talked about the elephant in the room, the shitty behavior of Joe and Susan a few months before, so I don’t know why I was even worried about “what I would say” in the event the subject came up.
I even did a reading, and when my new SIL thanked me for it she said she had never heard it read so meaningfully as when I read it.
It’s stunning to read it now.
We are supposed to have put the ways of childhood behind us. The reasoning of children, who believe what they are told by the toxic adults in their lives, is supposed to give way to the reasoning of adults.
Completeness — as in giving credence to both sides of the story — is supposed to supplant partiality, both in my story and in our parents’ story.
Love is supposed to delight in the truth, yet my siblings insist on supporting the lies that allow the dysfunction to continue, year after year. Love does not dishonor others, as Susan and Joe did to me. And love is supposed to protect, not attack.
It’s all spelled out in a book that they all believe in — or say they do — perhaps that’s about as truthful as when they used to say they loved me.
1 Corinthians 13:4-13
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.