Tuesday, January 11, 2011

So I Let It Go

I love my dad for all the good values and skills he gave to me.

I was angry and resentful for all the bad values and inadequate skills he gave me or failed to provide.

There's nothing unconditional about it. When people treat you appropriately they have an opportunity to receive love and respect. When people treat you inappropriately they lose the right to be loved and respected. Your family gets a free pass till you are old enough to make decisions on your own about how you deserve to be treated as a person. After that they have to earn love and respect by showing you the same.

I spent several years in my mid thirties looking inside myself for answers to nagging questions I had. I had behaviors that I knew were bad but they came natural to me so I wanted to know why those things were in my brain. I spent time with therapists and I researched the various facets of psychology specifically as they related to emotions and relationships.

I learned several things but one of the most important is the significance of your environment (nature and nurture) when you are between the ages of 6 and 12 (give or take a year or two for individual differences). These are the years when kids become self aware and aware of their surroundings. They don't necessarily understand it but they are able to process it enough to store the emotions and experiences away for future use. Overwhelming emotional experiences often produce dramatic and traumatic results in adulthood when the appropriate triggers are set in motion. It is not necessarily a self-fulfilling prophecy but the statistics do show a significant correlation between childhood trauma and adult behaviors.

I was never sexually or physically abused that I can remember. There was no overt actions by my parents or grandparents or anyone else who was responsible for my care. I experienced abuse as an observer. I watched it happen to my friends. I watched it happen between friends. I watched it between my parents. I watched it between other kids parents. And I experienced voids where kids should be learning with adults about the world and relationships and people. My relationship role models were not good.

I struggled most of my life not really understanding the difference between sex and love and intimacy. I wasn't given any education about sex. I just learned at a young age that sex is what people do when they like each other. I didn't learn about boundaries and about patience. I didn't have any of either. My initial and only reaction to a girl that I would meet and like was to have sex whether I had known her all my life for for five minutes. Everything I did in a relationship was always working toward sex. Some of it was testosterone but a large portion of it was that I didn't know any other way to tell a girl that I liked her besides shoving my tongue down her throat and my hand in her pants. It's embarrassing when I look back on my behavior in relationships. My research would definitely suggest that I had been introduced to sex in some way at an early age but I don't remember anything like that happening. It could be suppressed somehow but that doesn't feel correct either. I will never know. And on that same note, I found it very easy to get sex from age 14 on. I was a good looking, outgoing, athletic blondish okie boy and there was no shortage of young ladies willing to fuck. I have been extremely lucky to never have gotten an STD or to have kids that were unwanted. I learned about and used protection but the desire to show girls how I cared for them sometimes resulted in safety taking a backseat to desire. I had some exceptional women in my life and my confusion with sex and love probably destroyed many of those relationships. I now understand the differences and have wonderful and appropriate relationships but I still feel the original information stored on my hard drive from time to time. My stepdaughters have taught me volumes about myself...just by getting to watch them grow up and interact with their environment. And I have been able to give them the very best of me and they love and respect me for it and I am the luckiest man ever.

I have a very significantly developed self-preservation mechanism. It stems mostly from the addictive behaviors in my family that I observed as a youngster. When puberty and girls became prevalent in life around 13 or 14 years old there was a pretty significant paradigm shift in my personality. I was very driven with sports and winning and competing and then it slowly began eroding. I steadily became a real jerk to a lot of people. If you were any sort of threat to me, conscious or unconscious, I would resort to bullying behavior. And it was to anybody, boy or girl. I feel really bad now about how I treated a lot of perfectly innocent nice wonderful people who could have just as easily been my friends. I have had some occasion in my adult life to tell some of those people that I was sorry and that healed a lot of my shame. Now it's pretty much a running joke about how much of a dick I was then and that I'm much better now. I was a pretty big jerk till I was able to do my research into myself and then I let a lot of it go. Sometimes my self preservation mechanism triggers and it is manifested in a complete system shutdown. I just want to run away and be alone till it passes and those who love and understand me now allow that to happen and pass and life is grand. It is very cool indeed.

I had kept a big heaping ball of resentment towards my dad for being a drunk and for embarrassing me and for not being loving toward me and for not teaching me the good parts of becoming a man. I have kept it for years and anger would well up in me when I would do something harmful that I could trace right back to him. My dad, for lack of a better word, grew up sometime in his fifties. He quit drinking and changed a lot of his relationships and isn't volatile at all. But it has been too late coming for me. I'm happy for him but it only did a minor bit to help with the chasm between us. We can talk for a few minutes and then my mechanisms trigger and I flee. Since he has changed I got it in my head that maybe he would be able to look back on the person he was when I was in his responsible care and find a sincere way to look me in the eye and tell me he was sorry. I've always thought that would make a lot of the resentment go away. I gave him many opportunities. I set up conversations. I beat around the bush. Nothing ever happened. I talk to my wife about it and she says she can see it in his eyes that he feels bad for the way it was but I was hung up on him telling me personally, heart to heart. So this last fall I was in Oklahoma for a separate event and I arranged to stay at the old family homestead for a couple of days. I made a commitment to confront him with my life story and my problems and how they related to his drinking and yadayadayada. Well, I actually got enough balls one day when we were alone in the house and it was quiet and he was listening to me talk about football or fishing or something. I told him that I had real relationship troubles as an adult as well as a bunch of other struggles. Basically just telling him about me without pointing any fingers at him. Then I said "You know, you spent all the greatest years of my youth drunk." He didn't talk back to me. Instead he lowered his head a little and looked toward the ground and looked to be in legitimate reflection and whispered under his breath "Yeah". And that was it. My plan to demand an apology ended up with some silence and some nonverbal acknowledgement and then I got up and got a bowl of nilla wafer banana pudding. That simple act of acknowledgement was all I needed. It seemed mean and heartless to torment this man any further with my need for an apology just to make him feel bad about himself when he had changed his life. So I let it go. I let it all go. I still have struggles with legacies left by my dad's behaviors but it's not a witch hunt anymore. I know he had a disease. I know that I only understood a fraction of his life and how he got to be who he was. I know now he recognizes his role in some of my troubles. My life is fabulous with a wife and kids that make me happier and prouder every day. I have traveled many a mile and lived a full life and some of the good part of that is because of my dad.


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