I’ve just had an email confrontation of sorts with my father and it’s actually kind of glorious. Skip down to the big indented quote thing to see what I actually said.
Context for those who are new here or don’t necessarily remember every detail of my life :P: my dad was abusive when I was growing up. My mom let it happen. I moved out of their house at 18 but that wasn’t far enough for my liking so at 21 I moved away from my hometown entirely and sent my mother a long letter the day I left (so the postmark wouldn’t reveal my new location) stating that I didn’t want to talk to her or my dad anymore and giving a long list of reasons why. (I addressed the letter solely to her because I hated and feared him so much and – at the time – still thought of her as The Good Parent, relatively speaking).
(My mother got a friend of mine to forward a reply to me, even though I had expressly said that I’d moved away to escape both of them and didn’t want contact. The letter expressed delicate, pearl-clutching shock that I’d been in such a bad emotional state as to move away; she’d allegedly had no idea. She went on to declare that she was just going to focus on the last page of the letter – the part where I said I still loved her and might open up communication with her again one day – and would throw the rest out. This is foreshadowing.)
(Then she and dad went to the police and sobbed that I’d disappeared and they were afraid I’d been kidnapped, and made the police track me down. I got a phone call from my hometown’s cops in my new city. They asked if I was okay and I said yes. They asked if I could possibly come to my hometown’s police station in person to prove it and I said “I’m not taking a three hour bus ride for this bullshit” and they were like “okay then” and hung up and I presume relayed to my parents that I was alive without giving them my address.)
A few years later – I might have been 25 – I did indeed open up communication with my mother again, because I still stupidly thought of her as The Good One (The Dandy knows all of this history and summarized: “she was an expert at playing the victim, so you believed her.”). Also, in moving away like I did I’d kind of cut myself off from my own past, as well; I had no childhood photos of myself, barely remembered any anecdotes about myself as a little kid, when doctors would ask if this or that ailment ran in my family I never actually knew, etc. So it seemed like it might be time to try to establish a relationship again. Only with her; I still didn’t care to associate with him at all. So we started emailing.
The problem is that my mother treats her and my father as a package deal. Like I think she came and visited me on her own once, but otherwise she only offered to see me when she and dad were passing through town on their way to visit my uncle and his family, and she did not offer an option to send him off shopping or something so it would just be us. And I did want to see her, so I grudgingly accepted this. And so we would all hang out every couple of years. But being in proximity to my dad messed me up. Like when I knew I’d be seeing him I would have nightmares of being a little kid and running through an endless series of secret passageways while he chased me with intent to rape or kill me and I’d run screaming to my mother for help and she either wouldn’t acknowledge me or she’d say “just try to stay out of his way.” (I want to note that in real life I was often afraid he’d kill me because of how hugely, screamingly, in-your-face-angry he would get with me, but he never said he was going to or made an attempt. And although he made me feel uncomfortably sexualized at times, if he’d sexually abused me I assume the repressed memories would have surfaced by now. The dreams were brain-hyperbole.)
Over the years I’ve been realizing more and more that my mother is a pretty big piece of shit. Mostly for knowing all the awful things my father did when I was growing up and doing nothing (if not actually defending his actions in some way). I mean she was in the room on a number of occasions when he was having some kind of temper tantrum two inches from my face while I cowered and sobbed. Also there’s the considerable issue of her stupid fucking goldfish brain refusing to take any info on board that she doesn’t like, such that she’s convinced herself that I moved away at 21 for no reason and don’t want to talk to dad ever because I’m just super mean. I’ve re-had the whole “No, the issue is that he’s ABUSIVE. Here is an incomplete list of traumatic incidents he perpetrated” discussion with her several different times and she’ll listen to me until I’m all done and then go “but whyyyyyyy don’t you want to talk to him, though?”
More recently, I’ve had the epiphany that when mom (well, both of my parents, really) claim they want to hear from me more often and know how I’m doing, what they mean is “we own you so you need to acknowledge us goddammit!” – I’ve written some “life update” emails to my mom (and once even grudgingly had an email convo with my dad) and kind of expected a big gush of gratitude about it, giving all the whining about how much they wanted this from me, but instead never got any reply at all.
Oh also I think a big part of my mom’s insistence on knowing how I’m doing is she hopes I’ll have news she can brag about to the rest of the family and I never do. So I’m useless to her as a status symbol and therefore uninteresting.
So I was already pretty done, but then right before the pandemic A Bad Thing happened at work and when I stupidly looked to mom for sympathy she reacted exactly the way she did when I was a kid getting bullied (or abused by my dad): she made excuses for the perpetrator and never at any point expressed actual sympathy or said that what happened was wrong. And that broke my last remaining thread of a relationship with her. I don’t speak to either of them now except to thank them after they e-transfer me money on Christmas or my birthday.
Because yeah…maybe ten years ago my historically super-cheap parents suddenly started giving me money on special occasions. I assume they did this as a bribe of sorts so I’d want to keep them in my life. And for a long time, it kinda worked – I’ve been wanting for a while now to entirely cut them off again but haven’t, solely for that reason (well, and the glimmering hope that I’ll get an inheritance when they die). Remember: I was pretty super poor back then. A lot of that special-occasion money just went toward continuing to keep myself fed and housed.
So I let my emails to my mom dribble down to nothing over the years, and made excuses to avoid their visits whenever possible, but I never formally told them to fuck off. I figured eventually things would come to some sort of head, though. I mean they’re paying me and I’m not “putting out.”
ANYWAY. My birthday is sometime around now and my dad(!) just wrote to me asking if I’d hang out with them the next time they passed through my city.
Out of habit, I started coming up with excuses that would allow me to politely keep stringing them along; that my father is writing to me about this now feels like a veiled “should we give you birthday money this year or is it not worth it?” and I hoped to keep the money flowing. But I wasn’t sure which excuse to use, so I consulted with The Dandy.
He said “Why not just tell your dad the truth: that every time they visit, you end up reliving childhood trauma and you don’t want to go through that anymore.”
“Yeeeeah, but then I likely won’t get reparations anymore.” (I refer to their Xmas and birthday money as “reparations” for my shitty childhood.)
“If they’re giving you the money in exchange for a relationship with you, it’s not really reparations. It can’t really be reparations unless they know they traumatized you and you don’t want contact with them and they choose to give you money anyway.”
“Yeah…” I said. “And I’m in a way better place in my life now, so I don’t need the money like I used to. Wait………WAIT…..do we think my father even knows why I barely talk to him? Or has my mom been protecting him from that for decades? She may not have told him about the letter or anything else. He may have no idea his actions have even affected me.”
“Maybe!” The Dandy said.
Either way, I expect it would hurt my father to be confronted by his own behaviour, which is nice (I mean he psychologically scarred me for life; he deserves to get some back). And in being honest with him, I would stop the charade of pretending that I was open for visits in theory but just so goshdarned busy – the requests for visits would just stop. And if my parents stopped transferring me money on special occasions after that, well, that would just make it really clear exactly what kind of selfish, transactional people they are.
Also, The Dandy and I got off onto a riff somehow about what would happen if I did see my parents and my dad and I somehow ended up in a physical fight – like, if he had a screaming tantrum and got up in my face to shove me like when I was a kid but instead of cowering I endeavoured to punch his teeth down his throat (realistically this would never happen, for a bunch of reasons, but The Dandy and I talked about it anyway). The Dandy said that in a case like that, having written an email to my father ahead of time outlining some of the specific abusive things he’s done might serve as some kind of court evidence that there was precedent of him being violent with me and I was simply defending myself. And, y’know…I’m not sure if it’ll ever come in handy IRL, but I figure it can’t hurt to have evidence that I’ve confronted my father about some specific things he did. And if he replies with basically anything besides “that never happened/you made all of that up” it’ll act as proof that he did something.
(Oddly – considering how generally sensible and smart he is – The Dandy’s suggestion for my email was to say that seeing my parents traumatizes me because X, Y, and Z and because of the pandemic decimating my modeling career I’m stressed out and not equipped to deal with additional shit. I was like “No, I don’t need an excuse to not want to be traumatized.”)
Anyway, The Dandy’s suggestion to just be honest seemed like a pretty great idea on all fronts, so here is what I wrote in response to my father asking if he and mom could visit sometime soon:
Truth be told, every time I see the two of you it brings up a lot of childhood memories like you screaming at me for any tiny thing that annoyed you, the time you got so angry at me that you punched a hole in the wall right next to my head, the time you outright told me after one of your tantrums that you’d come very close to hitting me, the times you would “playfully” squeeze one of my hands to the point of pain while taunting “do you want me to break your hand? Do you want me to break your hand?”, the times you’d “playfight” with me even though I hated it and was yelling “stop!” and trying to get away (incidentally my tailbone is crooked and I’m pretty sure that’s from you kicking my legs out from under me so I landed coccyx-first on the kitchen floor when I was a kid – I was in pain for weeks so it’s a fair bet I got a fracture that healed weird), the super uncomfortable phase during my late teens when you felt compelled to comment on my body all the time (“showing a little cleavage today, huh?”) etc etc etc etc etc – and mom sitting by and letting it all happen. Excusing you, even. Do you know that after a particularly awful “playfight” she once told me that I had to “be the adult” in these situations because you couldn’t? I was probably ten years old and all bruised up from a grown man slapping me around, and she told me it was up to ME to manage YOUR behaviour.
Anyway, when I see you this all comes flooding back and I end up pretty fucked up for a good while.
And I don’t want to deal with that anymore.
I thought that dredging all those horrible memories up might agitate me, but mostly I feel lighter. Kind of free. Because I didn’t just dredge the memories up, I said “here, YOU take these” and threw them at my dad’s face. And I did it in writing, so if he turns out to have a stupid fucking goldfish brain like my mother does and keeps asking whyyyyyyy I don’t like him, I can just keep saying “I won’t rehash this. Go read the email again.” Or more likely I’ll just completely ignore him. I said my piece.
It occurs to me, too, that my parents are very very hung up on appearances – so I’ve likely trapped them in a dilemma where they won’t want to give me money anymore because I’ve stopped holding up my part of the transactional relationship, but they won’t want to stop giving me money because they don’t want it to look like their love is transactional. Oh, this is delightful. I should’ve done this years ago.
I sent the email maybe sixteen hours ago, btw, and have not received a reply or a birthday money transfer at this time. I’m certain I’ve caused some kind of panicky commotion in their household and that’s why there’s been radio silence, though I’m not sure exactly what kind of commotion – is he confronting my mother, asking “is this why our kid doesn’t speak to me? Did you know about this?!?”? Is he running to my mother going “help, I have absolutely no memory of any of these incidents!” and she’s like “I knowwwww! Our kid keeps making up weird shit. How do we even respond to that?” or are they openly debating on the optics of cutting me off from the birthday money supply or…?
If anything happens I’ll keep you posted.