The Dad He Used To Be

When I got the idea for this post I tore the house apart to find a particular picture of me and my dad. It’s a favorite of mine. I was about 18 years old, walking down the street, holding hands with my dad and my grandfather. My two favorite men in my life at the time. I couldn’t find it. So I said, well, I’ll just find another one. And then I realized. There ISN’T another one. My dad is still alive. I’m in my 40’s and I don’t have another picture of him and me.

Now I believe that every family is dysfunctional. What distinguishes us from other families is the degree of dysfunction. Ours has its fair share. My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder. She is high functioning. When we were kids, friends would tell us how much they admired our family. My sister and I would look at each other like they were nuts! Seriously? You’d enjoy not being spoken to for days? Being pulled around by your hair? Getting in trouble for leaving 2 kernels of corn in the sink? Testing the “waters” every morning to gauge the mood? Doing everything in your power to make sure Mom was happy? Because we all know — if Mom ain’t happy then nobody is happy. That was never more true than in our house.

When I was young my dad was good at diffusing the “situations.”  He’d say, “She’ll get over it.” He’d calm her down – sometimes. And if that didn’t work  he’d take us out of the house for awhile. As a result, we were able to develop a relationship with him. He’d take us fishing. To baseball games. I learned about songs he liked. Heard  stories about him growing up. When we moved out of the house things began to change.

I guess because he no longer had his daughters as a distraction he began falling under my mom’s spell. Things that angered her now angered him. The whole cycle of putting someone on a pedestal, worshipping everything about them and then tearing them down and throwing them in the dog house – he follows now, too. My mother, ever so impressed with titles, would brag about their neighbor “the Supreme Court Judge.” (Before you start guessing who – not the Federal Supreme Court,  the State Supreme Court) Anyway, then she was telling me a story about the Spinster next door and I said, “Wait. I know about the Supreme Court Judge neighbor but who is the Spinster?” And she said, “The Supreme Court Judge IS the Spinster. But she’s not really a Supreme Court Judge anymore. She’s retired.”

I envy my friends who have lunch with their dads. Talk to them on the phone without someone listening in. When my parents lived closer any time I’d stop in to see my dad at the coffee house he ran he’d hurry and call my mom to join us. Oh, I could do things alone with my mom. But I couldn’t with my dad anymore. She’d get so jealous. She’d accuse us of loving him more than her. And to survive her wrath my dad gives in to her demons. I once asked him whatever happened to the man who used to say “She’ll get over it?” He rolled his eyes and said, “That’s minimizing her feelings.”

I read in a self help book on BPD that spouses and children often take on the traits of their partner/parent and can become BPD themselves. My sister and I ran in the other direction as fast as we could. We constantly check in with each other, a barometer of sorts, assuring ourselves that we’re making sane choices with our husbands and children.

I miss my dad. But I’ve come to realize I miss the dad he used to be. Or at least, the one I thought he was.

(I still can’t find that picture. But I promise, if I do, I’ll post it with this entry.)


Filed under Growing Up

9 responses to “The Dad He Used To Be

  1. ck

    That was raw and sad and beautiful. I hail from dysfunction too, though I was lucky that my mom kept it from entering our house. But it’s out there. Eating away at my grandparents (that I’m fortunate not to live anywhere near) and some of my aunts and uncles who I’ve had to cut off because of how nasty they are. It’s sad that my kids will grow up never knowing them, but it’s better than having to explain why these people who should love them are mean.

    I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this. And I really appreciate what it took to share something so personal.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment and share a piece of your story, as well. I once had a friend comment on how sad it was that my kids won’t know their grandparents very well. But I have to remember; do I really want my kids to know them that well? Our once a year or every two year visits are fine with me. Seeing them so infrequently doesn’t give them the real picture. And quite honestly? I’d rather keep them in the dark.

  2. “The whole cycle of putting someone on a pedestal, worshipping everything about them and then tearing them down and throwing them in the dog house–”

    Wow. My dad is borderline too…and this really struck a note with me.

    I love that you said you are constantly checking in with your sister to see what is “sane”…that fear is what I think kept me from being in a serious relationship for so long. The fear that I’d have to end up like my parents, rather than realizing that I learned from them how NOT to be. And that is okay.

    Thank you for this post…

    • I’m so sorry that you’ve suffered with a borderline parent, too. It really messes with your grasp of reality. I hope you have a “barometer” to check in with. And don’t worry. You’ve been taught all these years what NOT to do in a relationship. You’re going to be fine! (still looking forward to hearing how the wedding goes! Congrats, again!)

  3. It’s so nice when someone new comes a-visiting my blog, leaves a nice comment, and then I get to click over to their blog and find something as eloquent and meaningful as this entry. It makes me happy to reciprocate.

    Not to be an armchair psychologist, but my neighbor has what appears to be BPD. She’s always changing her expectations of the people around her, always falling in and out of love with a new friend every few months — and, of course, she is endlessly let down by what she sees as other people’s fatal shortcomings. It seems like a tough row to hoe — for her and for the people around her, particularly her kids and husband. I have a mild form of bipolar disorder myself (mildly bipolar sounds like some sort of oxymoron, doesn’t it?), so I worry a lot about how my mood instability could affect my children, in terms of both nature and nurture. The worst were the times when my daughter was about two, my husband was deployed for a year, and I noticed my daughter was beginning to sort of scan my eyes in the mornings to get a gauge of what kind of mom I was going to be that day. The more off-kilter I felt, the more she seemed to pick up on it, and the more volatile her own behavior seemed to be. For that reason, I was particularly moved by what you wrote about always having to check the waters with your own mom. What a tough job for a kid. I’m happy to say that my daughter doesn’t seem to gauge my eyes anymore, hopefully because I’ve worked hard to get my moods and behavior under control, to make sure she doesn’t have to worry like that. I’m sorry that you basically lost your dad to your mom’s disorder. It’s a shame. Your insight and tenderness in describing that experience are touching.

    • I’m wowed by your response. By everyone’s response to this post, actually. I’ve had an interesting childhood. When I became an adult and realized I can set boundries, an even more interesting adulthood. I’m just surprised, honored and touched that by sharing these experiences other people are touched as well. Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

  4. That was an amazing story. I’m impressed with how well you made it through and your sister too. I’m sorry about you “loosing” your dad. I’m impressed that you keep checking to make sure you’re still sane. I’m only learning to do that now as I’ve learned my mom is co-dependent and I learned a lot of nasty things from her.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Aw, this post is amazing, I’m so glad I found it! I totally empathise and I think I see the same things too sadly. Well done for finding the strength to craft your own reality and make a happy family. 🙂

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