I have gotten to an age when many of my contemporaries are losing their parents. I hear them and see them mourning their parent and I can see how life changing an event it can be.
So, I try to be appreciative. My parents are still alive and together. That makes me lucky, right?
They love my kids. They love my husband more and more each passing year.
I swear on everything that is good in my life that I try to have a positive attitude about my parents. The last thing I ever want to do is complain about some asshole comment my father has made and then have a friend say, "You're lucky you still have a father. Stop being an immature, whiny brat."
But that puts more pressure on me to accept all of my parents' shit than I probably deserve.
When the kids were babies I used to look forward to my parents' visits. It was a break for me. With my husband gone so much, my mother was really the only person in the world I truly trusted to take care of my kids so that I could have a break. (My father doesn't babysit, even his own grandbabies.)
But in the last, well, maybe 5 or 6, or even 8 years, their visits bring nothing but stress and anxiety.
My father is a very selfish person. My mother waits on him hand and foot. (Quite literally, she ties his shoes and everything.) He is as self-centered as it is possible for a person to be. So my mother, who could be a very nice person to be around if left to her own devices, is a complete wreck. She is afraid of him. She treats everyone else in the family like we're going to criticize her constantly the way my father does. She is always apologizing and qualifying.
It is very annoying.
But his criticizing is the crux of the problem for me, his daughter.
I always knew he criticized a lot, but I don't think I truly realized how much until I was an adult with a family of my own. He'd criticize my parenting and I'd say, "But aren't they the best kids in the world? I must be doing something right."
And he'd say, "Yeah, but..." And continue to criticize me even more.
I put up with this behavior my entire life because, 1) I know he loves me. 2) I'm supposed to appreciate even having a father. And 3) because he is my kids' grandfather and they need family associations in their lives.
But, well, my husband has been deployed a long time. He was gone a long time, came back and left again for a long time. And I'm doing the fucking best I can here, with no help from my parents or anyone else. When they visited a couple of weeks ago, I'd had enough.
My mother says I am the only person who stands up to my father. But the truth is that deep down I am just as afraid of him now as I was as a kid. I don't really know why. What's he going to do? Hit me? I doubt it, but what he will do is throw a fit and make everyone's lives miserable. A fear born in childhood can linger a long time.
So, I tried to joke it out into the open.
My father wasn't here five minutes when he started to criticize me. First off, it was my car. I told him, "You know, I am going to keep a list of every time you criticize me while you're here and then send it to (my husband) so he can see what I have to deal with while he's deployed."
He kind of laughed and purposefully added a few more criticisms for me to pass along.
This went on and on during their visit. I'm too hard on the kids. I'm not hard enough on the kids. I'm fat. My kids are fat. My door doesn't work right. I don't clean my car windshield the right way. On and on and on. And every single criticism big or small has a story and a justification to go along with it.
Well, on the last day he was here he was criticizing my husband for something he had done eleven years ago. Eleven years! Our daughter was crawling and headed toward some bricks she wasn't supposed to be on and my husband said "no" to her in too harsh a tone for my father's liking. Though if he had let her crawl on the bricks, we would have heard about that too.
"He yelled at her like a dog!" my father said.
Eleven years ago.
"You know," I told him, "Has it ever occurred to you that he was just trying too hard because he knew you were watching and you are so absolutely critical?"
Well, that did it. I crossed a line. I got yelled at. A lot.
Later that day, my father said to me, "You don't need to be so sensitive. I'm just trying to help. It takes a village to raise a child."
And it occurred to me right then and there that my father has missed one key element of my life that makes me me.
I left the village.
I chose to leave the village because the village sucked. My husband and I both chose to leave the village because we didn't want to have our kids subjected to the same things we were.
I just shook my head at my father that day. I'm done. Done.
My mother always justifies his behavior (and it is much worse than I have stated here. Some things are not for public consumption) by saying that he doesn't drink or beat her (apparently the occasional hitting doesn't count) and somehow her mindset found its way into me. But is that any way to judge a person?
Personally I think the long term damage that man has done to my mother's self esteem by his constant emotional abuse and control is just as bad. (My mother isn't allowed to go into a doctor's exam on her own. Ever. I just found that out. How horrible is that.)
I want to take complete responsibility for who I am. I really do. But the older I get I notice more and more these weird little things that I do because of the way I was treated by my parents.
And so I sit here and berate myself for every similar thing I've done to my own kids.
There is a time to cut people out of your life. I've always believed that. You can only try so much with some people. If they hurt you, even after you've made it clear to them that they are hurting you, then they need to go.
But cutting your father out of you life? That's a tough one.
I really don't know what to do. The "ignore him!" stance I've been trying to use for the last 16 years really isn't working so well.
But when he is gone, I'll be picking up the pieces of my mother. I know it.
And that sucks.