15 May How I Got The Dad I Always Deserved
Almost three years ago, I walked away from a good job in the electrical industry. I had been working there for over seven years, but it had always seemed like a dead end to me. I always had the nagging feeling I was destined for something greater.
“What is my purpose?”
I asked myself that question daily. I didn’t know who I was — but whoever I was I had to find myself… fast! That’s why I pursued personal growth at first — for professional reasons.
It was all just business to me.
Part way through my year-long personal growth program, I became aware I had a deep-seated anger towards my father for things he did more than ten years ago, and in some cases almost 30 years ago.
My role in my family was always “the supportive one.” I was the one who had everything together when everyone else was falling apart. I was the one no one had to worry about.
And I was very, very angry.
I tried to work through my anger, but it seemed to seep out at every opportunity. My dad didn’t know where the anger was coming from, but I couldn’t tell him either. I regret that I was hurtful towards him at times. He would try to reach out to me by calling to have lunch together every few weeks.
Still, the anger wouldn’t go away.
As I continued on my journey of personal growth, I became more self-aware, and I also made efforts to learn about the events that had happened over the course of my life that still affected me in the present.
I wrote out my entire life story in 10,000 words. As I wrote and re-wrote my story, I realized that some things were not necessarily the way I had interpreted them. I didn’t really know why this person or that person did what they did. I became aware that I was living my life upon a layer of beliefs, and that some of those long-held beliefs were false all along.
I also went to therapy where I could express my anger. This helped lessen its power over me. But I also remembered other events that had always been in the background and were slowly moving front and centre. I remembered a few times when my dad had sat me down and admitted to making mistakes.
He was sorry.
I also remembered in a blurry sort of way, that my dad had taken us on many bike trips, road trips, picnics, fishing trips, and even trips to Europe, Asia, the United States, and Eastern Canada — all because he wanted to show us the world and spend time as a family.
I remember sitting on the hot seat during my personal growth program and ranting about how angry I was. Philip, my mentor, asked, “Do you think your dad loves you?” A distinct memory flickered at the back of my mind, the scene of a car accident several years ago. I paused. “Yes, I know he loves me,” was the answer.
Many people with troublesome childhoods suppress their memories, which causes them to remember things differently than others. But there is an incredible healing power in our most cherished childhood memories – the ones that remind us that we are or were loved.
When I feel angry, I focus on these memories.
Along my journey, I came across Dave Pelzer’s books. Dave Pelzer is a survivor of child abuse who wrote several autobiographical/self-help books over the course of his life. There is great wisdom in books and I wanted to know what I could learn from his story that could perhaps help me.
I read his latest book Too Close To Me. In it, Dave shares a recurring memory of a time when he knew his mother actually loved him. At the end of the book, Dave acknowledges that he loved his late mother who had severely abused him, and that she was also worthy of love. He found it in himself to have empathy and compassion for his mother, and so his story didn’t end in anger, nor in workaholism which was a persistent theme in his life.
Another important book I read was Invincible: The 10 Lies You Learn Growing Up with Domestic Violence, and the Truths to Set You Free by Brian Martin. This book is notable because it is the first book ever published for adults who grew up with domestic violence as children, estimated at approximately one billion people worldwide according to UNICEF.
This book gave me a name and language for the main storyline of my life. In its empowering messages, it helped me to see the gift I received from my suffering. I understand the pain of others who have lived with family violence. It also told me that the way forward for me was to contribute somehow to making the world a better place. I had a choice: to do nothing or to help others like me.
It was hard not to notice, however, that my story of childhood domestic violence ended differently than the stories of many others, because my dad also had a choice, and ten years ago he chose love over anger. Unlike many men, my dad changed his ways. In my seven years of trying to keep it together while resenting every minute of it, and in the midst of my anger, I was not fully engaging in the relationship with my dad or with anyone else in my family.
But after so many years I can finally recognize the magnitude and the impact of my dad’s choice to change. I can appreciate the strength and the fortitude that it took for him to change out of his love for us. And so I finally forgave him.
Having empathy for my dad has helped me reconcile with the things I did or didn’t do that I was ashamed about or blamed myself for. I gained access to the deepest, vastest, most plentiful reserves of forgiveness, compassion, and love for myself that I have ever known.
The therapist I visited once asked me, “Can you give Little You the things she didn’t have?” In that moment, my initial reaction was, Are you kidding me? Little Me was never going to get those things she didn’t have. Then I realized that if Little Me didn’t get those things, my son wouldn’t get those things either. In spirit, I gave Little Me the dad she always deserved, and now he is really my dad.
It was not my dad’s fault that I worked at a job that didn’t fulfill me for so long. Many of my life choices were not his fault, but I would not wish my story on anyone. For the longest time, I hated my story so very much. At the same time, my story has shaped my identity and has helped me to find purpose.
Now I want to help others with stories of family violence. Stories like that of my dad who chose to change his ways are an important, but often overlooked part of the big picture in the conversation on family violence. These stories demonstrate that there is a path to change for those who choose to take it, and can prevent further violence by inviting other men and people to choose love over anger.
But it’s not only up to brave men to travel the difficult journey. It’s up to each one of us to mindfully respond with love, however that looks to us, and to find love and compassion within ourselves along the brave path.
Joan Lee Tu created The Brave Man Book, a social impact book project, based on her personal story. She is soliciting personal stories of men who were violent and chose to change their ways to publish into a book in an embracing and compassionate manner. She lives in Calgary, Alberta with her husband and son. For more information: www.joanleetu.com
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