It's more important that we all suffer and eat all the shit he dishes out, than that he have to face up to his own responsibilities - because he is The Good Guy and the one who deserves protection, that nobody else merits. The last time he decided he was going to "reconcile" with me - with those revelations that broke my last psychic brake cable - I told him, I warned him in advance that I didn't think he could bear to listen to me, to hear me out, to listen to how badly he'd hurt me over the years and how these were systematic patterns that he did to all of us and was still doing and needed to stop if he really didn't like having us keep on walking away from him. That there couldn't be Reconciliation without Truth, and truth hurts. He insisted that he could handle it - and then broke it off abruptly when I yet again wouldn't give him easy absolution, saying that it wasn't doing either of us any good, as if I hadn't warned him all along that he couldn't handle the truth, and that I was making him drink too much again - Oh yeah, party of personal responsibility!
"You're so lucky to have such a happy family, you're so lucky to have the parents you have, you're so lucky they're together and not divorced like mine, if only I could have your home life" - Yeah, if only. I'd have traded in a heartbeat, all those years when I was wondering if I cut my elbows with a razor blade like in Quo Vadis, at midnight, if I could bleed out in the dark before I was discovered in the morning...only I'd have to burn all my writings first, and I was so closely restrained and watched and demanded to know what I was doing that I couldn't see a way to sneak them out of the house to the far side of the farthest hill to burn them, the same reason that my plans always were thwarted to walk out into sub-zero weather without a coat as far as I could and try to hide until it was too late never were during that interval before I found those refuges however temporary at school and work with adults who didn't think picking on me was their best form of recreation...
Children teaching other children to walk, to read, to brush their hair, to dress themselves; children screwing up and giving other children Nursmaid's Elbow because an eight-year-old doesn't know any better, doesn't know that she could dislocate a toddler's arm like that; children trying to teach other children manners and safety and housekeeping and failing and being punished for their willfull incompetence - it wasn't just me. If it was just me, it wouldn't matter.
Even knowing that the reason I get panic attacks when I'm doing the dishes is that when I had to do them I was trapped, and he could stand there and harangue me to his heart's content and I couldn't go anywhere, and he to taunt me and try to peer down and see if I were crying and then scold me for being such a weakling, and say that I wanted to stab him with one of the steak knives (no, I wanted to stab myself, and was afraid that the books I'd read about true crime and forensics were wrong about where to put it in to avoid sticking on a rib, and I'd survive to face the humiliations of hospitalization and being blamed for being such a horrible person as to try to hurt the family by killing myself) and laugh at me for being trapped there - even so, I can't not have panic attacks at my own sink (it doesn't happen anywhere that isn't my home), or such a wash of loathing and despair that I can't keep on. I guess that means I am a weakling...
"You're so hard and stoic, you should cry more, you need to open yourself up and be vulnerable, how else do you expect anyone to love you?"
"How come you never answer the phone when I call you any more?"
"Why don't you ever come to me with your questions, your problems?" he'd reproached me, when he was being good, reeling in the yo-yo. So I trusted, and did, and he cut me off, assumed he knew what I was asking and why, assumed he knew what my position already was when I was coming to him for advice, taking on face value for the moment that he really was older/wiser/of-good-will and I did have a duty to turn to my father for advice, and he first mocked me up and down and sideways for what he thought I thought, and then went on to humiliate me for having held such a thing to other people, for years thereafter, and I knowing what would happen if I tried to correct him, let him get away with it.
It's not "learned helplessness," it's "learned futility." If whatever you do gets the same results, you might as well do anything - or nothing.
What do you do, when you're ordered to do something the wrong way by your boss over all your protests? Do you just go ahead and follow orders and let him deal with the fall-out? That's disloyalty, to go ahead and obey when overruled, he said when he demanded why I'd done something that didn't work, knowing it wouldn't work, when he'd yelled at me to "just do it" and so I did. Is it disobedience and disrespectful to quietly go around and do it the right way, sneaking paperwork home to file it on your own time, not asking the stoner IT dude who didn't know anything about any of the software we were using but finding the manuals and figuring out how to fix the problems yourself, recalling how your boss himself had boasted over the years of your childhood how he had done end-runs around clueless supervisors in order to get the task done correctly-- knowing you're going to get yelled at for being disobedient/disrespectful if you get caught, because to imply that he'd be so unreasonable as to not listen to your attempts to show him why you were right was the greatest form of disrespect...
The funny thing is, if he'd let me go away to that arty coed Catholic boarding high school that one of his friends ran the way I wanted, I likely never would have seen through it all; but "it wouldn't be good for you to be away from home at such a young age" and so I was trapped in hell, mental and physical, for those years instead and the seeds of rebellion were planted and watered even if they had yet to sprout, deep deep down under all the layers of Duty and Damnation and general Fear; and I built my spirtual castle, my interior fortress high and deep and within my walls I did not yield, I did not Surrender my autonomy. --Not yet.
"A mere technician," he would sneer, after having destroyed my ability to do anything creative, having made it so aversive that even to try to sketch something caused acute nausea attacks and migraines, because praising workers for being diligent and dutiful and serving humanity in whatever capacity they might was for other humans, not monsters like me. --Yes, a "mere technician" - who can figure out workarounds for problems that nobody else has even encountered, that there are no manuals for, that no single software program existing can fix, and do it under deadline while running three other machines - saving the butts of people like you who have neither gratitude nor comprehension--
I loathed being praised as a teenager for having taken over the running of the entire household when my mother fell sick, because what else could I do? It was merely my duty, which I did not feel I discharged particularly well; I had no place else to go, and anyway I was raised Vor, it was all about Duty, and how could I run out on those who needed me, no matter how much they disliked and despised and resented me? It didn't occur to me that I could have followed her example and taken off, as she did on her own handicapped and increasingly sickly mother and more than once, as I eventually discovered when my grandfather made a bit of a compare/contrast to me, though still making excuses for her own inability to cope and resistance to coming home to care for my grandmother at the end...
I did what had to be done, as best I could, which wasn't very (and I had help); I cooked and cleaned and brought in the wood when machismo led to spinal disaster and fired the stove and drove kids to soccer and after school activities and did the shopping and had to be pushed/permitted to make time for myself and I was a saint; then, all the sudden I was back to being a wretched worthless screwup, insincere and inauthentic and pretending to be good because I was a Goody-Two-Shoes, but I didn't fool him, even though I was doing/saying nothing different.
--"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, you shouldn't be a perfectionist, I'll tell you what your problem is - you're a fanatic like your mother."
Imagine if the Lord of the Nazgul suddenly burst into tears in the middle of the battle about how nobody loved him, everybody hated him because he was an undead Evil warlock and didn't anyone understand how HARD it is being hated like that and how LONELY and he was just gonna go eat worms--
How do you deal with that? I mean, yeah, it probably does suck majorly to be the Witch-King of Angmar, but still-- Better not let your guard down--
I was mocked for being squeamish, and forbidden to watch R-rated movies that my male juniors were encouraged to; I was mocked for being a weakling, yet required to shovel rocks in the garden and carry large baskets of wet laundry - and then treated as a freak when I was not as weak after all as I looked, an "amazon," unnatural, as happened in turn to my sisters as well; I was derided for being stupid, and when I was able to prove I was not, scolded for showing off; I could not win so I gave up.
And yet, I kept getting suckered back into trying to kick the football, Griselda hasn't reached the end of her patience yet, maybe this time he'll finally see it, and no, no he won't, the yo-yo gets flung away again...
Being a failure, a loser, worthless and no good - I could never go back to see my old teachers who had been so kind to me because they had had such high hopes for me to become an art major, and I'd ended up as a nothing. I couldn't face them, and their disappointment.
"You're so selfish, focusing on your own problems - now listen to mine" - or better yet, "Don't you think you should pity me for being such a lonely bastard, who nobody likes because I have such a bad temper? Don't you think that's a terrible cross to bear?" Life's so hard for an abuser who's alienated everyone around him except for the current occupants of the Pedestals--
I could literally do nothing right - he'd find me doing some task and demand to know why I was doing it that way, was I too stupid to see that it was more efficient to do it the other way? and then I'd do it the other way, and he'd say "Why are you doing it like that?" and I'd say "Because you told me to" and he'd call me a liar and say that he would never have told me to do something so inefficiently...
Once he actually grabbed my hand as I was using the mouse and dragged it to show me how to click faster. Yes, just like that Dilbert cartoon.
But if I tried to show him keyboard shortcuts or if I used them in front of him he got angry at me 'cause I was showing off to make him feel bad.
He has always claimed that he is humble and ready to learn from anyone, no matter if they are older or younger than he - but don't try to take him up on it unless he recognizes you as a social equal, at least. As Mme. Vorsoisson relearned many times, you cannot bow low enough to avoid threatening the insecure...
How can you ever become "organized" when every way you try to do something turns out to be wrong? When every priority you set is claimed to be the wrong one, when you can't get any guidance about what's the right way - read, the acceptable way - because "you're supposed to figure it out for yourself" but if even following instructions is wrong (when you do it) then there's no hope to get it right.
Either I was just so stupid that yes, everything I did and every way I did it was wrong (except when it wasn't and I was A Wonderful, Wonderful Housekeeper, for those brief Pedestalled months) or else - I wasn't.
"You should be more proactive. You need INITIATIVE. That's what being in the military teaches you, maybe you should join the military, give you some self-discipline" (even though women don't belong in the military and one of my earliest memories after their marriage is him boasting of how he and his buddies would sexually harass the women in their squadron while on base) "hey wait, you didn't ask permission, you should NEVER do anything without letting me sign off on it first because it represents the company and so reflects on me" - of course he never would sign off on anything, either.
"Why hasn't this been done?"
"Um, So-and-so hasn't gotten to it yet."
"Then why haven't you done it instead? You shouldn't just be passive and let things slide, you should leap in and take charge if you see something isn't getting done. Never say something isn't your job!"
"--Why are you doing that? That's So-and-so's job! You shouldn't horn in on other people's work, that's disrespectful and arrogant of you!"
"It's so much harder being a boy, girls have it so easy by comparison."
It was hard to maintain my for-me-mellowing and moderate position that Christian marriage was not, perhaps, intrinsically evil, but rather - though I did not yet then have the vocabulary to articulate these concepts - a permissible kink, even if a permanent 24/7 M/s situation with the male automatically dominant and the female the submissive partner and no way out of the contract DID seem a little out there (even serious BDSM practitioners often regard this as unhealthy, to the dudgeon of those who practice it) and even if the questions of "safe" and "sane" were removed by making the challenge of the Master to be as kind and undomineering as possible, and the "consensual" was always a little iffy when there was no moral sexual alternative allowed in the community, still who was I to judge those who chose to play this game of Mundane Goreanism even if it squicked me out beyond the power of words to tell - but when I was asked to talk about my life honestly and did and said that being poor wasn't much fun, telling me that I should marry (or should have) a rich man doesn't help the little voice going "Meat-for-sex arrangements! Legalized prostitution! Sugar-coated slavery! Gilded cages! The Free Love folks were right all along--" in the back of my head...
One of my younger sisters tearfully pleaded to be hit instead of harangued about how she was such a horrible wretched child, just to be beaten and get it over with - I was too proud to beg, but oh how I understood the sentiment.
What a pitiful fool I was: one of the compounding prior problems that has led to this upper-back/neck/shoulder mess I have, from years before the accident, was that he forced me to sleep in a bed after I moved out. How could he, you ask? Because I was too dutiful (ie scared of Sin Cooties) to lie about it on the grounds that it wasn't any business of his what I did, and far too inhibited to tell him off, particularly when he had been so gracious as to give me a job. So he decided I needed to sleep in a bed, and got me one - a flimsy, rickety, beat-up folding cot from the junkyard, which caused me such excruciating pain that I would have rather gone back to sleeping on the floor on a bedroll as I had for years by choice, in what was half convenience for me, and half secret-defiance (Wrinkles on the bedspread! Slob! Slob! Slob! You have no respect for the family or for even your own things! I should take your room away from you and give it to someone else!) and was perfectly comfortable as far as I was concerned.
But I didn't dare defy him openly. (Not after STILL hearing about the foot-stamping affair, over five years later.) He'd demand of me at work every morning if I was or was not sleeping in the bed, because he CARED about my well-being, you see, and I didn't dare lie, and I didn't dare tell him with all DUE respect to back off, it was MY body, MY life, and MY apartment, and MY choice to sleep on the floor I was paying for with MY hard-earned money now (that would be feminist, rebellion, ungrateful, disrespectful) - so my back and my neck got worse and worse, cracking and grinding, until I finally did snap and hacked it up with a saw and put it out for the trash. And then I caved in enough to spend money to buy myself a conventional bedframe and mattress, and mildly told him that I'd had to replace the wireframe cot because it really was hurting my back. (He'd claimed I was putting it on, for some perverse reason, when I told him so earlier.)
But it was too late, and I could never either afford to go to physical therapy or take the time off to do it at the same time. So I hear a crunching noise like gravel every time I turn my head, these past fifteen years, because I fell for the Obedience thing.
Every man - or every normal man - wants to beat any possible suitor for his daughter's hand to death with a baseball bat. How this is compatible with the goal of getting your daughters married off before they "get pregnant" and disgrace the family, or turn into spinster-losers, is left as an excercise for the reader.
When he couldn't find something amiss with my clothes - lint, cat hair, wrinkles, unfashionability, my slip showing or was I wearing a slip? I've never known a woman who obsessed so much about my clothing as he did - he would start in on my hair for being "messy," to the point where I was constantly slipping into the washroom at work and slicking it down with water lest he start pointing out stray wisps, or worse yet poking at it with his fingers, even the bits of hair just starting to grow along the hairline came in for complaint. And then there was the way that I shouldn't wear large earrings, because they were "distracting" and didn't go with my face...
If I could have gotten away with wearing a veil, I would have. I envied Orual her courage.
Dependence entitles the supporter to abuse freely - and independence is a bad thing. Can we say "Catch-22," kiddies?
It wasn't just things done that were always done wrong, when I did them - it was everything I said, too. Did I express an opinion - no matter how much milder than his, no matter how much it was his--? I was harsh and judgmental and I was a mean nasty awful person who needed to learn humility. Did I withhold judgment, refuse to condemn or criticize, whether of morals or tactics or taste? I was lukewarm, wishy-washy, to be spat out of the mouth of God, and worst of all nice, which as Sondheim said was "nothing" at all. Did I then boldly declare an opinion? Back to square one again! Until I hardly knew what I thought at all, and my responses grew so delayed on everything that I could only express opinions, react, respond, think or speak in stories, in the form of the characters in my head when I withdrew--
What is the difference, between trying to buy the retroactive right to hurt someone with presents, and buying indulgences to get out of past sins? I'm not sure that I see any, psychologically.
You're so arrogant - you think you know better than your old man - you're not even half my age and you've never been out in the world, you haven't traveled and seen the things I've seen -
No, but 2+2 is still not 5, even if I'm not sure what it is...
One day things might seem like they were fine, as fine as it ever got for us, and I'd be requested to water the plants and feed the pets while they were on vacation - and then I'd abruptly be told to hand in my house keys, that he didn't like having me there while they were gone - thought I'd steal the nonexistant family silver? burn it down? what? I don't even know-- and then a few weeks or months later he'd demand to know why I didn't come around more often, the younger kids thought I didn't like them any more, didn't I know I was Part Of The Family and always welcome? and then I'd come over and see that he was still being weird and nasty to all the kids at the dinner table, and start automatically trying to go into peacemaker mode to try to deflect his attention from my siblings, and oh god, there's no END to this is there?
Or he'd tell me it was stupid of me to go to the laundromat when I could use the washing machine at their house, and after a certain amount of really? you sure? you're not just offering out of a sense of obligation? and him getting offended that I'd even suggest it, I'd take him up on it to avoid insulting him - only after a few weeks he started accusing me of "just using us as a laundromat" so I stopped, realizing that there was this tension between him wanting to feel like a benefactor and that old hatred and loathing of me that had never ever really gone away, only been stuck in cold storage for the brief time I was on the Housewife Pedestal, getting to play the Proverbs Woman role... If I wasn't around, I wasn't a Near Occasion for him, and also I wouldn't be stuck in the impossible position of trying to run interference for the rest of the kids and in the process make things worse for them yet again, with the freedom to escape at the end of it.
You think you're so smart, you think your old man's full of it--
Well, I wouldn't if he didn't go on spouting things contrary to my direct experience, like how nobody in the media was allowed to make fun of anyone but white/male/Christians (AM radio: it's real, it exists! and existed back in the 90s, too) or how nobody was willing to hire women because they were afraid that if they had to fire them we'd file false sexual harassment complaints (and yet I saw women being fired all the time at the places I worked and frequented and nobody seemed to be scared to do it) or doing things like saying that since ammonia is a good cleaner and bleach is a good cleaner they'll be an even better cleaner mixed together and we're just wimps for complaining that the fumes hurt our eyes (until an acceptable authority was discovered recommending not to do it) or how my college degree was somehow magically getting me a better job than I would have without it even though there was zilch evidence of this and nobody else I worked with had one, just experience & training and I'd been told flat out that someone with my education was overqualified for many jobs and "wouldn't be happy here" when I applied and yes it's arrogant as hell to think that maybe I should trust my lying eyes and ears and nose over older white Christian male authority but still--
2+2 isn't 5, no matter who says so.
Another Catch-22: if you talk about how bad things are in your life, you're a whiner and a weakling and need to shut up b/c there are other people in the world who have/had it worse - like your abuser, frex.
If you don't talk about it, obviously everything is fine then and nothing needs to be changed or you'd have said something, QED!
It's impossible to "outbreed the liberals" - the very act of trying to do so, breeds more of us.
There was the time he said he'd help me replace my dying old car - so long as I bought it from this guy he knew, this creepy sad sack who gave me a very bad feeling, even worse than the car he insisted I accept; it turned out that he faked the inspection stickers, along with the "repairs," and the clunker kept failing and needing expensive repairs, turning out to be in worse shape than even I had suspected, and when I mentioned that far from having saved me money I'd had to have put in more money than he donated to help me purchase it, he blew his stack and called me an ingrate.
The week after that, the brakes failed on me in traffic...
But my having it towed to the junkyard and choosing to walk the four miles to and from work after that - was showing off and self-martyring to make him feel bad...
Is there such a disorder as Mental Munchausen By Proxy, in which you drive your children insane with your endless headgames and cruelties and then insist that they need to stay home into adulthood so that you can care for them in their fragility because only you can do so properly? If not, I think there needs to be a listing for it. Thank whatever powers may be some of my sisters escaped--
"Why are you always so tense? What's wrong with you? Why are you so twitchy? Why are you so neurotic? Is it because you're a girl?"
"Boo! Hahah, you need to be shaken up!"
My father always claimed he loved my mother because she was so different from other girls, so "spirited" and unusual in her interests - and then spent the rest of their life together reproaching her for not being a proper lady, not being a normal housewife, no matter how hard she tried to please him.
"Complementarianism" would be an easier gig to pull off, if the men involved even bothered to pretend to believe it, bothered to pretend to think that the work their womenfolk did at home was in fact important and worthy and so on. But except when it's needed to get us back into line it's openly derided as small and unworthy and not grand or objective or whatever (you know, unlike "digging ditches," selling widgets or being a spreadsheet jockey or bolting stuff together) as well as the real reason, the real value that is all that Americans value, whether Christian or not: it doesn't bring in money. And how much money it saves, as well as freeing the paterfamilias to do his thing, that doesn't ever enter into the equation. Why would any Good Catholic Girl want to grow up to be just like her mom? When dad sneers at the petty small mindedness of caring about the "powders" involved in cooking and "bits of string" in sewing his dress shirts and making doilies to beautify the house, while he Communes With The Sublimity Of God & Eternity off at grad school--
Of course the answer is MORE submission, more begging Jesus to provide the missing element of romance and psychological comfort - not feminism, not independence, oh no. Patriarchy itself was a GOOD thing, my mother would say - it's just an accident that all the men we knew who practiced it turned out to be horrible jerks to their wives at home.
(It's funny to me that the "Complementarians" now openly contrast themselves with "Egalitarians" - back when, it used to be that the movement at least pretended that it was "different but equal" spheres of labor for men and women.)
It's "harsh" and "judgmental" of me to think that an acquaintance who treats his wife like dirt supposedly because he believes that Catholicism requires the subjugation of women (and not the other way round) is in fact a jerk and nobody I would ever want to be a friend with or have any respect for, and to refuse to feel sorry for him for how miserable he is in his Patriarchy-written role and and acknowledge his good qualities (whatever those might be).
Oh well, I was told not to be "nice" - and I'm not!
"No man would want to watch an action movie starring a woman," he told me when I was a teenager.
"You have to forgive me my bad temper, because I was under a lot of stress then" - as if we weren't in turn stressed out by being on the receiving end! But we never were allowed any excuses for anything less than perfect behavior, according to an endlessly-shifting standard of perfection.
"Why are you always eating? Don't you know gluttony's a sin?" --Does it count as an eating disorder, when you're simply so stressed that you have no appetite when food is available, and no money for food when you're actually finally hungry?
It's kind of sad when you have to wonder if your father is deliberately Gaslighting you, or if he just can't help it - if he's trying to make you kill yourselves and run away, or if he just has MPD or something...
So deeply ingrained is the stereotype "single working woman = rich" among conservative Christians that even knowing I had been laid off from a job that hadn't paid enough to make ends meet and by his own admission was "dirt poor" even after I took a second job and worked 80-90 hours at the Mall through the holidays to bring the ends closer, knowing that unemployment only paid a fraction of the first job during the months I was looking in the post-dot-com recession, knowing that I had been working two part time jobs and now had a retail job with erratic hours that didn't pay $8 an hour that was a long commute away - even then, at Thanksgiving,
At the end of dinner - in which those of my siblings who didn't come home were castigated and their lack of family feeling held up for reproach by the parental units - my stepmother offered me leftovers, I accepted, and my father blew his stack.
"Don't give her those," he snapped, as if talking to a child or a dog. "She's a rich single lady - she can afford to buy her own food and not take it out of the mouths of her little brothers and sisters!"
And my stepmother began to have (yet another) tearful melt-down, and I started saying "No, no, it's all right, I don't really want them, I was just accepting because you were offering," but that didn't stop my father from going off on a tirade for several minutes about how I was making things unpleasant and ruining Thanksgiving by accepting the offer of some of the leftovers that night--
I didn't say - this was my first full meal in over 3 months; I didn't say - I have been living on 1 cup of rice and beans, strictly measured, daily, and a 99-cent cheeseburger from the value menu 3 days a week if I dare splurge; I didn't say - I see no end to this unless/until I can get another job, and the radio is not optimistic about the economy improving much and every day more layoffs and cutbacks are announced - if I had, it would not have made things any better, I'd have "ruined Thanksgiving dinner" for the family. Worse than it already was ruined by my accepting my stepmother's offer of leftovers, because a) I was so bloody hungry that I was bleeding out of season as well as having dizzy spells if I moved too fast at work, b) if I'd refused she'd have been as upset by my disrespect for her cooking and generosity as she was by my father scolding her when I accepted.
So I apologized for having been so selfish as to accept the offer of leftovers, swallowed shit rather than ruin the evening further, and for some strange reason became even less likely to go over when invited thereafter.
(Next holiday that I was over for dinner - still without my having said anything to anyone about being poor and having no food but beans and rice that time, because I always tried not to play the Guilting Game - he insisted, insisted that I take home leftovers because they had more than enough and it would go to waste and I shouldn't refuse, it would be an act of selfishness to refuse and a kindness to them to take it...I can't remember whether I gave in or I didn't, that time - on at least one subsequent occasion I have
No, really, having taken a semester in Italian Renaissance Art History in college and a few years of painting in high school won't qualify you for a job as an Art Restorer at any museum in this country.
It's too much to say that he's the one responsible for the fact that his children keep leaving orthodoxy, or the Church, or Christianity altogether - we ask our own questions for our own reasons! - but telling people that they must comply with the outward forms of observance so long as they stay under your roof because you're in charge and paying the bills - so long as they're your children, and not your adult relatives - makes it seem like you don't have any good arguments. I've always said that bad apologetics is worse than no apologetics at all, and banging your fist on the table and insisting that people have to believe exactly what you believe religiously, or they're being irrational and even unscientific (!), is not particularly good apologetics IMO. If that's the best argument you can muster it's not going to convince anybody - and "gee, do we have no more convincing arguments than that?" is the start of a long chain of questions... But antivangelism is a very self-gratifying thing, it seems.
Ask for something - or even remind him of something necessary that you were told to remind him of and be sure he took care of - more than once, and you're nagging, a nag and nobody likes nags; shut up about it, and get slammed for lacking persistence and obviously not wanting the thing all that much/caring about the family because you fell down on your duty to make sure that he did whatever it was that needed to be done...
One of the reasons he once gave me for having disliked me as a three-year-old was the way I always doubted whatever he said and went running to my mother for confirmation of what was the truth - conveniently forgetting that his favorite pastime dealing with me then was to lie to me, to see what crazy shit he could get a preschooler to believe, and then laugh at me for swallowing it. Get burnt by that enough times, even a three-year-old learns not to trust someone as an authority figure pretty darn fast...
Yet his song is ever stronger, even to me: that key revelation regarding their marriage was the gut-kick but there was enough other stuff revealed or rather confirmed that destroyed my last ability to think well of her, give the Devil's due, as well as to excuse her as passive victim of the situation. He pointed out how he'd been the one to do all the heavy lifting when it came to her hobbies of organic gardening and health crankery, how he'd been the one to do all the digging - not merely the providing of cash for purchasing supplies - and had eaten whatever pills and foods she insisted we eat (though not, I must add, without loud complaint or derision) based on whatever fad she'd fallen for, and had gone along with all her religious magical thinking and whims and projects as abruptly discarded as taken up, in hopes that his compliance would make her love him for himself, at last.
Including, mind you, giving her all the children she wanted.
And yes, I realized that all those interests of hers and hobbies had been nothing but lotus-eating, plans to raise bees or chickens or plant fruit trees or grow all our own produce or make all our own clothes by hand or build a playhouse structure that would be far superior to any storebought swingset or start a craft business selling sweaters or dolls or whatever which constantly evaporated in the attempts - even if they got that far - as she got bored of them or realized that they required a hell of a lot of work to maintain, or that we could never afford the investment, though she would never admit that they were just pipe dreams, someday "our ship would come in" and we'd be able to afford that nice house in the country, never willing to sit down and count the cost of building a tower before getting up hopes, never ever willing to distinguish fantasy from reality, and say - this isn't going to happen, we don't and will never have the resources to do it, we can't afford to feed and cloth everyone now without massive influxes of charity, and all I'm doing is daydreaming about the impossible and never living in the present...
I believed it, - why? - when I know he lies compulsively, or bullshits, or says whatever happens to be "Truth" for the headspace he's in at the moment, I'm never sure and don't think it really matters; because after considering carefully whether or not this was just more BS, more "you know I just say anything that comes into my head when I'm angry" or even the subjective veritas of vino (all three participants' versions in Rashomon can't be objectively true, but it might not all be retconnage, either) I had to say, this is probably darn near what actually happened over the years, because it meshes with my own observations, and many things which I have argued with myself over the subsequent years, and tried to deny by putting them out of my mind.
It makes sense, it matches up, it explains his resentment and feeling of ill-use by her beyond the married-for-gain thing and SAHM=parasite MRA memes. Love as quid-pro-quo, to be purchased with gifts, love as a bargain, the same thing she was doing back by making home-cooked dinners and learning tailoring to sew his dress shirts and going along with all his plans and sacrificing her heirlooms to help him start his dream business and so forth.
So I couldn't even respect her any more for her "strengths," compartmentalizing as I had done for them both for so long, because in hindsight they weren't, they were just self-indulgence - and using.
(Being your own alpha isn't particularly fun. But it beats the alternative, alas.)
I never said that we had "too many children" - I never even thought it, being a True Believer, I just desperately wanted my parents to look properly after the ones they had, instead of picking on them, ignoring them, blaming them for our poverty and misery until they spent as much time at the neighbors' houses as they could possibly manage; but one of my younger sisters did suggest it, once, and I saw what happened to her.
When you're fourteen and you've just learned about the existence of marital rape and the lack of recourse for it, and your parents who can't say two civil words to each other except in front of strangers (and even those are all edged and barbed with private meaning) and live in a constant simmer of property destruction and barely controlled violence towards each other and their children, are nevertheless still making babies together, the implications are so ugly that you just do what you can to avoid Going There at all in your head (and pledge that you will never, ever, ever be in that position yourself.)
But the reality turns out to have been so much more wretched and perverse - he said that he went along with her desire for more
So they stayed together "for the children" only not in the way it's usually understood, because it sure as hell didn't do my sisters any good to see that taking abuse and serving men is the only proper vocation for a woman, and it equally didn't do my brothers any good to learn that women were there to be abused and serve men, even if they got more out of it, and neither of them liked us, liked any of us except as occasional playthings to be rarely indulged, and then swiftly tossed aside when they got bored or cranky with us.
No wonder he wasn't ever any nicer to my half-siblings: no wonder I was right when I instinctively said "he hates us all equally" - they were supposed to be the diamonds, the chocolates, the gifts that would Make Everything Right between them, and yet they never did, and instead things just kept on getting worse, because somehow never altering his rudeness and contempt towards all things feminine wasn't balanced out by the gift of a new living doll, any more than adding more "mouths to feed" with no more resources to put food on the table (and he was too macho to allow my mother to take a part time job when she finally decided she wanted to) made our house any more pleasant a place to live.
No wonder he was so careless of our safety (toughens them up!), no wonder he always insisted that we wanted each other dead (projection!), no wonder he always complained about how we were the reason he couldn't Have Nice Things (because my siblings compelled him to beget them, riiiight) - no wonder that he argued that merely having engendered or adopted us was "proof" of his real love (so much better than those selfish liberals with their 2.2 spoiled children!) and good parenting was providing the bare minimums and anything over the bare minimum of food/shelter/clothing was excellent parenting...and no wonder he'd fall into these sporadic maudlin laments of what a bad bad father he was and how we didn't deserve to be "afflicted" by him - conscience is a hard weed to kill, no matter how many times you chop it down and bury the pieces.
But he doesn't have that excuse with my step-siblings, so I don't know what keeps it going, unless it's habit.
Habit's damn hard to break, though. Rewiring and reprogramming the brain is hard work, and you have to be willing to actually tear into yourself and find and rip out the bits that say things like "I taught you how to walk/read/changed your diapers/took you to the mall and that means you should be nice to me all the time by my definitions of "nice" and do anything and everything I want and never make me feel bad because you OWE me" - because no, people don't owe you for taking care of them when they had no choice, when that was (supposedly) the thing you did because it was the Right Thing To Do, ie your duty, because you can't buy people, period. And for some strange reason, just saying "I shouldn't be so hard on you, you're just poor little kids" is not the same thing as actually not being so hard on little kids...
It's hard to unwire the panic button, either, even when you figure out why it is that you're having the attacks.
Even after I couldn't tell myself that it didn't matter if he hated me and had gone back to his old ways of treating me like the Scapegoat, because
I had long realized - even before that fateful time of revelations - that he hadn't ever "forgiven" my mother for her cruelties/ingratitude towards him, and that his resentments of her for not appreciating him as he thought she should over the years hadn't all been erased by her latter Submitting and "letting him take care of her" in which she allowed him to choose her clothes and her haircut and wore makeup since now he had decided that it was A Good Thing for women to wear makeup (though of course this was not a permanent state, sometimes it would become a Bad Thing for me and my sisters, and Woman generally) because his anger and resentment of her kept cropping out between his idealizing of her and retconning her into a boring bland plaster saint out of one of those old biographies of holy women who were long suffering and eventually led their menfolk to Jesus by virtue of their patient endurance of abuse--
But when my stepbrothers too started cutting and worse, as they reached adolescence, and my stepsisters turned from cheerful outgoing children to sad and angry little ghosts, I knew that it wasn't merely the association of offspring with a hated enemy that caused him to lash out and play the control freak with his family.
And since my stepmother had decided her priorities and made them very, very clear to me, the only thing I could do was offer them some time out of the house, some time away in which they could be under no pressure to perform, when they could have treats without sighing and groaning over how expensive they were, and how grateful they ought to be, some time of listening in which they could say whatever they wanted and I wouldn't jump all over them to prove what a superior being I was - breaks of the sort that were so few and far between for me at their age, and which would have meant so much to me then. But as I got poorer and more strapped for resources, I haven't even been able to give them that.
I've been late with rent and utilities, and paid the late fees; had to juggle bills, and gone without utils when I couldn't pay them; fought for my legal rights against eviction and won; torn out and cleared or replaced the kitchen and bathroom pipes when snaking them myself didn't work, replaced door handles and radiator valves and shower heads and even a toilet seal, because trying to get landlords to fix stuff is an exercise in frustration and I've had handymen swipe stuff before, too. You know, it would be nice to have someone else to do things, sure, and nice to have a second income so that I didn't have to pay out 3/4 or more of my paycheck to stay off the streets, but worth freedom? worth not having someone gunning for you in your own home that you can't escape? Never. Never again.
At least I was able to nerve myself up enough once to tell him to stop slagging off on absent siblings for not being "really" married and thus having illegitimate children (JP weddings), that this was inappropriate, and on others for being "losers" for working in retail, past hols. Not that it took, I fear, but one can always hope.
I should have been more respectful of the coworker-to-be who couldn't figure out that the problem with his fax machine was that it was unplugged and was very irate and snotty about what I was doing wrong on my end that his application wasn't coming through. I was very nice to him as I told him that we still hadn't gotten his faxes, and no, I hadn't lost them or mixed them up with any other incoming faxes, and very apologetic when I figured it out and explained to him that he needed to plug in his phone line to the fax machine to make it work - but I tended not to have much confidence in his common sense thereafter, or his knowledge of technical matters. That's an example of me being unforgiveably harsh and judgmental. (It was okay, his confidence in himself more than made up for my lack...)
--I abandoned my own younger sisters after I moved out as they grew older, trusting my stepmother would do her parental duty and teach them sex-ed properly, because I didn't feel confident in either my moral right or my ability to do so without incurring Sin Cooties/causing a family fight. But it turned out, as I much later discovered, that she left them to fend for themselves through puberty and did the whole Ignorance-Only thing, same as my mother did with me. The fact that I agonized over it at the time and felt guilty after I found out that my worst worries of neglect in this area were confirmed, doesn't make it have been any less awful for them.
Taunting your own children for being short, mocking them for being shorter than you - how insecure do you have to be, to act as though a literal accident of biology and history is a personal virtue, and mark of ontological superiority? About as insecure as a man who constantly agonizes over one of his married daughters "wearing the pants in that family" at holiday dinners when she isn't there...
There was one time he called me up to "apologize," and ended up reproaching me for no longer being the sweet, cheerful, happy-go-lucky child I'd been when he married my mother.
--Yeah. I nearly flung the phone across the room. I saw red - literally, orange-shading tunnel-vision and all - and wanted to scream "You killed her! You burnt her out of me! You were the one who smashed her into little pieces and ground the pieces into dust over the course of years, you bastard! And now you blame me for not having been able to maintain that personality in the face of all that concentrated rage and callousness of yours? Screw you, asshole!"
But being a pathetic, cowardly, goody-two-shoes I just made some sort of ambiguous noise and got off the phone as quick as I could and found a hard wall corner to beat my head against until I could calm down enough to sleep.
We want to accept that everything is fine, partly because we'd like to be able to think well of our parents, partly because that means we don't have to feel bad or intervene.
Every offense of his had to be treated as if it were unique - that is, he could say "You're always doing X/Y/Z" but we could never say back "You're always doing X/YZ" to him. To claim patterns of bad behavior was to be called a liar; I was told that IFF he was in fact always doing X/Y/Z unjustly then he needed to know this so he could figure out why and stop it, and I needed to provide evidence that it was in fact repeatedly happening, to keep track of it. So I did, for weeks - and was called petty and vindictive, for doing exactly what he'd ordered me to do.
Oh, and cats are essentially feminine and only do things like beg to be picked up and cuddled out of selfishness, being incapable of real affection like dogs/men. The lessons drilled into me as a small child...over and over and over again.
I suppose it makes a certain logical sense - in that "heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing" sense of sense - that he'd present the image of her as the Perfect Saintly Wife & Mother Whom He'd Always Loved So Deeply If Not Well to the all the rest of the world, and save spitting his Ahab-like banked and lasting hate and scorn of her late into the night for me, her sorta-kinda-doppelganger, unwillingly impressed into the role of stand-in; it makes as little sense as the old literary trope of hating a kid for having been the "cause" of a wife's death in childbirth, but man is the rationalizing animal, not the rational animal; still I'm not sure it accomplished whatever he was trying to accomplish by it, even on the irrational impulsive level, beyond a temporary venting of choler or spleen that didn't seem to have any cathartic effect thereafter.
I don't think he was trying to make me hate and despise her worse than I already did back then (which he didn't guess, being oblivious) when he accused me of believing her to be perfect and saintly and could do no wrong and if only I knew, if only I knew what terrible things she'd really done, I wouldn't, but he'd never tell, oh no he wouldn't (I being me and knowing what I knew about her and the era imagined a stint in the Red Brigade or similar outfit) - except about her wanting to kill us and blaming it on the spirits, but that could hardly be much of a shock but rather an explanation, as making sense of so much of the angst and melodrama and maternal self-harming behavior and DIY home exorcisms, and I'd always known that stressed mammals ate their litters so why should humans be any different?
But then again, what could he have been trying to accomplish, what good could he have been trying to make happen, by cornering me before I moved out and attacking her to me, by revealing the horrible truth that she had dared to fall for someone else - a repulsive jerk, by my lights, but there weren't many alternatives around after all - instead of the guy who owned her and called her six kinds of horrible six times a day, I mean yeah stupid, why fall for ANY man let alone that guy? but um, not like the idea of it was particularly surprising or repulsive, not any more than anything else when it comes to sins - the only one of those revelations that broke me, when he was trying to justify his bad behavior to her and me, was the one that she'd married for convenience and blamed it on me, and let him take it out on me--
Blowback's a bitch.
What does it actually mean, saying to your college-student stepdaughter "Be glad you're not in Bosnia" when she breaks down in tears because you can't stop hammering on her calling her a monster and a loser? What's there, when you unpack it? On the surface, there's the statement that any abuse short of rape and murder is to be given a free pass, not something the abuser should feel guilty for nor the victim complain about; but under that? The implicit threat: I could be raping and murdering you - be grateful that I'm not, that I'm just insulting you and invading your privacy which isn't really yours since I own this house and everything in it and am just letting you stay here on sufferance when I could legally kick you out--
Trying to be kind to him, trying to do nice things for him is itself an exercise in futility: either he becomes paranoid trying to figure out what your ulterior motive is (guilty conscience?) or goes on an "I'm not worthy, I'm not a good father, you shouldn't get me anything" maudlin kick that makes you want to say "Fine, I'll take it back and find someone else who will be happy to get a trilobite and not made miserable by it," (but of course you don't, you provide the fished-for reassurance and compliments that no, no, he IS worthy of getting a birthday present now and then) or you get the kind of headfuckery of a thank-you note I got the last time I ordered him a book that I'd marked months back as the kind of book he'd like for his birthday, and he went off about how he'd seen it and wanted to get it but he couldn't afford to buy new books when they came out because big family lots of expenses yadda yadda--
I could have explained, I suppose, that I'd carefully snipped coupons from the B&N sales flyers and skipped trips to the used bookstore for weeks to save up the circa $20 to get it for him; I could have pointed out that it hadn't been that long ago he'd shown me his new camera that cost more than I made in several weeks if not a month, but all of those would have been "unkind," if true, and anyway what's the point? It's not like pointing out his self-pitying, self-aggrandizing behavior ever worked to restrain it for my mother, let alone for me, in the past--
(Why would I give him presents carefully chosen to suit his tastes, when he's such a jerk to us? Because I'm not him, because I do feel sorry for him, even if he's the reason for so much of his suffering, because when he's got something he likes to distract him like a new book he's not such a jerk to the kids still trapped at home - okay, there's an ulterior motive for you--)
There isn't any safe conversational topic: there isn't anything that can't be turned into putting down women, ethnic/jingoistic triumphalism, conservative Catholic antivangelism, or just humiliating someone in the family specifically for being a loser with beaucoup sophistry and below-the-belt remarks that can't be reciprocated because that would be "mean"--
It's not just embarrassing; it's not just angering; it's really fucking BORING to listen to, too. But the men in my family don't seem to be able to avoid doing it, don't seem to have anything else that attracts them so much as putting down women, putting down the Other to elevate themselves in their own minds.
One of the younger batch recently started making "beaner" jokes as our father used to make Chinese jokes - humorless me didn't laugh, gave a cold grimace - oh look, killjoy liberal, taking away our inncent ethnic diversions - it's sad, watching decent souls shrivel in the radation of privilege, watching what was left of intellectual curiosity and humanism spiral inward into a horrible knot of arrogant ignorance. But what can the alternative offer, compared to the brittle glory of jingoistic machismo and the present social dominance over one's socially-inferior packmates?
At least he didn't ever kill my mother, kill us all and burn the house down, no matter how badly he was tempted; at least he wasn't as bad as his own father (who was of course never cruel to us, his grandkids, making for massive cognitive dissonance and strain at family visits) as he so often told us; at least he felt guilty about it, sometimes, enough to beat himself up over it; at least he has infinite patience to listen and sympathize with and be kind to other people's children, even if he didn't have it for those he owed it to; he beat our pets and threatened to kill them sometimes, but he once cried for a sick stray kitten that had to be put down; at least he lets his new wife have a job and drive at night and go out with friends and only yells at her a little bit sometimes and angsts aloud over the fact that God has required male domination in marriage and how this divine command can be gotten around by being a Kind Master; at least he can be sometimes pleasant to be around (so long as he is in enough of a good mood that he doesn't need to put someone down to feel better) and interesting conversationalist (so long as you remember not to engage as it will threaten him, just let him talk at you) and on some occasions actually generous without using his generosity as a way of guilting the victim into submission--
He could, in fact, have been far worse of a parent. The newspapers are full of people who are.
--I am merciful. I just don't think that not being the worst of all possible assholes is in itself deserving of cookies. And I do understand why he hated us, and me in particular, all our lives. Empathy isn't much more fun than autonomy.