One of the things I’m always complaining about is that I feel like I didn’t have a good foundation for adulthood. My parents never had any stable, functional relationships; they have no friends, no close ties with family members, and no connection with each other. They never taught me the value of friendship or trust. Instead, they taught me to be weary of people, to be untrusting of everyone, and to believe that everyone is out to get something from me. They taught me that I am only worth as much as people want from me. They taught me to look out for all of the angles and be aware of how people plan to exploit them. They taught me to turn the tables on people before they’d proven themselves shitty.
More than that, they are, by all intents and purposes, middle class professionals – and yet they were never financially secure. As a child, I was thrust into a strange limbo, where I could act like the rich kids because my parents spent their money like they had enough to burn; but the safe thing to do was to be cautious with my spending habits and align myself with people who couldn’t afford to be spilling their dollars like tap water (because my parents were spending their way into bankruptcy after bankruptcy).
So I grew up without any role model for functional relationships or financial security, and I had to make mistakes to figure out what each were about. More often than not, I fell flat on my face and cursed myself and my parents for never having picked up on the subtle cues of civil social interaction. Every time I felt like I’d made progress, my father took the opportunity to show me that I hadn’t learned anything at all: I’d make a conclusion about fidelity, and he’d sleep with his coworker; I’d decide that family outweighs moral indiscretions, and he’d curse at me and tell me that his adulterous actions had no affect on my mom, my brother, or my self; I’d put a high price on hard work, and my father would prove that all he’s good at is earning a buck.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that I’ve never really known my dad. He is a man who is full of contradictions and lies. He taught me how to manipulate, but never how to trust and be trusted. He never instilled in me any trait that was good in and of itself. And although he worked his ass off to provide me with material things, he never really took care of me emotionally. He taught me to question my self-worth and my sexuality. He made me weary of my interests and my innate curiosity. He made me afraid of trying out new things. He made me afraid of failure.
And when I think of all the times that he treated me like an equal when I was still a child and didn’t know any better; when I think of all the times he made me feel like I knew what I was doing, when really I needed guidance; when I think of all the times I aligned myself with him, with patriarchal authority, with “the man” because anything less than that would be failure – I cringe. My dad never knew what he was doing, and worse, he was too proud to ever ask for help, and too stuck up to give anyone credit. Till this day, he still makes me feel like shit if I’ve accomplished a personal goal because it’s not the way he thinks I should live my life. Because I figured it out without his help. Because I’m not the daughter he wanted me to be.
I’ve spent a lot of time on my therapist’s sofa, discussing my relationship with my dad. Sometimes it seems borderline incestual, the way I talk about how deep our connection used to be. And always, it’s complicated. I feel betrayed when he sleeps around. I feel let down. I know that he gets something out of these women and these relationships that he doesn’t find in my family, that somehow that hurts me in ways that I haven’t been able to pinpoint. And I feel like I’ve finally figured out why I feel so badly hurt by him.
I feel like he’s acting out his growing pains with these women, he’s growing and trying new things, and being himself with them. These women get to experience his affection; he teaches them how to drive in the snow and lectures them on the safety of coming home too late. (He doesn’t do these things with me.) These women experience him sexually, whereas I remember my mother literally begging for sex in the middle of the night. These women know him. They know his good and bad and his ins and outs. We only see him after the world’s done with him, after a long day of work when he just wants to sit in front of the TV and eat his dinner.
I wonder if anyone has ever really known my dad. I wonder if maybe I’m projecting my feelings of an inadequate childhood, or if I’m drawing connections that aren’t really there. He’s been in the Philippines for 2 weeks now, and the house is a much happier place. There is no tension, no fighting, no name-callling. There are no threats of violence or yelling or manipulation. I know without a doubt that everyone I interact with in the house has my best interests in mind, and I know that I have their best interests in mind, and I have faith that we’ll be ok as long as we have each other.