It Is Father's Day - But Dad Was Abusive

BlogHer Original Post

Many women find themselves in a difficult position on Father's Day. For many of us who have had abusive fathers -- and I am one who shares that misfortune -- Father's Day raises issues and forces some potentially tough decisions. There is one guideline to remember here -- when it comes time to decide what you plan to do on Father's Day, your comfort and well-being come first.

This is not up for debate. Read it again. Your comfort and safety come first.

I recall an agonizing Father's Day when I went through the motions, bought the gift, went out to dinner, lived the lie and arrived back at my own home with a knot in my stomach the size of Texas. That was the last straw, and the last time I played the everything-is-perfect-on-Father's-Day game.

First, let me say that not all abuse is equal. Like anything else, it comes in degrees. You absolutely know, on that scale of 1-10, with 10 being severe and criminal abuse, where your father stands. (Mine was about a five. Then for years he was neutral, only to flare up the emotional abusiveness again when I was in my late 40s/early 50s.)

If you can say "10," or a number close to it, I am deeply sorry that you ever had to go through such pain. I hope that you have been able to seek and obtain some outside support, some outside help. Further, you most likely need to stay away from your father on more than just Father's Day.

If you can say "10," my heart sincerely is with you, and I will hold you (and anyone else who is reading this because they were abused by their father) in my prayers.

As I have gone through my journey out of abuse, I have learned some things that I hope can help at least some of us. But keep in mind -- I am no doctor, and my advice is not professional advice. It is just what I have learned so far, no more than that. If it helps, good. If it does not suit, then disregard it. We each much find our own way home from abuse. Every woman, every family constellation, and every abusive father are different.

First Rule - Do Not Set Yourself Up for More

If it is awful to be around your father -- don't be around your father. You do not owe pretense to him or your mother or to your siblings. You do not have to risk the infliction of more injury, physical or emotional injury. Just because some woman in Spokane decided in 1908 to have a day just like Mother's Day but for fathers doesn't mean that you are obligated to do anything about it just because you have a father. You were a victim. Try not to be a volunteer.

If You Are Pretending, Consider Letting That Go

So often those of us who were abused feel embarrassed, as though the actions of our fathers somehow bring us shame. We hide the truth, the fear, the rage, the horrible secret that our father, who should have nurtured us tenderly and loved us kindly, fell short -- in some cases horribly short. It's not our fault. It says nothing awful about us that our fathers hurt us. We didn't deserve it. Yet for some of us, we erect a crackly shell around our families and act as though nothing is wrong. We pretend we are just like everyone else. We pretend, because that was our deepest wish. We just wanted to be from a normal family -- not one where we were hit or beaten or psychologically abused or shamed or molested or incested. We didn't want to have scars to heal. We wanted dads like Cliff Huxtable, or the guy on Father Knows Best, or the Brady Bunch or Pa from Bonanza. They never hurt their kids knowingly. Andy Griffith on Mayberry RFD couldn't have been nicer. Dan Conner of Roseanne loved his kids and protected them. That's the kind of dad we wanted. But the reality is, that isn't the Dad we got.

Find a Safe Place To Feel What You Need to Feel

If it does not feel safe to be around your father, listen to that. It's hard for those of us who have been abused to give credence to our inner voices. We stifled them for so long. Maybe the safe place to feel what you need to feel is a quiet spot where you can be alone. Perhaps it is in conversation with a trusted friend or spouse or lover. Maybe it is in a session with a therapist or clergyperson. Maybe it is the inside of a church or synagogue or museum or botanical garden. Maybe you need to write in your journal. Just do something that lets you feel safe if feelings of being at risk start to surface on this day.

Know That You Are Not Alone

Not all women who are abused by their fathers will share that openly with you. But a few quick searches on the web will pick up hundreds of articles by women about abuse.

Melissa, in Shakesville speaks of the widespread prevalence of a particular kind of abuse, sexual abuse, and its commission by more than just fathers. She says:

All of my female friends with whom I've spoken about this subject have been sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives -— by family members or family friends, by persons of authority (ministers, teachers, doctors), by dates or boyfriends or husbands, by strangers -— in incidents ranging from exposure (flashing) to penetrative rape.

She referenced this article, by Wisewebwoman at The Other Side of Sixty:

One time, I took an informal survey amongst the women I knew. And every single last one of them had been sexually interfered with before the age of consent. Some far, far worse than others. And there are degrees, I suppose. Some were abused by their fathers, or uncles or brothers or cousins. And their mothers told them to shut up. Some got pregnant. Some became infertile. All were traumatized.

It doesn't have to be sexual to be abuse. Abuse can also be emotional, physical, psychological. You know abuse when it happens. But somehow finding a place where you can stand and be free of it is a harder thing, especially if the abuse was committed by someone who was supposed to love you, care for you, protect you.

The holiday of Father's Day can be a big trigger, bringing back some scary memories and some hurtful feelings. Instead of letting that day grab you and drag you under, try to find ways to move away from whatever feelings still trouble you.

Reach out to those who can best help.

Stay emotionally safe.

If you are of a faith tradition, rely on what helps you find comfort within that tradition.

Ultimately I found some peace about what I had been through. I hope that those of you for whom the wound of abuse is still fresh also find a path to healing. It is possible. On Father's Day I will be thinking of you, and will say prayers for you, my sisters, and for all of us who have been through abuse at the hands of our fathers. May we all, including our fathers, heal from the tragedy of the past.

Please add your words of hope or encouragement for other women to see.

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool

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