Monday, November 5, 2012
I have not blogged for a few weeks. After the fallout from my inaugural blog post, I was momentarily reconsidering the wisdom of putting my life and my thoughts out there. The reaction to my first post was overwhelmingly positive. Most of my friends and family were wonderfully supportive, and some friends even shared their own stories with me. I am both amazed by, and grateful for, the truly lovely people I have in my life. People’s stories never fail to intrigue me and I feel blessed that some felt moved to share theirs with me. The take-home message I got from this experience is that I am lucky. Incredibly, happily, lucky.
However, not everyone in my life had that reaction. I agonised for a long time about whether I should show my parents a copy of my blog. Part of me didn’t want them to feel pain about the experiences outlined in the piece. The last thing I would want them to feel is sadness or pain or (misplaced) guilt or helplessness. I wanted to protect them. But the larger part of me kept returning to this thought: if these things happened to my child, I would want to know. I don’t have children, so I don’t know the complex emotions that parents have towards their children. I think I can imagine that the transition from knowing your child as a being dependent on you for its very survival, to them being a self-sufficient adult making their own way in the world, outside of your protection, is a difficult one. Some parents handle it better than others. I understand that for most parents, your child will always be your baby, no matter how old they are. I get that. But, if I was a parent, I would also want to know my child as an adult, what they think about things, what their experiences of life are, and to share things as equals. The bottom line for me was: I want the people closest to me to really know me. As I want to know them. Otherwise, what the fuck is the point of this life we have been given? Unless we connect with people on a real level, we are just shuffling around, going through the motions of our ultimately pointless existence.
So, anyway, I emailed Mum a link to my blog and warned her that she might find the contents difficult to read, that it involved some negative experiences with men that I had had many years ago. I told her that I would understand if she didn’t want to read it, and that I would leave it up to her judgement as to whether she showed it to my father. When I next spoke to my mother she was very supportive, if a bit shocked. She told me she was proud of me for having the courage to share my story. We cried a bit and then my Dad got on the phone.
My Dad told me he would rather have not known about it. Just writing this sentence, and remembering the difficult conversation we had, has brought me to tears again. When he said that, it was like a knife going through my heart. I had shared something incredibly personal and influential in my life and he would rather not have known. Then he aimed another dagger at my heart. He said, “Why did you let him get away with it? Why didn’t you go to the police? You let the team down”, in reference to the sexual assault in the pub bathroom. I was speechless for a moment, but then I found myself trying to defend my actions in not going to the police. “Um, Dad, I explained why I didn’t go to the police. Did you read it?” He just repeated that he would rather not have read it, said he loved me, and got off the phone. I was devastated.
Now, I don’t know what it’s like for a father to learn that his daughter has been sexually assaulted. I can imagine that it must be one of the toughest things for a father to deal with. My father has always been incredibly over-protective of me. I am his only daughter; his first-born child. To him I will always be the little red-haired toddler, impatient for him to assemble my Christmas presents early on Christmas morning. Dad and I have always been close, probably because we are very similar. When I was a teenager, that similarity led to many pitched battles, culminating one night in me leaving home and spending the night in a youth shelter, without my parents’ knowledge. The shame I felt at seeing my father’s ashen face the next morning, after he had spent many sleepless hours trying to find me, has never left me.
So, yes, Dad and I have a complex relationship. He is my rock, my one constant in the world, my idol and my protector. He is one half of the key to my identity. But no matter how I try, or how many years go by, he is unable to see me as anything but his little girl. To him, I am not a nearly-40-year-old woman who has a career, a marriage, who struggles with life’s occasional shitstorms, who sometimes triumphs but more often settles for good-enough. I am an almost middle-aged woman, like any other, just trying to make my way in the world.
His reaction felt like a denial of my personhood. I felt like I had to defend my actions, like I was the one who had done something heinous, rather than the men who attacked me. This is the latest in a long line of thoughtless and hurtful things Dad has said to me over the years, an addition to the list of topics we can’t discuss without ending up fighting. In some ways, he can’t help it, given his own extremely dysfunctional upbringing. I know my Dad didn’t mean to make me feel like shit. I know he loves me more than anything else in the world. I also know that, at almost 70, he is not likely to change any time soon. The thing that saddens me the most is that he and I will always be stuck in the father-child relationship, rather than relating to each other as equals, maybe even as friends. And that strikes me as a lost opportunity.