Sad to Say, I Won’t Miss My Father

Hey, guys. Hey, I very much want to thank those of you who sent me such love via your very kind notes around my recent post,  Father’s Day is Coming; My Father’s Night is Here. Thank you! I live a pretty shut-in type life, actually, so these Across the Cyberspace Universe transmissions of affection are really, well, affecting.

Relative to this business about my dad, though, I thought I might take a moment to … bore you even further about it.

So — because with your friends why not take the time to clarify such things? — as cruel and/or callous and/or emotionally pretentious and/or flat-out crazy as I know this sounds, the unadorned truth of the matter is that when my father is gone, I will not miss him. He’s played no role at all in my life for thirty-five years.

Which isn’t actually the point. The real point is that (as I wrote relative to my mother in I Just Found Out My Mother Died — Five Years Ago) I’ve made it my life’s work to emotionally detach myself from my parents. I’m not proud of that; I don’t think it makes me wise and cool. I just did it because by about the age of eight I was very clear on the fact that if I didn’t do that, I’d be screwed for the rest of my life. My parents weren’t about to give it up for their kids. They were on the crazy train, and having children wasn’t about to derail that bad boy. Very early on my choice was perfectly clear: stay aboard the Bonkers Express and surely end up in my own version of Crazytown, or bail, and make sure I learned to roll with the fall so it wouldn’t kill me.

So bail I did. I got out. I got out physically, and — and I’m saying this took twenty, thirty years of work to do — I got out emotionally.

I’m not conflicted about my dad. I don’t have any unresolved emotional energy around my dad. I don’t lie awake at night, lost in the morass of my father’s unrelenting indifference toward me.

Been there. Done that. Never been anywhere or done anything but that, is what I’m saying.

You watch the same scary movie over and over and over again, and pretty soon it’s not even almost scary. It’s just … what it is. Actors. Script. Make-up. Boring.

Here’s the real deal: My father has the emotional life of a two-year-old. If it’s not about him, then as far as he’s concerned, it doesn’t exist. Not sometimes. Not conditionally. Not when he’s hungry, or late, or stressed about something. Not when he’s in certain moods. That is his mood. The man doesn’t have another channel. He gets, and sends, one signal, and one signal only, twenty-four seven. Everything else is immediately filtered out before it can become anything at all.

And you know how he arranges to never have to take into account anyone but himself? He throws constant temper tantrums. He is seriously pissed off, all of the time. Anger is his modus operandi, and no two ways about it. For him, to breathe is to fume. It’s all he knows. Last time my wife and I visited him and his wife, the four of us were playing Trivial Pursuit, and within ten minutes he had slammed the board off the table, and was storming around the room screaming like … well, like a two-year-old. And it was like how, when you put ice in your drink, it gets colder. Happens every time. There’s no warm ice. There’s no not-angry my dad.

The next day, my stepmother and wife went out shopping (amazing story there, but … another time), and my dad predictably spent the day screaming at me because some of the (mega-dorky) pants he wanted to give me didn’t fit me. Ice in a drink.

I mean, we’re talking here about a man who really and truly, down to his bones, doesn’t care that he has a son. It just doesn’t register with him that I’m out here in the world, that I’ve been out here in the world, that I’m married, that I’m a writer, that … I just bought a new house, or whatever. All of it just bores him to distraction.

Anyway, of course I do have Big Deal Feelings about my dad. It’s just that I know those feelings, and have for so long been so directly dealing with them that, thirty-five years later, they’re … well, known to me. And something that you really, really know — that you’ve spent your life combing though, exploring, discussing, and in every possible way dissecting and analyzing over and over again — loses its grip on you. There’s no mystery left to it. It becomes  just … a movie that you’ve seen a million times before.

I wrote about my father’s body because (besides his insane sense of humor; humor being the hyper-intelligent blood-brother of anger) that was the most extraordinary thing about him. The magic hand of God touched his physical creation. (And – should I say this? — mine. I’m not a lot of things, but physically coordinated isn’t one of them.) But so what? He had no control of that, and completely took it for granted.

What he could and should have controlled, he didn’t. And, as with his body, he took, without fail, everything that came to him — especially the love that those nearest him were naturally compelled to lavish upon him — for granted.

He could have been so happy. He was so loved.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Don Whitt

    "…humor being the hyper-intelligent blood-brother of anger…"

    Ouch. That hit a spot on my soft, white underbelly. Brilliant. Thank you.

    Speaking of humor…

    So, an old Jewish couple goes to their Rabbi to announce their plans to divorce. The Rabbi asks, "Why, after 75 years of marriage, are you divorcing?!", and the wife responds, "We were waiting for the children to die."

  • Susan Prescott

    Wow.

  • denver

    I understand – people who actually have loving and/or close relationships with their parents never get me either – "how could you not tell your parents about this major thing??!" – but I totally understand. I had to cut off years ago. I just cannot care anymore, for my own safety and sanity. I also get a lot of "don't you regret… " "don't you miss… " "don't you want to try… " ? Nope. Done. Did that already. Made things worse. I sometimes feel a little sociopathic in regards to my relationship to my parents, but really, I might actually *be* sociopathic if I hadn't learned to just let it wash over me and not take anything about them to heart a long, long time ago.

    You are awesome for writing this, John. Thanks. :)

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    It's pretty amazing what a couple of decades, therapy, and the holy spirit can do for someone born into chaos. You're pretty cool too, John. It's pretty cool how you keep giving him chances too. And Kat must be amazing.

  • Deanna

    Brave, and excellent. John, I'm so sorry you had to experience a corrupt version of what should have been nothing but unconditional love and support. I "divorced" my mother (and to a lesser extent, my father) more than a decade ago for many of the same reasons. It remains one of the best things I ever did.

  • Ally Bishop

    Amen. Denver — I'm with you. Had to cut it off a long time ago. I have a superficial relationship with my own father who is as shallow as they come, and my mother is a certified mental case. And in that sense, what she did isn't entirely her fault. Crazy doesn't allow for logic or common sense. But nonetheless, no one gets it unless they've been there. Great post. Thanks.

  • Diana

    The truth is sad–at least in this case it is. Still, can't say as I blame you–in either parent's case. My parents weren't nearly so bad–my dad died before I turned 5, so I don't really remember him at all–and my mom, while alcoholic, depressed, and bitter also passed down to me her sense of humor, and her love for travel and reading–and the poor old lady really did try not to let her inner demons devour her. I respect your ability and willingness to stay as engaged with your father as you are–without letting the "relationship" kill your spirit.

  • Robert Meek

    My father was peculiar. He wanted me to be athletic, but put nothing into teaching me anything. Everything from my sex ed to how to swing a bat, mother had to teach me. He believed being father was = to being provider, and that child-rearing was the woman's job. He was also snide, derisive, and put us down, a lot. There was a lot he didn't do: he didn't drink, hit us, nor was he violent. We were never really afraid of him, but I grew up hating him, literally. I wanted nothing to do with him.

    He used Sears, I went to J C Penny. He drove GM, I drove Ford. On it went.

    By my early 30s, mother, in desperation to cope with my being gay, had gone through multiple theories, including that I was "demon possessed," and others. Her most wretched one was that it was father's fault, and she managed to convince him of this, too.

    He came to me, broken, sobbing, "You're mother was right! I should have listened to her!"

    I was appalled. Beyond appalled. I was enraged.

    I told him that although I did not choose my feelings, how I chose to deal with those feelings was my decision, my responsibility, my accountability, and that how I chose to run my life was also my decision,

    responsibility, and accountability. Not his, not mother's. That I certainly did not blame him, and mother had no right to, either.

    I then phoned her, and we had one of our most vicious fights on the phone that we'd ever had as we raged and screamed at each other.

    But the end result was this: I learned that my father truly had changed, he did know he had neglected me, he was remorseful, and most important of all, I learned that I really did love him, could, and did, forgive him.

    The man who I grieved for, many years later, when he died, was not the man I grew up hating, and I am ever so thankful for that fact.

    • Diana

      Wow. I'm glad he changed. I'm glad you stood up to your mother when she blamed your father for you being gay. I'm glad that the two of you were able to reconcile and have a relationship before he died. My hat is off to you.

  • njwriter

    I can relate. My dad was very abusive when he was alive, and my mom was very passive, a typical enabler who thought that she was being submissive by allowing him to abuse her and all of us. Christians who did not grow up in those circumstances can be very quick to throw around the whole "well, you've got to forgive him and forget all that" phrase. Easy for them to say. I do forgive him, but it is an ongoing process, especially because he never came clean about his nasty behavior and admitted he was wrong. I know he was a damaged person and I also know that I should have had a decent loving father to raise me, and I should have had a mother who was courageous enough to put her foot down and say enough is enough. But they both, like us all, were flawed people.

  • Michele

    Severing that emotional connection to a parent does not–as you said–make one cool or wise, and certainly isn't something to take pride in, it's just what you sometimes have to do in order to get on with your life. It took me a long time to realize it was "okay" to not like my mother. It certainly wasn't a secret that I wasn't her favorite person on the planet, so it was a pretty mutual arrangement. My mother continued to be in my life, as I am the type of person who felt I had to be a "good" daughter–and by "good" I mean whatever personal definition one attaches to that adjective–in order to feel good about myself, but along in her late sixties, after losing her husband, she began to participate less and less in the things that I feel make life worth living–family.

    Here are some thoughts I wrote on a friend's blog in response to her sadness over losing both of her parents a year ago, and anticipating how they would be missed at her daughter's upcoming wedding in June…

    "Here’s where you are lucky… You will miss your parents terribly when the wedding comes in June. Holding our baggage up against another’s does make us content to bear our own, but also when we look at what we had that other’s might not have had, it can make us thankful for the anguish of missing someone terribly, and so I share this for perspective only… I never knew, met, or laid eyes on my father, all I have of him are empty stories and DNA. At a relatively early age, my mother began a slow check-out of having any real presence or positive impact in my life, so that by the time she passed away, at age 82, there wasn’t much to miss. A day spent with a mother on this earth and one lived with her in the grave, are virtually the same. That fact makes me feel as if I am at fault, and really I’m not. Sigh… My children will marry, and though I will probably think of my mother in passing (I wore her cameos to my nephew’s wedding last month as a way to honor her) on their wedding days, I won’t miss her, or my father, terribly, because neither of them added much to my life when they were alive."

    I'm sure, John–like me–you would gladly trade the disconnection and indifference you have for your less than ideal parents, for the anguish that some feel over losing and missing their "good" parents, but we don't get that choice and so we make the best of what we get–Forest Gump and his box of chocolates come to mind–and we become desensitized to the horror flick that was our childhood, out of necessity.

    In my case, after my mother's death three years ago, it was exactly like an old movie reel that has reached "the end", but the reel continues spinning round and round, making that flapping noise as the loose end of the film makes it's rotation over and over. It was giant sigh of relief to be able to just reach over and turn of the projector off for the last time. And, I was surprised, though I shouldn't have been, at how peaceful it felt to be done. Finally. God gave my mother peace–something she never had in this life–and in doing so, He gave me peace. I wish you peace, John.

  • Gina Powers

    Hey John…..I wasn't going to comment on the last couple of blogs (I SWEAR, I is not a stalker), but I have to on this one. I am terribly sorry that you are going through this, and count me in as one who can relate. Denver, God bless you, I totally get where you're at, too, and it SUCKS. Both sides of my family are just unbelieveably nutters, especially my father's side. After almost twenty years of estrangement from my father, I tried to contact him via Facebook this February on my birthday. I wanted to make one last attempt to see if my incredibly mentally ill, verbally abusive, and yes, paternally indifferent sire perhaps grew a heart after all of these years. After his initial apology for his dickishness during my childhood years, I attempted to explain to him exactly what kind of person I am (Christian Feminist and all-around decent human being, for starters)–just so there would be no doubt to my misogynistic father whom he was dealing with. I was thus rewarded with him not only not responding to me, but him attempting (through my step-mother) to keep my step-sister, with whom I am trying to cultivate a relationship, from contacting me. There's a great deal more to the whole scenario that I'm not relating in an effort to be concise (and failing anyway–my apologies), but you get the idea.

    Thank you for sharing this with us, and to those who have been through similar circumstances, I wish peace to all. Hey, we are all still standing, right? God is good!!!! Apologies again for the tome….G

  • temidoskylla

    wow, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only person that has detached myself from my father and finally don’t feel any remorse about it. I grew up the child of an alcoholic father that blamed my birth for his poor life and his misery. I watched him beat my mother until they divorced and him play mind games with my sister and I because he cared nothing of us and only of himself. my inlaws (who are roman catholic) “pity” me because I grew up in a “divorced” home and that it must be horrible for me to not have a relationship with my father. i may not have grown up the “ideal life” like they think they did, but I am stronger now than a lot of people for having gone through that. I have no religion, but it’s nice to see a Christian that doesn’t pretend that their life is perfect and that having divorced parents doesn’t make you a sinful person.. thank you

  • amazing grace

    yep, I so get this. My father is probably not as bad as your dad but they could be cousins. My dad is still living, I think he will be 85 or 86….I’m convinced (or rather fear) he’s immortal. He’s not as bad now that his health has not allowed him to drink for the past few years- he’s now what you consider a dry drunk. I used to feel really guilty for not liking my father, who am I kidding, in the early years I would tell anyone and everyone I hated him as casually as your tone would be when asking to pass the salt at the table. It’s interesting that in the last few times I’ve went out to visit him, at the end of the visit the best way I could describe him to myself mentailly was, ‘what a son of a bitch’. I’m a born again believer, have been since I was 14. It’s hard for me to believe that I came out of his body and sometimes it’s difficult for me to grasp that half my DNA came from him. Thankfully the Lord intervened in my life when he did otherwise I know I would be insane or dead-seriously. I have a biological brother in whom the expression ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ aptly applies. I recently severed all contact with him for very similar reasons- they say there is no such thing as the ‘living dead’- apparenltly they have never met my father and brother. Thanks for sharing John- many people feel this way but don’t have the guts to share it.

  • Jeremy

    Hey, the man gave you free pants! Couldn't be ALL about him. Although I suppose even gift giving can be a selfish act sometimes.

    • Ace

      It *definitely* can. I know plenty of people who give gifts soley because they want pats on the back. And hoo boy do they get mad if you don't give them due attention for that paltry offering.

      • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

        sadly I know people like that, one in particular.

      • Jeremy

        You’ve met my mother in law?

  • http://pearloftheprairie.blogspot.com SoCoGal

    Even though my father is a conservative evangelical who hates alcohol I can relate to the experience of children from alcoholic homes. I think he reads the paper every morning just to get the first seat on the Rage Train. My siblings died as children which left me the lone recipient of the narcissistic, verbally and emotionally abusive crazy Baptist guy, with plenty of Bible bullets thrown in to support his actions. (Is ‘Honor Thy Father and Mother’ and ‘Children, obey your parents” the only two verses these people know?).You describe so well, John, the deadness in trying to be a living, breathing person in the house of ‘it’s all about me” for a parent. The Lord came to my rescue (a great and long story) but it has taken years of therapy, prayer and counseling and I’d like to know who send the invoice to. I too, have been told that I need to forgive, and I have, but forgiveness doesn’t clean up the mess he left, or protect me from the bullying that continues. As the only child, they are now looking to me to take care of them in their advanced age and lack of funds. I may have to disappear to Brazil.

  • Ace

    Hoo boy. I know people like that. Not my own parents, but other members of my family and other people I know. And yea, you can’t do anything with them, it really is like arguing with an obstinant toddler. They might as well have “It’s all about me!” tattooed across their foreheads.

    You have my sympathy, for sure.

    I do think children eventually *have* to somewhat ignore their parents, even if they are perfect loving ones, just to become independent adults. Not necessarily cut all ties with them, but stop allowing their parents to be the sole source of their emotional well-being. I am all for honoring thy father and mother but honoring your parents isn’t the same as allowing them to run or ruin your life.

    The alternative, of course, is to allow oneself to become a complete neurotic mess. Which seems doubly true when you have emotionally backward parents as so many of my peers did (I got very lucky with mine, who, while not perfect, didn’t go out of their way to scar me for life). Unfortunately love is usually a direct reflection of its source. Only God is perfect, so only God’s love is perfect. Human beings, including parents, are fractured, and their love is necessarily also fractured. “Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly” as Toni Morrison put it.

  • denver

    John, I have to say, if you have never seen his stand up, please go watch the comedy special "Norman Rockwell is bleeding" by Christopher Titus. He is my favorite comedian EVER and that is my favorite stand up of his. Anyone who grew up in weird dysfunctional circumstances I think would love him! :)


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