While my mother happily explored feminism and piled all of her frustrated hopes and dreams into my older sister, Aprille, I found myself in the new and different position of being my father’s confidant and friend. My mother’s transition from traditional womanhood into modern feminist had sent many ripples through our family life, and one of them bumped right into my traditional, conservative and passive father. Used to being deferred and catered to, his wife was now out protesting the need for bike paths and going to school for journalism.
My mother and sister were very close – Aprille was her wonder girl – very intelligent, ambitious and empowered by mom to achieve everything that feminism could deliver. With my accidental conception, my presence meant being chained down longer to traditional womanhood. She saw me as hindering her flight out of the slavery of the home.
For my punishment, I received daily doses of emotional abuse, insults about my appearance and intelligence, negligence, and outright hatred. When I was two, and we were having lunch, I reputedly spit at a waitress and received the spanking of my life. This was an oft-told and laughed at story as I was growing up and one that carried with it a great deal of shame and guilt for many years. But as an adult, I had to ask myself, what was I must have been going through as a small child to actually do that? Is there any child I know who would act that way – it is very unnatural.
I also took to stealing small items from stores. I was basically left to take care of myself anyway, so usually I got away with it. One time, my parents found out and took me back to the store. The manager told me that next time he’d have to put me in jail. That was for stealing a pack of gum. At 7 years old, I had the reputation in my family of being a wild, bad seed, criminal child. I remember my mother crying one time, saying “My child is a criminal!”. Of course, having no perspective on why I would have felt so angry inside, I grew up feeling that I must be very, very wicked and feeling sorry for my parents, or at least, my father.
Before long, of course, the left-out traditional spouse and the left-out child gravitated towards each other and my father and I became closer. More than that, I distinctly felt that my mother was so-to-speak gladly handing over the reigns to me. It was kind of a perfect storm, in fact. I was lonely and looking for kindness and relief from my mother’s and sister’s emotional abuse and bullying. My father was looking for someone who adored him, believed everything he said and would be there for him – just like my mother was in the early days of her marriage. I decided that I could be good for him if he would love me and care for me.
I soon learned everything that my father expected. Probably, I had learned quite a bit from watching my mother in her early days without even realizing it. The relationship with my father was the only love I was likely to get growing up, so I studied well and learned how to play my part. I was adoring, complementary, never nagged him, always deferred to his opinion, never expected anything difficult, never criticized. Of course, I was a child so this came rather naturally. I smugly looked down upon my mother who I saw as harsh, critical, overbearing, too independent and nagging. Feminism seemed to be the reason – why else would she abandon this wonderful, loving man who was just missing the love and affection of a “real woman”?
Oh, the things that I did not know or understand at that point! It boggles the mind now. I had no idea of my father’s alcoholism, his inability to keep a job, his 3-hr. Martini lunches, his affairs, his depressions, his insistence of being served and obeyed, despite his seemingly gentle and passive nature. To my child’s mind, my mother’s feminism was destroying her marriage. Well, I reasoned, if she did not want him – this wonderful man – I would do my best to make him happy. And in return I received some measure of love and affection which had been glaringly absent from my childhood.
So I had found the winning combination: attach yourself to a man and learn to please him for your emotional survival. The only other alternative for me, growing up, was emotional abuse at the hands of my rageful mother and competitive sister. It was really very simple. I just had no idea how this choice, made subconsciously, was going to shape my future…
More Catholic Than The Pope by MusicMom: