I don’t understand women who like their fathers, who trust them and turn to them for support. Fathers are dark and dangerous, manipulative and cruel. They froth at the mouth at infractions and cry, salty tears when they need a hug from the mother they never had. Fathers whose daughters like them are mystical creatures.
Men who love and nurture their little women in ways that create strong, healthy bonds and boundaries for a lifetime of beautiful relationships? Those exist??
I certainly didn’t have one of those. Fathers and daughters who love and respect one another are only people who exist in books and movies and who are overheard in coffee shops. They’re not me and my dad.
I don’t bring it up all that often, but no one without daddy issues would have a life like mine. She would never accept what I do from men. She would assert herself and say No, she would insist on her needs being known and valued. She would never stand for mistreatment. But that isn’t me. I have daddy issues.
Even saying the words makes me cringe. It’s so trite, so predictable, but there it is. I have daddy issues the size of a goddamned 747.
I wept in therapy a week and a half ago as I pieced together my disastrous date with Milwaukee. After having sex with him Thursday night that I don’t really remember, I went home to sleep it off and when I returned to his hotel room to go to brunch he accosted me.
His breath smelled of liquor at 11 am and as I pushed him off of me repeatedly he kept after me with lurid promises of what he’d do to me later. He thought he was being sexy. I thought he was being boorish and disgusting.
I pushed him, shoved him, told him I wasn’t a sure thing and to knock it off. Then he jammed his finger up my skirt as I peered out a window and almost got inside of me before I twisted away and yelled at him again. “After he assaulted you, why didn’t you leave, Hy?” my therapist asked gently.
I couldn’t answer her.
“Where did you feel it? Where did it come from? This knowing it was wrong?”
“I don’t know. I just knew I didn’t like it. I was very clear about him stopping and I yelled at him. But then I went downstairs with him to wait for a car to go to brunch…” I looked up at her watching me. “Then he said something else disgusting and I jumped up like this and shouted, ‘STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT I DONT FUCKING LIKE IT!!'” I demonstrated for her, something I don’t think I’ve ever done in years of working with her.
“He apologized and looked contrite. I should have left then. I should have left in the room. I should have left when I woke up with a vague sense of irritation and unpleasantness naked in his bed. But I didn’t.”
“I don’t know,” I said as I began to cry. I had this overwhelming familiar feeling related to my reaction to him. There were moments in his room that morning when fear rose up in me. Would he rape me? Hurt me? But they quickly passed as I danced and maneuvered away, but still remained within his reach.
When I’d shared the date with him with two of my dearest friends, one said this:
I think the most important question you have to answer for yourself, Hy, is why you don’t trust your gut? Why do you plot the course and then follow all the way through to an inevitable conclusion when you knew he wasn’t a good fit? Is it because you’re curious, because you desire the sex/companionship regardless of the quality, or because you feel you owe it to someone not to “back out” once the process starts?
Our message string is deleted that far back but I clearly remember saying to you, when someone is lousy over text/phone it’s never good in person, and you were not acknowledging your gut feelings. You kept saying maybe it will be better in person. You kept reaffirming what you believed his good qualities were and that he deserved a chance.
I’m checking you on this because it was quite clear to me he was acting in an odd and uncomfortable way and despite your acknowledgment of this you insisted on pushing through to the date. Why is that?
Maybe it’s a FOMO thing, you just have to be 100% sure you’re not “missing” something and so you go all the way until you can no longer deny that it was bad to begin with. But that isn’t trusting your gut is it? That’s more like being a scientist, running the experiment until you have the hard fought data which ultimately proves the initial hypothesis.
I told her she had every right to check me, that everything she wrote was true, but my internal compass is off. Though my gut is always right I continually override it. Why??
“Tell me why you didn’t leave,” my therapist pressed.
“Because I wanted something from him…” I sobbed, humiliated, hurting. “We were supposed to go to my favorite brunch spot, then my favorite restaurant for dinner.
“It was like that with my father. I would be trapped with him in a booth and he’d be telling me disgusting things or droning on and on about himself as if I were there simply to listen to him and I’d be begging him to stop, to see me, but I needed new tires on my car or I wanted that fancy dinner or some spare cash.
“I endured his awfulness so he could give me things and I could feel taken care of by him for once in my life, to feel loved.” My whole body shook with remorse and disgust and shame. “If he gave me something, then it proved I was good enough. That’s why I never leave.”
The feelings for the girl I was welled up inside of me and poured out my face. I felt like blackness rose from me like steam. No matter how awful, how gross, how in appropriate my father was I stayed the course because we both knew I was there to get something from him, and him from me. And I was never able to make him stop despite my efforts to make him be a decent human being to both me and my sister.
When I was 20 I cut him out of my life for a couple of years after a long visit of his prolonged vileness and him rifling through all of my things while I was at class. I eventually let him back in, feeling stronger, and even lived with him for a year after college. It wasn’t good. He was mean and hard, but I was living rent free, so…
And then when I was 26 he sent my sister and I a revolting joke about how semen is calorie-free. It was the final straw and I cut him out of our lives for good. Shortly thereafter, my sister revealed he’d molested her when she was only 8 years old and I was 11. Now our relationship was irrevocably over and I no longer had to suffer his pitiful attempts at being my father.
I’ve never really read much about the collateral damage of sexual abuse for a child not directly harmed. Do those papers even exist?? I’ve read countless articles on trauma and personal accounts of abuse, I hear stories on NPR for Christ’s sake, but you don’t hear how it affects the other children in the family.
From the moment my father did that evil thing to my sister I no longer existed. I never understood why I was suddenly #2 in everything we did, why he preferred her, why she was always right and I was always wrong. I longed for his approval and love, but was shunned again and again. He had sins to atone for and I was no longer a priority. I was his made his mother, and used whenever he needed support. When he didn’t need me I was invisible. And so it went until the day he died an excruciating death, alone in a big city in the desert.
My therapist’s eyes were soft as she watched me, tear streaked and miserable fit the pieces together. That is why I never leave. That is why I override my instincts. That is why I stay near a man who doesn’t care to be with me. Because I want something from them and if I get it it means I am worthy. I fucking exist.
Sometimes it’s a nice dinner, sometimes it’s sex. My father put a high premium on a woman being a “knockout.” I never felt I attained that level with him, but when men ogle and drool I feel vindicated and seen all over again. I am real for that moment. I push aside a man’s poor manners or inconsiderateness because he has promised me something – unspoken, but promised all the same. I will get his attention, his money, his body, his pleasure.
That means that I have evolved into the ultimate seductress, ever morphing to match the desires of my date. I prefer white wine, but he has expressed a preference for Malbec, so that is the only kind of wine I buy when I come over. He wants to watch golf? Ok. I will ask as many questions as possible, though really I’d prefer the TV to just be off. I have no impact, I am not there, but when I am turned inside out, bare skinned and lost in my own broken darkness with a man deep inside of me I am all of me.
I am not thinking about how to win him over, I am only a raw, pulsing nerve feeling our atoms mingle. Finally, I exist again by losing myself completely.
It feels like this revelation is what I’ve been working towards in the last 20 years of therapy I’ve been slogging through. I have been trying to close the loop with my father every day of my fucking life since the moment he touched my baby sister. I have been trying to be seen and loved and wanted in any way I knew how. And boy, have I adapted. I have been a machine at getting things.
In the days leading up to this revelation I cut things off with Milwaukee. I was very frank with him about how I felt about his behavior and while he was crushed, he understood. It is one of the most singularly healthy things I’ve done for myself since I ended my friendship with The Neighbor or left my husband. I don’t look out for myself, the drive to get something is so overwhelmingly powerful. I am terrified of asserting myself, saying No, that is not ok, and then being rejected and failing to get whatever it is I want.
The Saturday after therapy the Rich Golfer* got too drunk on the golf course with the help of a Xanax and canceled plans an hour before we were set to meet. My initial reaction was to completely accept it and reschedule for the next weekend – the words flew across text before I even realized what I’d done. Hours later I texted again that while it’d taken a little while to sink in I thought flaking on me in the 11th hour was shitty and that it really bummed me out.
The next morning he apologized and last night as we lay curled together on his big couch between dick-sucking and ass-fucking goodness he apologized again with his lips on my neck.
It was terrifying to admit I was unhappy with him, such a small, reasonable thing, but I don’t do that: I am amenable, pleasing, ingratiating. Yet, I was still there whole and real and I had promised myself that if he didn’t apologize – truly apologize – I would end it immediately. But he did and I took a very small step towards being me and not just trying to get something. I existed without the thing.
And this time I brought white wine.
[Ed. Note: *I need to rename him something less offensive. He’s a lot more than rich and a golfer.]