Battle Scarr’d

Along the lines of Protect Your Peace, and People Will Tell You Who They Are If You’ll Only Listen, and with a big ol’ dollop of Fuck Around And Find Out, I have had my final fight with my father.

He is a miserable man, 86 years old, depressed and angry at the world. My relationship with him has always been tense. He is a man for whom others can do no right. Everyone is lesser. He sits on his very lonely throne in his house and demands respect from subjects who hate him.

I loathe him.

I am aware that ‘hate’ and ‘loathe’ are strong words. I use them very intentionally here.

Over the years, my father has alienated absolutely everyone close to him except my mother with his self-aggrandizement and his put-downs. He demands nothing less than perfection and no one ever measures up. He hits. He yells. When we were growing up, he hit my brother with a belt about weekly. I tried to be a model child, but I didn’t escape it either, though I was hit far less often, maybe 3 or 4 times a year. My father traveled a lot for his work, and when he returned, the accumulation of any infractions as tallied by my mother were met with swift and forceful punishment, whether we’d been “good” on that particular day or not. I loved it when he was gone, and loathed it when he came home.

This last fight was just an adult version of those beatings. His birthday was day before yesterday, and I called him to wish birthday greetings. He didn’t pick up, so I left a birthday message. Yesterday, I followed up with another call. He berated me for my lack of contact, had clearly not received my message, and told me once more what a terrible daughter I am.

This is a litany that has gone on for decades. Over the last decade it has morphed into making me the family scapegoat. My parents have systematically alienated every last friend and family member they have ever had. Sometimes my father takes pride in that fact, sometimes he laments it. He can’t have it both ways.

Last night he was angry that I was not in Colorado for his birthday. He was angry that I’m not doing my “filial duty”. He once again expressed his opinion that I should be caring for him and my mom, who has dementia or undiagnosed Alzheimer’s, one of those. He was angry that when he talks to his neighbor across the road about family, his neighbor clearly has children who love him.

I’ve been very clear with my father about what I can do: help them move, handle financial and medical logistics, talk to lawyers, doctors, banks, potential caregivers, and retirement homes. I’ve also been very clear that I can’t be a caregiver for them. I am not trained to handle my mother’s deteriorating condition. I’m not equipped to handle my parents’ various mental problems. I also know that any tenuous and fragile relationship we still have would be an absolute shambles at the end of the first day, so it helps no one.

Last night he told me: “I have long thought that there was something defective in your character that tore this family apart.”


I’m adopted. I remember early in my tenancy with the Sinkovecs that my mother threatened to take me back to the adoption agency. I think I was five or six the first time that happened. It’s stuck with me until today, it terrified me so deeply. So I’ve always felt pretty defective, like maybe I should be returned. I’m only now, at my advanced age, learning how wrong these people were. How I am absolutely fine the way I am. How no one else can be the judge of what my version of perfect is.

I’ve decided that I’m done with the abuse, and I told him so. I hope he never calls me again. I hope I never hear anything about either of those people again. I stayed because I was (wrongly) hopeful that we would have a better relationship as we all got older. I stayed out of a sense of duty. I stayed out of pity. I stayed because they had no one else. But I am not defective in my character, and the only person my father has to blame for the wreckage of our family is himself. I was the only holdout in their world, but I am leaving it for my own sanity.

Talking with my therapist about all of this, I expressed regret that I hadn’t cut ties sooner. He asked if that regret served me in any way. It doesn’t, of course, so he likened the experience to climbing a big mountain. I got three quarters of the way to the top of Everest, ran out of food, got hurt, and had to turn around. But I still climbed 3/4 of the mountain.

My therapist also pointed out that we all are in charge of our own narratives. My father’s narrative recently has become that I destroyed the family. This is not true, but it is his narrative, and has likely taken shape because taking responsibility for his abusive and abrasive nature is impossible to live with. I’m allowed to embrace my own narrative. Rather than making that narrative one of regret, or that I truly am responsible for the demise of the family unit, my narrative can be that I stayed. I stayed almost until the bitter end, through all the screaming down the phone and terrible accusations, through all the judgments about my life and choices, through all the trampling of any boundaries I tried to set, I stayed.

To take the Everest analogy one step further, I can talk about my journey up the mountain as though it’s a tragedy. I can say I didn’t suck it up and fight it out, even though it could literally have been the death of me. When someone asks me about the journey, I could tell them it was a failure. OR, I can remember that I made it most of the way, that I offered support again and again, and that all of my offers to help them were rebuffed. I can remember all the times I held my tongue and tried desperately to remember that my father’s ravings against me come from a soul who is aging badly and who not only can’t cope, but also can’t accept advice or help. I can tell anyone who asks that I had an epic journey into self-acceptance and a deeper understanding of what is good for me, and tell them about the things I saw and heard along the way that helped me forge a new path.

God, this subject bores me. Let us never revisit this one again, Ghost. I’ve wasted too much of my life on this already.

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