That painful conversation

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I want to talk about with my dad for that relationship class we are doing.

I am going with the infantilizing thing, but there’s a lot to it. I want to make sure I get as much as possible in the conversation and I hope he hears me and stops doing it.

I remember being a teenager and HATING when he called me the same stupid little name he called me as a toddler. It’s not cute or funny and it makes me ragey. I might have loved it as a toddler, but that’s where it should’ve stayed. It’s uncool to keep tormenting your teenager, then college student, and then adult with something from age 2. I get to a point with my kids, usually around middle school, when they don’t want to hear that pet name anymore. And away it goes. I don’t even sweat it. It’s their life and I hope to remain a part of it. Respect is a two way street and if something I am doing makes them uncomfortable, it is my job to stop doing it.

But I was brought up that I should avoid confronting my father especially over these types of things. It was me taking away his joy in life. I was unable to set boundaries with him because he did not consider me an autonomous person. I really think that’s the cause of all of our problems, if I had to try to explain why I have a hard time relating to him. I feel like my boundaries weren’t respected; that I was gaslit as being too sensitive and I should be more concerned with my dad’s joy than my own.

So here we are. He still calls me that stupid name, sings stupid songs at me expecting me to respond, and doesn’t understand why I want to keep my distance from him. He keeps taking about how painful it is to not be around the kids all the time anymore and all I can think about is how relieved I am to have distance between us.

I try hard to picture myself back then, trying to break away from this family that repeatedly told me in words and actions that I was the problem, I was too sensitive, I didn’t deserve a life in which I could choose what I was called at any given time, I was subjected to any humiliating story at any time, regardless of who was around, and that anything I do beyond the age of 2 shall be ignored. I can’t see the person I used to be anymore. All I can see is the person who just shut up and complied after all of that nonsense. The person who felt empty and hopeless because even the most basic needs were not met. I was unable to break away without threats of some sort. And when threats didn’t work, guilt was applied heavily.

What helps me find the real me now is remembering how hard I used to fight their bullshit. How much I argued about their silly rules, begged them to just call me by my name (which I hated but was better than stupid toddler names), and that person didn’t care about their threats or guilt. I don’t know why this happened to me because neither of their sets of parents or family members called them anything stupid like that. It was like this weird thing they just decided to do to me.

I feel like the infantilizing discounts all of the trauma and hardships I have fought to survive. It discounts my accomplishments at work and in life. Why do those accomplishments count for less than what they loved about my toddler years? Why do they not want to celebrate those instead of reliving the past that I don’t even remember? I guess I won’t have those answers until this conversation happens. I am not sure where this conversation will go or what topic he will bring up to talk about. I have a bad feeling he won’t hear me nor will he understand what was really going on.

Last week we got talking about something and that led to us talking about my band experience my senior year. He was talking about how I switched from playing trumpet to playing a low brass instrument. He thought that I wanted to switch. But what happened was this: my first trumpet as a 4th grader was a school instrument. My second one was a very used student model that they bought me. It was really banged up. That was 5th grade. In 8th grade they bought me a brand new student model trumpet like everyone else had. And they would not buy me another trumpet my junior year when I asked nicely to get a used one that another student was selling. What was happening was that every time I tried to play higher notes, I would get a raging headache for a second. It felt like someone was driving large nails into the front of my head. My lung capacity was too big for that trumpet and the high notes were really hurting me. I explained this to him last week. HIs response was “If we had known it was causing you discomfort, we would have gotten you a new trumpet. We just thought you wanted a silver trumpet because you wanted one.”

That’s really rich because 1. My discomfort meant nothing to them. He seemed to strive to make uncomfortable in front of my friends, his friends, family, and strangers. 2. I know I told them. And I was likely accused of faking it or making things up. I can’t tell you how many times I was legitimately sick and send to school anyway with “If you are REALLY sick, they will send you home.” And I was sent home every time I was really sick. They made me feel like I couldn’t even tell if I was sick. And that was a problem that continues to follow me. I always think I am faking illness because mine was never taken seriously unless the school nurse confirmed it for them. 3. It was never about the color or metal of the trumpet. Yes, everyone at my new high school had a silver trumpet. But I was the only one still playing a student trumpet. They refused to listen to me on that. All they heard was “Everyone else has a silver trumpet.” Not that everyone else was playing a real trumpet, not a student model. I suppose I could’ve asked the band director to call them, but that would’ve meant that another person had to validate what I was trying to tell them. They never ever believed me about anything. And that constant dismissal of even my smallest requests taught me that I was nothing and I was worthless. I was a play thing to be picked up and put down at will. I was not a human being with real feelings and needs.

I hope they are happy. They taught me exactly what they seemed to want to teach me. But a person who is nothing has nothing to give, so that’s really what they get from me. Nothing. I don’t do anything with them because I truly want to, I do it because I feel obligated to do it. Because I don’t want anything to happen to them and I didn’t try everything in my power to make it better.

This conversation will determine the future of my relationship with my father, but also both of my parents. If he refuses to hear me and respect my boundaries, I will need to shut it all down permanently. I cannot be connected to anyone who refuses to hear what I have to say and won’t respect me as a person with feelings and needs. If he can’t handle not calling me those toddler names, he won’t be able to handle the real me. And I am worth it enough to know that I need to cut him out if he can’t respect me.

I don’t want to put all this pressure on one conversation, but I think this is the right place to start if we really want to improve this relationship. He needs to hear me for once.

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