I was becoming just like him. That’s what I was being told. I hated that reality. I’ve only seen my real dad a handful of times since I was five. The thought that I was turning out to be like him, if I didn’t change my ways, made me feel life-less.
Ten years ago I made a choice, that I wanted to begin crafting a new life. I decided that I had to change from the inside out. I wasn’t exactly sure how.
I recognized that I had been simply floating through life, through every circumstance, without the will to make anything work for me that truly felt good. I was behaving like a victim and exercised no ability to shape my own experiences. In a way, I think this was a form of self-protection. I felt like I was alone in the world. I began acting like this was true.
It all started when I was four or five. I had a series of dreams about losing all of my toys, and another one about my mother vacuuming them up with a giant rat tail. And then one day my father was at the front door of the house, telling me that he had to go, that he wasn’t coming back. My father vanished, leaving me with a hug and no promises for the future.
Shortly after that memory, I was ushered into a new family setting. In one day, I had a new brother and sister, and a new step-dad. Adding to the size of the new family was my younger brother and sister.
All of the rules changed abruptly. I was expected to know them and comply. In my young mind, I think you could say that I simply stopped acting like a child. It was all senseless. None of it felt right. There wasn’t anyone who wanted my opinion. No one cared when I expressed my feelings. No one was listening. And there was nothing I could do about it. I became powerless. And I wasn’t the only one having a hard time in life back then.
My older step-brother and step-sister weren’t happy and decided that I was the problem. They didn’t like that they were sacrificing the attention of their father for me. They said that I was in the way, that they didn’t want me there. I was a catalyst for their insecurities. Soon they began playing pranks on me. They were aiming to scare me, mostly at night, and started roughing me up in the day.
I tried to close my mind off from the whole thing. I really only remember that they were mean and then soon became vicious. They would do anything they could to make sure I didn’t get them in trouble. I told my mom they were hurting me but they explained there way out, that they were just joking around, and that they were just trying to play with me. My mom sided with them.
In retrospect, this is when I started doubting myself and my own thoughts and beliefs. Maybe they really were just goofing off and trying to involve me in what appeared to be twisted games. Maybe I had it all wrong. But the pain and terror continued.
While I was of middle school age, my step-brother was punching me, again and again, and also attacked my siblings, and then my mom, hitting her with a tennis racket. He was taken over by rage. He has since apologized but the pain and torture that lasted for years, and the subsequent mental diffusion that occurred in my own thought-life, since I was five, have been an oppressive brain-killer for me ever since. I asked myself, why did I have to go through all of that?
My father was not there for me, ever, to protect me. When I was a young child, I was the oldest of the children. I could remember a time when I had a family, and in that place, I remember feeling that I had joy.
And then suddenly, that one day, I had no father of my own. What was familiar and safe was gone. Even though I had a new step-dad come along that seemed to care about me, I never could connect in a meaningful way with him. I had a memory of my real father, and I had expectations of what he meant to me, and of what he should be doing in my life. At no point did I ever think that my step-dad could take his place. For me, this became a lifetime of sorrow because my expectations I had of my real father were never met.
I walked with a weary trod; reacting to circumstances. I refused to consider even for one moment that I had any say in the outcome of anything. I had no choices, that I could see, that I could make of my own. I felt hopeless and helpless.
I needed to challenge myself. I needed to do something drastic.
First I joined the Marine Corps. And later on I joined the Army. One of my jobs was to help others get through their training in scout school. I encouraged them, helping a few along the way believe in themselves. And I aimed to teach them how to go to war without killing. I enjoyed certain aspects of that time, but at the end of the day, I was just going through the military motions. I couldn’t even grasp the feeling of Marine Corp pride that I saw being displayed by everyone around me.
Still lurking in my mind was the fact that I had no father, and somewhere inside of me, I struggled to discover anything to be proud of. This constant lacking continued to affect me.
I was eighteen years old, hammered into the shape of a warrior, standing stiff, without a smile, wearing a uniform. That was the day that I finally met my father, after thirteen years of absence. I saw him as a victim. I have been one too. I don’t see myself that way anymore.
Father, I had always believed that you weren’t willing to step up and take ownership, and that you were not proud of what was yours, your son, me. If there was one redeeming factor of our finally meeting, it was that I realized that I didn’t care to hurt anymore. I was able look into the emptiness of your eyes. It was both of our emptiness that I know I was feeling in that moment.
I started to examine my heart. I was searching for something deeper than I had ever searched for before. What I think I saw was a younger version of you, and it created a fierce anger inside of me; a resentment. That was the moment when you were actually able to teach me something, by default, and not by your own intentional efforts. You taught me to take ownership of my life, to make good choices, and to not be afraid of making mistakes, all because of when I met you that day, seeing none of that ability in you.
I’ve chosen to take this pain, to not carry it on my shoulders anymore, into another generation, and instead use it for goodness sake.
I have become at peace by forgiving, by accepting every facet of my life-situation, and making it work for me, by doing the best I can each day. I have learned much. I am now able to recognize and refuse the self-victimization that my young life was full of.
Perhaps one day, by chance or luck, or divine meeting, I will find you again. Maybe somewhere in the back country of Montana, or wherever you have placed yourself, wherever you have been led to. And I hope to find out that you too have also learned to accept what is. And maybe in that moment, we can embrace each other, man to man, father and son, and have a conversation about the heart of the matter.
But until that day, should it be, I will continue being my best self, the best father to my three sons, and be at peace with all that is around me.
With a smile and a heart full of love, I miss you dad, and I have always loved you. I haven’t given up the hope that’ll I’ll see you on your own two feet someday. ~ Your son,