What Father’s Day Is Like When Your Father Abused You
My daddy ruined Father’s Day for me. I was a little, middle-class Black girl growing up in a big city. My parents were married to each other and I had a little brother. My parents had high standards for our family. My dad was a lawyer with his own firm in real estate law and my mom an executive assistant for a large company. I have a large extended family that had a fish fry every Friday at my grandparents’ house. Granddad made the fish and shrimp and Grandma made the potato salad and fries. You were invited even if you were not family. Some just came to pick up a plate. I went to private religious school with my brother and cousins, and I was in Sunday School every Sunday and was an acolyte. That was my life during the day.
At night, it was a whole different story; everything turned sinister and torrid. As a child, I kept the day child and night child of my psyche separate. What was happening at night did not cloud the day. I could not let it. I was not safe, and I did not even know it. I was being abused and could tell no one. Mom was not my ally. Mom also repeatedly told everyone I told stories (lies). I am still silenced by that claim to this day. I felt everyone in my extended family would not believe me since they respected my dad so much. (I later learned this was not true.)
Maybe I could have turned to teachers, but I could not possibly speak ill of a Black man to White people. I learned incredibly early that that was not allowed. Black men are sacred and should not be brought under scrutiny of the oppressor (Whites). My mind and body tried to tell. The anxiety I displayed in fifth grade — having panic attacks — was dismissed as attention-seeking but was in fact a warning sign. I was given a paper bag and was told to breathe into it if I started hyperventilating. No one seemed to care that I was suffering. No one seemed to care why.
Every third Sunday in June, I regret the loss of the father I never had. I miss him even though he never existed. I was his favorite even though he caused me so much pain. He taught me morals and to believe in God and that God would save me from any hurts. I secretly knew that was not true.
My sense of self and mental health suffers. I still have flashbacks, body memories, panic attacks, depression, anxiety and everything else that comes with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is more pronounced on days like Father’s Day. Everyone is on Facebook bragging about their dad. Giving tributes and showing celebrations. I stopped speaking to my father for good in 2008. It has been nearly 12 years now. I just cut it off, no explanation — I figured he should know why. I have not seen my parents or brother in all that time. The separation is devastating almost as bad as the abuse. Who goes around without parents who are alive? No one understands the depth of the hurt I experienced and the necessity of the split.
So, Father’s Day is here again. Yes, I still love him. I still pray for him to the God he taught me to worship and love. But still with all that, I have learned through therapy that, unlike a child, I have a choice in whom I let into my safety circle. I do not choose him. He is toxic. I choose other men in my life to celebrate on Father’s Day — men who are deserving of love and admiration for their contributions to their children and me.
I am working on reclaiming Father’s Day. There are men worthy of celebration. I just did not have a father who met the standard.
Getty Images photo via fizkes