My biological father had a very particular way of doing things. Looking back on it, he definitely presented with OCD, among other things. He would get angry with me if I put the toilet paper roll facing up, not down, or if I left water spots on the sink after washing my hands. It was impossible to predict what would set him off. It was difficult enough to keep track of all of this and, when I didn’t do so accurately, he would begin to escalate. He would start pacing. Back and forth, getting riled up more and more. He would make me sit in the same spot while I watched him get more and more hysterical. He would scream, “fuck the day I was ever fucking born.” He would hit and punch himself in the face and abdomen, grab and shake me, and scream at the top of his lungs in my face. Eventually he would de-escalate and cry.
I wouldn’t move from that spot. I wasn’t able to eat or drink water or go to the bathroom for many hours. The sun would go down and he would retreat to his room upstairs. I would walk up to his bedroom. He would be sitting there in the dark. Eventually I would go upstairs to see if he was still angry with me.
What I learned from these episodes was that I was the one who disappointed him and caused him to lose his temper. It was my fault that I didn’t remember to put the toilet paper roll facing down or that I didn’t remember to wipe the sink basin after I washed my hands. After all, he wouldn’t have been hurt and this whole thing wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t so stupid. I was 7 years old.
When he felt bad about scaring me, he would hold me and rock me back and forth. He would repeatedly rub my hair in the same spot over and over until it felt like it was going to fall out. This also went on for hours. I hated this almost more than the episodes.
I remember one time he was so angry with me when I woke up in the morning. It turned out that I was sleep walking the night before and didn’t obey his orders to go to bed. He always pointed at me and spoke to me in his condescending, booming voice. “You are to (insert the directions here). You are not to do this.”
I would beg my great aunt to come with me to my father’s house but I never told her or anyone why I didn’t want to be alone with him. I didn’t want anyone else to be disappointed in me. I had completely internalized his episodes as my own fault.
I remember being in his car. He would drive recklessly, curse and punch the dashboard while driving. One time he rear-ended the car in front of him because he was so enraged. He always drove like this. I remember being at stoplights next to other cars and looking at the person as if they could help me. I also remember thinking there was something wrong with my heart because of the pressure in my chest.
During his tantrums in the house during which I would have to sit for hours, I remember being so hysterical that I couldn’t breathe. My hands would spasm and become locked. I would look down at my locked hands and look back up at him, but he was too enraged to notice, or care – I’m not sure which one. I learned later that this hand locking occurs during hyperventilation when carbon dioxide levels drop because of labored breathing.
My PTSD dreams mirror his abuse almost exactly. I’m being chased by a man who is trying to hurt and kill me. I try to get him to open up to me so I will live and escape but then begin to feel bad for him because I’m manipulating him for my own self-preservation. In some of the dreams, my father rapes me and I become pregnant. It should be noted that there was never sexual abuse in real time, however, my dreams reflect it to this day. It’s the same theme over and over (and over) again. It always feels real, and it’s absolutely terrifying.
After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved in with my father in the house that she was born and raised in. She would call me crying and tell me that he wouldn’t give her food. She would tell me that she couldn’t go to the bathroom and thought she might urinate herself because, he “didn’t want to hear the sound of (her) fucking walker across the kitchen floor.” He was abusing her the way he did my mother and I. I knew this abuse very well. I would sneak her cigarettes and food while he was at work and leave no trace of my presence when I left.
When my great passed away, my great uncle, my boyfriend Joseph and I went to the house to visit my grandma. When I pulled up to the house I could hear my father screaming at her. I was 17 years old. I stormed in the house and got in his face. (Mind you this is a 6 ft. tall, large Italian man). I called him a fucking pussy and told him if he wanted to hit someone, to hit me. I actually went off for a while on him elaborating on how much of a pussy he was. I completely lost my shit. I don’t know if I shocked him or what but he retreated. He always had this tendency to abuse people behind closed doors. That day I had opened that door and exposed him. Later that year, I rented a moving truck and snuck my grandmother out of that house. She would go to live with my cousin Cathy until she grew ill with congestive heart failure and passed away. I miss her so much.
My father was in and out of my life for my entire childhood (and adulthood for that matter). We would stop talking because he would do something horrendous like sue a beloved family member with some pointless, frivolous lawsuit or say something awful about someone I loved. Then he would come back into my life and ask for my forgiveness. We would be ok and talk like nothing happened until the next time his meds were off. The thing with my father is that his mental illness is more obvious to me than my mother. While my father may certainly have a personality disorder like her, it is also apparent that he has severe OCD and bipolar disorder, and this plays a huge part in his disposition. Because of this, I tend to have more compassion for him. While both my mother and father can be abusive, he presents more as a victim of mental illness while she comes off as manipulative. Also, he tends to be passionate about things such as politics, food and helping others (like me). He does well with antipsychotics and other psychotropics, and is a functional, well-rounded person if he’s on the right cocktail.
Even if my father and I are on speaking terms, it’s not like I’m talking to a father figure. It’s more like talking to a friend about common interests and passions, and that’s ok with me. I’m prepared for him to go off of his meds or turn on me, though I, of course, hope he doesn’t. I don’t take it personally (anymore). He has been stable for some time now, has become part of an amazing church community and volunteers a tremendous amount of his time to the church and it’s functions. For the most part, I am capable of forgiveness if the person acknowledges the error of their ways and if the behavior is discontinued. My mother’s victimization never stops and I just refuse to tolerate it. As long as I don’t sense my father’s temper coming out (and I mean in the tiniest bit), I can continue to have contact. I suppose everyone has their contingencies, but these are mine.
photo credit: Akash Singh, Bangalore, India