My dad’s volume was impressive. It’s like he was factory equipped with a megaphone in his throat.
There were many times I was reduced to saying: Please…just please stop yelling.
His response was the same every time: I’m not yelling, THIS IS YELLING.
He would go from unbelievably loud to inhumanly loud.
Not always, though. There were times when my father would speak to me or my sisters in a calm and rational tone. His voice was mellow and tinged with concern.
His most devastating comments were delivered in that voice.
It was in this voice I learned I would never be smart enough to take care of myself. I would never be pretty enough to coast on my looks.
When he called me an ‘airhead’ it was almost always in a loving way.
This is how I learned that I was an ingrate and that I thought the world should deliver everything to me on a silver platter.
This was the voice that informed me that nothing in HIS house was mine.
No matter that I worked two jobs in high school and had bought my own clothes since age 13.
He would periodically come into my room and tell me that everything in it was his. That he could take it all outside and burn it if he wanted.
He would tell me that anytime he wanted he could get me fired from one or both of my jobs.
This is the voice that taught me shame. I learned the lesson very well.
When I was around 10 years old, we went to the Cincinnati Zoo. My hair was wild, my face was dirty, and I wore a stained white sweat shirt that had a shaggy dog on the front with the words ‘Be nice to me, I’ve had a hard day’.
Dad took pictures of my younger sisters, the animals, my mother…everything but me. I asked him to take my picture and he did, but it was obvious he didn’t want to.
He took it by the door of the bird house. There was a lovely Dogwood tree behind me in full bloom.
After the pictures were developed he sat me down and silently flipped through the pictures. He got to the one he took of me and showed it to me.
“Do you SEE why I didn’t want to take your picture”?
I looked at my picture, I had my hand up to my squinted eyes to shade them from the sun and I knew exactly why he didn’t want to take my picture.
I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve requested my picture be taken in the 40 years that followed.
I am not a fan of my image.
It’s taken me years, but I know now that a lot of my beliefs about myself are simply not true.
I’m not stupid. I’m pretty fucking far from stupid.
I’m not ugly.
I appreciate what I have and what people do for me. And I have NEVER expected the world to hand me anything. I’ve worked for what I have.
I also know that it is within me to be just as cruel as my father was.
I am mostly NOT a cruel person, but the few times in my life that I’ve been extraordinarily cruel, the cruelness was delivered in a calm and cool manner…because somewhere inside me, I knew it would hurt the most if it was said in a loving way.
Even though my anger toward the people who received this treatment was justified, I count these moments as some of the biggest regrets of my life.
I am not my father. I am not a cruel person.
I struggle with criticism. Even the smallest dose of criticism will make shame wash over me in waves.
This is something that I must learn to deal with. I need to find a healthy way to process critical comments from others that doesn’t send me spiraling into self loathing and make me feel like that little girl in the dirty sweat shirt.