Father of the Year

When you think of family, what do you think of?

Maybe it’s a nuclear family with a mother happily married in love with two beautiful children. Maybe there’s a dog with a white picket fence in a suburban neighborhood. They might be gathered together every holiday, every birthday, and every milestone. That sounds like the perfect family, right?

If this is your family, then I am extremely envious.

If this is your family, this piece of writing is not for you.

This is for the people who struggle, who take abuse, and are emotionally manipulated.

I want to tell you my story--not to seek pity--but to let those who are really going through some tough shit that you are not alone. This isn’t an invitation to jump in with comparative suffering for you to say, “Shut the fuck up, your life isn’t as bad. My life is worse/your life could be worse because XYZ.” I'm not going to play the comparison game. There are no winners in that game, and engaging in it is wholly destructive.

Are you ready for some good 'ole daddy issues? Because here they come!

Father of the Year

Like any other person, he's not perfect. He provided a physical roof over my head, but never made me feel safe, loved, or worthwhile. I felt like I had to recover from my childhood due to having him as a father. A little bit about him:

  1. He euthanized my dog without my permission or telling me because he claimed the dog made him “itchy.” He himself didn’t do it, he sent my mother. My dog was dropped off, and died alone in a vet’s office. I was left a phone message after the fact.

  2. When I was 13, he kicked me out of the car and told me to walk the rest of the way home at 9pm after I disagreed with him.

  3. He became violently angry at my brother and started smashing plates and trashing the house. My brother quietly bent down to clean up some of the mess, and my father said, "Leave it. That's for your mom to clean."

  4. When I moved back home from Korea, I was extremely sick with a cough so severe that I would cough up blood. He tried forcing me to take medicine, which I declined because the doctor had already prescribed me other medication. I explained that I didn’t want to risk mixing prescription drugs. He got angry that I declined his advice, threw a cup of juice at my head with full physical force and screamed at me to get out of his house. I was picked up by my sister walking around my neighborhood in slippers and coughing.

  5. I bought fried popcorn chicken and he reached over and grabbed one before I could even eat one myself. I said politely, “Hey, can you ask next time?” He got up, yelled at me, “Do I have to ask you for food like I’m a fucking beggar?” and then threw his drink across the room. This then erupted into a domestic violence situation where my sister defended me.

  6. He yelled at my mother for not refilling his sock drawer, then took the drawer out and threw it across the room. After he left for work, my sister saw my mother sitting on the couch quietly folding socks.

THE Breaking Point

I had been lending my parents money into the 5-figures while I earned crumbs, and I fell into an incredible amount of debt to support their rocky business. To spare my father’s ego, my mom never told him where the money came from or that his youngest daughter had helped consolidate their debt.

So much as a thank you was never uttered by my dad. That part I don’t mind. Sometimes being a provider is a thankless job. You take care of your parents, it’s what you do. The part I did mind was when I was berated and insulted -- told I was disposable, worthless, and that I amounted to nothing. I felt so frustrated and angry that he'd call me an “ungrateful bitch” when he had no idea I’d been saving the family business from going under during precariously difficult times. My efforts to keep my family financially intact were met with demoralizing and belittling verbal abuse. I felt completely wronged. No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.

When you’re told constantly that you’re a piece of shit, that you’re a worthless daughter who should live and die in a gutter, and that I “don't need to be treated with respect because I’m a daughter,” something has to give. This is no way a person should live.

A Change

I was torn. Half of me felt like I need to push through the tough times, grit my teeth, and take care of them despite the abuse I took while the other half of me wanted to completely break away and live life for myself. I felt guilty for wanting to live my own life because I believed it was selfish to even think I should put my mental wellbeing ahead of my parents' financial stability. I was living only for them. I was miserable because I didn't have a life of my own and every penny I earned went to them. I had regular panic attacks and felt depressed. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was exhausted.

When I was 25, I decided that I needed to do something. No one was going to look after me but myself (definitely not my parents). I needed to stop being the one who'd apologize just to ease tensions because, at that point, I was an enabler. My mother would always tell me to apologize to my father, make excuses for his behavior, and even though he was the one screaming, it always somehow ended up being my fault. I hit my threshold, and I felt like I was going insane. But that's what insanity is -- doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So, I decided to no longer support this behavior. If whatever “system” we were committing to wasn’t working, then something really had to change.

I boxed up my belongings, hired a moving truck, and moved out after a week.

Hindsight is Always 20/20

These are somethings I learned that I wish I could have told myself back then.

  1. You shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to live your life. Your parents didn’t have you just so you could grow up to “owe” them something. And if they feel that way, then they aren’t very good parents, and they’re being selfish. Good parents put their children’s wellbeing first.

  2. Being happy, and being happy at the expense of others are two completely different things. You are simply trying to be happy. If you were happy because you bronco-kicked someone in the face, then you’re just being a dick. It's like on your list of people you care about, you definitely shouldn't put yourself as the only name, but include yourself on that list with as much importance as those close to you. Don’t feel like you’re being happy at the expense of others because you choose to step away because that's a dangerous narrative to perpetuate.

  3. The financial problems that exist now are not your responsibility to fix. They existed long before you did. It’s true -- you can try to do the honorable thing by trying to step in and fix a broken system, but ultimately, you didn’t cause it, and you don’t have a responsibility to fix anything. Anything you do isn’t a moral obligation, it’s done by volunteered good will.

  4. You can leave. At any time. No one has a gun to your head. No one’s locked you in a cement prison and thrown away the key. If you feel that this environment is toxic to your mental health, get out. Leaving doesn’t equal abandonment. So stop feeling guilty like you’re hurting people because you’re not.

  5. Don’t light yourself on fire to keep others warm. This isn’t a good way to support people. I guarantee you will burn out, and then you really won’t be able to help or be of use to anyone. Go out there, stabilize yourself financially instead of wearing yourself ragged, and then provide when you have excess. This is a much stronger way to support others.

  6. Love your parents no matter what, but don't be an enabler. Don't be an accomplice to their bad habits. I learned that you can love your parents, but at a distance. Check in once in awhile. Have you changed? If the answer is no, then you keep your distance.

  7. Help others in a smart way. Stop digging into your pockets to give money to the problem thinking that that’ll fix the holes in a sinking ship. Help without contributing to the problem. Take over finances (like living expenses, utilities, phone bills, etc) that are not directly linked to the business.

  8. It’s okay to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or an incompetent provider. As much as you want to help people, there are so many others who want to help you. You just need to open your eyes and realize that you are not a burden when you ask for help when you’re drowning alone. You'd help others without missing a beat, so why are you the exception? You are deserving of help.

  9. Forgive him. Forgive him not because he needs to be absolved of guilt, but because you need peace. He isn't going to change, and you getting pissed about it won't fix the problem. Let the anger go and I mean 100% -- like it says in wise Buddhist scripture, "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." I'm not saying forgiveness is easy, and it's definitely not a sudden decision. It takes a lot of time, inner turmoil, and reflection (something nobody actually tells you about forgiveness) -- it's fucking hard. But you need to do it to move on.

My father used to be a painful subject for me to talk about -- and there are definitely some days where it strikes a raw nerve -- but if there's anything that I've learned, it's that my father is the way he is because of history. Generationally, pain was passed down but you can choose to stop it here and rewrite your narrative. You don't have to hold onto all this pain. Life is already pretty fucking hard sometimes, and you need to lighten the load you carry. All you have to do is figure out how to untie all the fucking knots and leave that bullshit on the side of the road.