Monday, April 6, 2015
When Do You Decide It's Time To Let Go?
My dad wasn't a very nice man. Actually, I should strike that statement, because truth be told, I'm not sure who my father really was. I know he was an alcoholic. I know he had some severe anger issues, and took them out on the walls, the furniture, and my mom. I know that 90% of my memories of him are negative. I know his full name was Michael Allen Groff, and I know that he is dead.
I still remember the day I found out that he had died. My mom had divorced him, and we were no longer living in Minnesota. We were actually visiting family in Wyoming, and my grandparents, who still lived in Two Harbors, showed up. I knew it was an unexpected visit, and at six years old, I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew something was wrong. My Aunt Jenny actually took me for a walk, and let me know that my father had killed himself. I still remember that I really didn't react, I didn't cry, and I'm not even sure I felt much of anything. As a matter of fact, I did not cry until I was a Freshman in high school. At one point in time, we had moved back to Two Harbors, and I walked by, on a weekly basis, the cemetery he was buried in, and never thought about him. The idea of visiting his grave, which is still unmarked, never occurred to me.
As I got older, I became really damn angry. I couldn't understand how he could do the things he did. The strongest memory I have of him is the day he took my mom out to the back yard, threw her against a brick shed, and hit her, repeatedly, with a 2 x 4. I can still see myself, standing by my younger brother, crying and feeling powerless. I don't know if I tried to stop it or not, but I couldn't understand why it was happening. I remember coming home and there would be fresh holes in the wall, and broken records on the floor. He was the man who took a shot at my mom, and actually did shoot my dog. He never laid a hand on me, or my brother, but what those memories did to me as a teenager, was almost worse.
By the time college rolled around, some of that anger dissipated, and I entered a period of time where I really wasn't sure what I thought of him. I started to think of the time he took me fishing, and I got pulled into the lake because I wouldn't let go of the pole. I can remember being in the car with him, and loving the time I was spending with him. He was my dad, and despite everything I saw him do, I loved him. College was the first time I visited his grave, and for years afterwards, I put him and my feelings behind me.
That's not such an easy feat for me anymore. At 38 years old, I'm still wanting my dad's love and approval. Even if he couldn't deal with the fact that I'm gay, even if we didn't have a relationship right now, the fact that I will never know eats at me. Like any kid, I want my dad's approval, I want to know that he would be proud of the man I've become. The fact that the option of having a relationship with my father was taken away from me, and in the matter it happened is something I'm still struggling with. He allowed alcohol, anger, and the shitty childhood he had at the hands of my grandfather, influence the man he became. He chose to deal with his issues the only way he knew how, instead of getting help when my mom, and others, begged him to do so. He made the choice to not be a father when he was around, and he made the choice to leave two young kids without a father for the rest of their lives. I know it's not that easy, that he was probably suffering from depression, and when you mix in depression with his other issues, there isn't a lot anyone can do if he's not willing to get help.
I know he didn't fight the divorce, that he didn't fight for custody or visitation, that he didn't pay child support, and that he really didn't spend time with me or my brother that much after my mom left him. When I talk to my mom about him, she says it was because he didn't care enough, or that he didn't love me. And maybe he didn't, maybe she's right. I would like to hope that wasn't the case. I would like to think he thought he was doing the right thing by giving us up, that he knew what he was putting us through was wrong. I would like to think that he was trying to get his act together, that he wanted to be a father, but the truth is, I really don't know. And that uncertainty, is what's keeping me from letting go. More than anything, I want to ask him why I wasn't enough, why I wasn't good enough for him to get help. I want to know why he chose alcohol over me. I want to know why he didn't pick me.
I don't have a picture of my dad teaching me to ride a bike, or him showing me how to drive a stick shift. I don't have one of him at my high school graduation, or when I moved into the dorms. I will never have a picture of him in a tux, attending my wedding, assuming I ever have one, and assuming he would have come. I don't have pictures of the two of us together during the holidays, or even of us taking a nap on the couch. I don't have any of those pictures, but even worse, I don't have any of those memories.
I have the memories of a six year old who loved his dad, and was scared of him at the same time. I have the memories of a teenager who could only remember the bad, and did everything he could to convince himself that he hated his dad. I have the memories of a twenty-something who was just started to deal with his conflicting emotions, and wasn't quite sure what to think. And now I have the memories of a 38 year old man, who would give anything in the world to have his dad back. It may not be the relationship of my dreams, but at least it would be my choice, not his. He may not accept the fact that I'm gay, he may not be proud of the man I've become, but if he was still here, it would be a decision I had a hand in. I would be the one to walk away if he couldn't accept me, but even then, I know I would always be hoping for the day he would come around.
So maybe the question I should be asking is not when do you decide it's time to let go, but rather how do you let go? How do you let go of the fact that the choice wasn't yours, that someone else made the decision for you? How do you let go of what might have been and what should have been? How do you let go of the pain and anger? But most of all, how do you let go of that want? How do yo let go of the need to have your father's love?
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(Hugs) I don't know. I'm not sure you can ever let go, just try to work through it.
Oh, I wish I had some good advice to help you heal. I'm not sure you can ever not miss the idea of having a dad in your life. I can only say that talking about things has always helped me; I hope putting it in writing is the start to your healing.
Ryan, it takes a great deal of courage to share this. I empathise with you, I really do. There are no easy answers to your questions, especially to the one where you're asking how to let go. If it were really that simple, most of us would have been far happier than we are. I understand your problem because you don't have real memories of your dad, of good times spent with him; rather, you have memories "of what might have been and what should have been," as you have said. I know it's easier said than done, but would it be possible to go with that and create your own memories of your childhood and teen years with your dad? I'm sure they'd have been happy ones. I mean, he never ill-treated you and your brother which means you were both special to him and, I think, he loved you in his own way even as he probably hated himself for doing this to you. Whatever your past be, Ryan, you're a better person for it today, as evident from your affecting post and your desire to reach out to your dad.
Wow Ryan, that’s a lot to deal with at any age, and they’re good questions. I really don’t know if there is a good answer. I don’t know what to think about what your mom said either, I hope it was just bitterness because if you have those memories of him when you were young I can’t believe he didn’t love you. It’s also a shame that he let his demons win and he didn’t chose you, but maybe at the time he didn’t think he had a choice, maybe he did it for repentance for how he treated the ones he loved. Unfortunately you’ll never know for sure but I hope that you’ll find comfort in the love and kindness of friends and that it’ll be enough for you.
My dad was a great father, but he was taken from me in a tragic car accident at least I got to spend 40 some odd years knowing and loving him, but even I feel wronged for what I’ve lost. I hope that you get some answers to these very important questions. I hope that you rely on the love of your friends to help you get by and I hope most of all that you do have that wedding one day. Right now I’m enveloping you in a huge hug and I hope it gives you some comfort.
I think you are right. And I think I need to stop trying so hard to let it go.
The process of writing it down helped more than I thought it would. There are some things in this post that I've never vocalized before, and it felt good to let it out. Now I just need to figure out, now that I've admitted some of this to myself for the first time, where I go from here.
Thank you. Writing the post was one of the hardest thing I've done. I've never said some of this out loud, nor have I really allowed myself to really analyze the way I feel. It's sort of forced me to admit to my feelings, and that can only be a good thing in the long run. I want to believe my dad loved me, and I want to believe that he would have eventually made different decisions, but I'll never know for sure.
Your teenage years are so volatile to begin with, that when you add in the dynamics you dealt with, or the ones I did, it's hard to be anything but angry. I'm so sorry for what you went through. I wish no child had to deal with that in their family life. The fact that we come out of it at all, with any semblance of normalcy is a miracle.
I have real issues talking with my mom about him. I'm not sure I have enough time or space to say everything she has had to say about him, and I'm always having to take it with a grain of salt. I know she is not trying to hurt me when she says what she does, but it's not something I really need or want to hear from her either. She doesn't understand the way I feel about him, and she thinks I should be able to forget all about him. I'm not sure she really understands the way she feels, a wife for a husband, compared to the way a child feels for their father, is different and not easy to alter.
Thank you for the hug, I can use it right about now. I have to believe, for my own sanity, that it is bitterness from her when she talks about him. I was on the phone last night with her, and she was telling me even more things about him, and I don't think she understood how much she was hurting me. Some of what she says to me about him, doesn't need to be said. I just makes my feelings towards him even more fuzzy and conflicted. Last night, for the first time she told me about all the times he cheated on her, or the time he almost drove us all off a bridge. My father was obviously a man in a lot of pain, needed help, and he was never able to find it. My mom said him killing himself was proof that he didn't love me, and I don't see it that way. I almost see it as the opposite.
Sending you hugs, Ryan. Going through anything that traumatic is so very, very difficult. But I think you're right that writing it out and letting yourself really see (in concrete words) how you felt and how you feel now is a big step. Any trauma will always be with us--I don't think it's so much finding a way to let go, but finding a way to incorporate these feelings in your life that help you work through them. You've made a huge step in that direction. And I hope the support of those who have come to know you will help.
I'm actually kind of surprised how much writing this has helped me. I've still been pretty emotional today, but I feel like I can breathe a bit easier. What I'm really finding surprising is how much I want people to read this. At first I thought I was going to be embarrassed by it, ashamed of it even, but I've found it liberating to have other people know about this side of my life. I'm not sure I'm ready to share it with everyone I know outside of a computer screen, but sharing this with you guys, a lot of whom I've grown to like a lot, has helped a lot in being able to process it all.
I'm glad that it has helped you, Ryan.
Oh, Ryan, I wish I could be there to give you a hug. Just looking at the comment below, I see you found writing this cathartic and I'm happy to know that getting your story out has helped. I'm one of those people who had a really terrific father but lost him way too soon - we'll hit 25 years without him in July. I think no matter when or how you lose a parent the unanswered questions will haunt you. That is certainly true of both of my parents. My mother was so hurt by her childhood (father abandoned them during the Great Depression) that she wouldn't talk about anything at all that happened to her within the first 16 years of her life, all the way up to her death. Not knowing that history, not being able to ask questions - that's a difficult thing to overcome. I'm still working on it, myself.
As to what your mother said . . . I can't see it. Your dad never hurt you or your brother; he had to have cared for you. Knowing how depressives often feel when they're in the pit of despair, I'm guessing he felt like leaving and even taking his own life were best for all concerned. Or, maybe he was so depressed that he couldn't think logically. But you can choose that story. I don't know what killed my father -- I'll never know; his death was a shock and a mystery (something similar to a stroke . . . but not). There were several possibilities. My mother latched onto her favorite and I accepted that as the official cause of death. I don't sit back thinking about what took him or whether he could have been saved if there'd been a neurologist in the city or they'd airlifted him to a place he could have gotten treatment. I can't go there. You just have to accept some of the unknowns. Don't be afraid to go for counseling if you can't do that on your own. And, know that there are many of us who are happy to help you in any way.
Re: your mom (and after reading about more she told you on the phone), I'd say again how sorry I am. I think too often the hurt a wife feels is something she just can't let go, and it often turns to bitterness. I'm sorry she can't see that it hurts you.
And I'd agree that killing himself - awful as it was - was not him showing how he didn't love you. I'd hesitate to see it outside of anything other than what most suicides are - a person unable to get past the pain of who they are.
I'm not much of a hugger, but I will tell you this: I thought about you often yesterday. It was hard for me to post my comment to you - I felt very exposed. And again, my experience was nothing compared to yours. So I felt for you in a number of ways - the vulnerability, the hurt you shared with us - and I am grateful you felt you could share.
Ryan, I can't let this go by without commenting. I hurt for you. I'm glad writing it down and sharing it helped you.
Have you gone to a counselor about this? My suggestion is that you should. It might be hard to tell someone "face to face" rather than through the computer screen but a professional counselor keeps patient info confidential and may be able to help you work through this. And if you don't click with the first one, try another, or another.
I also would recommend that you don't talk to your mother about this. She has her own problems to deal with and you don't need the extra hurt and confusion right now.
See? It's the bossy mom, wanting to fix things.coming out in me. GREAT BIG HUGS. There are a LOT of people out here/there who care about you.
I'll be honest with you, this post felt so personal, and so private, I almost deleted it a few times, even after I posted it. I understand the feeling of vulnerability, it's scary as hell. I'm glad you shared your story, it reminds me that I'm not alone in having horrible things happen in childhood.
I agree, losing a parent is never a painless thing to have happen. I'm not sure it's something we ever get over, regardless of the manner in which it happens. I'm so grateful for everyone's comments and the support I'm getting form the blogging community. It has meant a lot to me to read the comments and hear how you and others have dealt with your own losses.
I agree with you, I do need to leave my mom out of this for now on. All it does it make the way I'm feeling all that much worse. I'm seriously thinking about seeking a therapist in my area. I just need to do the research on who would be a good fit for me.
And I appreciate all the hugs, it has making me feel so much better.
It's not always about getting over it, but finding ways to live with it. Keeping it inside is harmful so I think you did something good here. I do echo the others about counseling. You don't like one, go to another. With the right counsellor you can work through what circles in your head. You can find a way to get it out and examine it. Give it a voice. You might have to find ways of giving yourself what you wish he could have given you. I hope you find that way. I cannot tell you how to do it since we are each on our own personal journey, but I do wish you the best and I'm giving you a big ((HUG)). You can totally do this. :)
This is a hard question to answer, Ryan. Everyone has different ways or coping mechanisms to forget or not. But we all need to know that we've made someone proud, and it's usually that parent that's the hardest to please. We want to cross that line and hear them say what a great job we did. Sadly, you won't get that now. But sounds like you would have been chasing the rainbow on this one too, and you know that.
I hope you can find a way to get past this and feel great for yourself. You are one of the kindest people I know. And I'm sorry you lived through this. But maybe that's why you are the kindest person I know too.
Ryan, you are loved. You are appreciated. You are thought of. You are doing a great job with the many things that are on your plate. I know you know that. And if not, I'll tell you. You ARE an amazing person.
Thank you for the hug! I've accepted that i really do need to look into counseling, as I do think it would be a good direction for me. Writing this post has been a wonderful experience, even though part of me wants to delete it. Saying it out loud has helped me acknowledge a lot of what I've been feeling for years.
Thank you for saying that. This post has helped me realize how much I really do cherish the relationships that have developed with you guys. I'm not sure I would have been able to write this post without the support I've gotten over the years.
And we cherish the friendship we've made out here with you as well. :)
You know from your other post how my dad and I were not close for a long time and had just started getting reacquainted when he died. With that said, the choice was mine. I pulled away from him and I never had a 100 percent cut off from him. He was still in my life. I saw him when I visited my mom if nothing else. It was a gradual process for me to accept him back as a good man. And I am sure part of it had to do with my illness and his own. I wish I had some words of wisdom other than trying to re-frame your desires. Accepting that he was someone who couldn't be the father life asked him to be. Accepting that he was a man with more flaws than he knew how to accept himself. I have no idea how to do that, though, so fat lot of help I am!
😀 Leaving the comment is help enough. I'm so grateful for all the support I have received since I posted this.
I'm not sure what to say to you Ryan as I don't think I have the words, but I do know that we never stop wanting our parents approval and love no matter our age. And maybe instead of having to let go of the might-have-beens and regrets, just incorporate them into your life somehow so they don't hurt so much? A professional would know what to suggest better than I, so sending a virtual hug instead. And remember that you are loved. You matter. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Thank you! I can use all the hugs and reassurance I can get. The funny thing about it, I'm not overly concerned if I have my mothers' approval or not, but I still want my dad's. I'm not sure if it's because he's not here, so I'm in this rather limbo like area, not really sure if it would have been possible or not.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts. As a young woman, whose father left one day after twenty years of abuse, I related so much. It's only been a few years since he left and I haven't heard from him or anything. He is just gone. I still hold onto a lot of memories of being a child and helpless, being a teenager and trying to separate myself from him as much as possible, and being a college student grateful that he isn't around anymore to inflict so much pain. There are still sides of me that always wish he would have gotten help, would stop letting his abusive childhood destroy mine, and always wanting the best for him even after all the heartbreak he caused. I'm still angry that he's gone, what he left behind, and the potential he had to be a great father. Unfortunately, I think the want will always be there. I try my best to not let that affect other relationships with men or male friends. I try to accept that the choice wasn't mine, and no matter how kind I was, nothing could fundamentally change his ways unless he really wanted to. The love of father is something we'll never quite feel. Validation, I believe, is something we have to mold for ourselves and forge within us, even if it's not the exact kind we'll always crave. <3
Thank you for your comment. One of the amazing side affects of me writing this post, has been hearing other stories, both of great fathers, and like ours, not so great. It's helped me put things into perspective in a way, and I've realized that while I didn't have a great childhood, or a great father, there are those out there who had it a lot harder than I did. I'm sorry you had to go through what you did, and that your father has never realized what he had in you.
I think the hardest part for me has always been the unknown. I will never know if he would have changed his life around, or if he would have continues on the same destructive path, that may have eventually swept me away with it. I know I love my dad, but I think that's about all I'm sure about.
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