Dear Dad

****although this is about my dad, I am trigger warning it for rape and victim-blaming, since this is what my dad chose to engage in during his conversation with Nina while they were cycling on Tuesday***

Trying to find my inner warrior so that I can send this to my dad after Nina had a really horrible time with him on Tuesday. She’d not been on her own with him for 3.5 months and was decimated by 45 minutes cycling with him. R thinks I need to give him the chance to change, for Nina as much as anything, and at this point to warn him that if he doesn’t change he will lose her because in a few years she will be grown up and she will have no reason to see him if he treats her how he does.

I have never stood up to my dad about anything. Ever. It terrifies me. Nina really doesn’t want me to say anything and I can sense her terror of displeasing or upsetting him. Yet I also know this is the next stage of my healing journey and that I cannot let things continue as they are, for Nina’s sake. What messages does it send her that I can see how bad it is and yet I chose not to act and to protect her?

I don’t think he will change. I don’t think he can. I think this is only headed in one direction really, and that is no contact. But at least I will have tried. And if I cut contact in future, it will be Nina’s choice if she sees him or not and I will have done my best to facilitate a continuing relationship between them.

Six years ago I was in this position with my mum and it was R who was supporting me to protect Nina from her abuse and manipulation back then too. I stopped Nina from spending time alone with my mum then, and told her we could only see her once a month together as I needed space to heal too. It was another 2 years until I cut contact completely. I can see things heading a similar way here too, but I am stronger now. I would rather have no family than be living alongside such toxicity, but I will try a while longer to bring things to a more tolerable place for Nina and I. R reminds me of my strength and he reminds me I have no choice but to stand up for Nina and protect her. He tells me to make this all about her for now, and that later on I can address what I need him to know about how he is to me, and whether I want a relationship with him. He is holding my hand as I do this. He text with Phoebe last night when she was harming and there was blood everywhere and she was all alone. For all these things I love him. Somehow he makes me feel stronger than anyone else ever has. Even K.

However he responds cannot be worse than what I’ve already been through. I keep telling myself that.

Hello Dad,

Not an easy email for me to write, but I am very concerned about the way you are to Nina and I don’t think things can be left unspoken any longer if you want to maintain a relationship with her as she grows up. She is obviously scared of me saying anything to you, but I can see you losing her if things continue as they are and that would be a great shame for both of you.

She is often upset after seeing you because you are very critical of her and judgmental and lecture her and put her down and dismiss her ideas and experiences. On Tuesday she had a horrible time. You were critical and judgmental about her fitness and effort, her responses to your lectures about safety, implied she was stupid because she couldn’t follow what you were explaining to her, and then had a go at her for not talking to you – of course she wasn’t talking after that. She couldn’t. She feels ashamed when you are like this to her and that is sad because we know you love and care for both of us, but it so often doesn’t come across in how you interact with us. It is confusing for her to be told that you are a nice kind granddad when her experience of you is so often not like that at all.

These are not new concerns, but for me they have intensified since seeing you with her more during the lockdown last year (and also through my own healing showing me that the way I was parented by both you and mum was deeply inadequate and has caused long-term damage, meaning I am much more aware of what children need now). Last summer I was very concerned by how you were speaking to her when I collected her from your house. Belittling her intelligence over Maths and mocking the effort she is putting into school, and also threatening her she’ll end up homeless and jobless if she doesn’t change, are all things that are having an extremely negative impact on her self-esteem. The teenage years are particularly fragile years of self-discovery and your job as a granddad is only to love and support her as she grows up, not threaten her about her future or shame her or make her feel inadequate.

I am also really very concerned by the victim-blaming you engaged in. It is very hard for me to hear that you told her if she gets raped or attacked it will be her fault because of her behaviour and that she is ‘asking for it’. Women and girls are never to blame for what happens to them, it is always the fault of rapists. I would be devastated if something ever did happen to her and she didn’t reach out for support or tell anyone because she had internalised this message that I’ve tried so hard to counter as it is all around in society and the media and stops women coming forward. Pointing at overweight women and saying they won’t get raped is really concerning and just not true – rape isn’t about sexual desirability, it is about power and control. Women who aren’t conventionally attractive or slim get raped all the time, pensioners get raped, disabled women get raped. Women who do all the right things with regards their own safety get raped. Most of the time women are raped and assaulted within an intimate relationship or by someone they know.

Besides all this, Nina’s safety is my responsibility, not yours. I am the parent. You raised your concerns with me, Nina now doesn’t walk on the main road and stays in [our small town]. However the perception that ‘rapes are committed by strangers in a dark alley’ is a myth. She is far more likely to get raped or assaulted in a group of friends where alcohol and drugs are involved. It is this I will be doing everything to protect her from, by checking on her whereabouts and boosting her self-esteem as much as possible so she doesn’t feel the need to engage in risky behaviours in the way I did. So far this is going well and her friends are a safe group who haven’t grown up too fast.

These are separate issues though. You could have spoken of your concerns in a loving, warm, non-blaming way. And so it is the way you speak to her and how critical and judgmental and dismissive you are of her that needs to change. I don’t know if you are able to do this, I suspect it is deeply ingrained, but you do need to try because otherwise she just won’t want to see you anymore. That would be very sad for both of you and so that is why I am being brave and writing this even though I find confronting you on anything very difficult.

It is very important you don’t talk to Nina about this. She will be frightened that I’ve said anything and she doesn’t need a heart to heart talk, she need things to change in how you are when you’re with her. It is not a communication issue and she is not responsible for things changing, only you. You’ll find if you show an interest in her life and build her up instead of making her feel small by belittling and lecturing and shaming her, that she won’t respond in monosyllabic ‘yeahs’ with you. At the moment she doesn’t see the point of talking to you because you don’t seem to care or be interested in what she says a lot of the time.

We often make excuses for your behaviour, but honestly it is every time, even when I’m there. You barely see her as it is and I know that she will want to see you less and less as she grows older if things don’t change. I don’t want that to happen and I’m sure you don’t either. I would think there are people you can talk to about finding different ways of communicating with the people you care about.

I hope you understand why I’m writing and that it reflects my commitment to sustaining a relationship between us both and between you and Nina in future. Please don’t feel pressured to respond – I understand that this email will likely bring up difficult things for you and will, hopefully, lead to a period of self-reflection. There is no rush, but I do need a commitment from you that you will try and change how you speak to and behave towards Nina from now on.

Love CB

’tis the damn season

Christmas was unexpectedly an absolute shit show. I was feeling completely okay about it this year, it being low-key and all, and somehow it descended into a total nightmare and brought up so much painful stuff for Nina and I. I ended up feeling so physically and mentally unwell on Boxing Day I could barely move off the sofa all day and have been in regular contact with R, who I’ve seen on and off for acupuncture since I was 21 and who has supported me through some of my darkest times, sending crazy texts full of shame and despair. He has been a lifeline and yet also not enough. I hadn’t realised till now that seeing K either side of Christmas has really helped me get through the last 5 Christmases. It’s been really hard not having a session to hold out for because it means there’s no end point where I can put down some of this shit.

My dad is just fucking awful – rigid, cold, cruel, abusive, sadistic, narcissistic. And I am flooded with shame and guilt when I think that about him. I wish I could just hate him. I wish I hadn’t been conditioned to automatically turn myself bad when I think and feel negative things about him, because as an infant and toddler I had to do that in order to preserve the attachment and survive. I’ve spent so much time in therapy unpicking the legacy of my relationship with my mum, and yet my dad is also so incredibly damaging and hurtful and so responsible for how I am, how I struggle, how I feel about myself and others. It breaks my heart that he was the safe one, the stable one, the one I turned to, and yet he broke me too. He isn’t safe at all. He never has been.

He is also horrible to Nina. I know I’ve written about this before but this year his behaviour has become so obviously unacceptable to both of us. He shames and belittles and criticises her constantly. He calls her stupid and lazy and tells her she won’t get a job and will end up homeless if she carries on how she is. He swore at her in TK Maxx after inviting her to go Christmas shopping with him and she spent the whole time she was with him a couple of weekends ago texting me to tell me how mean he was being. I hate how he speaks to her, how he mocks her and invalidates her. She has a huge allergic reaction every time she is at his house, which is ostensibly caused by the huge amounts of dust in his house (he cleans once a year at most) but is really her body just screaming “NO, this place is not good for me!”

When we got home on Christmas Day she was distraught, saying she thinks he hates her and that he doesn’t care about her at all. For Christmas he got her a tin of spaghetti hoops, an avocado, a bag of cheese puffs, some scissors and a set of coathangers. What.the.fuck.??? She is nearly 14 and there are a million things she would have liked. And it’s not even really about the gifts, because if she was met emotionally by him and we had a fun, warm time full of love and care when we were with him she wouldn’t care – it would just be an eccentric set of gifts from him. As things are though, the “gifts” symbolise how shut off and fucked up he is, and how he is totally unable to relate to anyone. They weren’t joke presents. He thought she would like them and she had to swallow her disappointment and pretend to be pleased.

I felt absolutely wrecked when we got home. Smashed into tiny pieces inside and drowning in shame. There is no love there, no warmth or joy or even niceness. It is flat and cold and distant. Any humour is mockery. And he just shows off and competes over everything. It is like being with a 6 year old boy. As Nina said, he didn’t really do anything wrong that day, but he is just not a nice person and he doesn’t know how to be with people, how to care, how to love. We spent 4 hours when we got home talking about him and how awful he is and how shit our family are and I let Nina cry and rage about it, but what a fucked up Christmas. I’d rather have been just the two of us a bit bored then have spent time with someone who makes us both feel so shit and let down and guilty.

It kills me to write bad things about him. We basically have no family without him, apart from my half sister who we are not really close to although we have chatted more this year than in previous years, but is no family better than this? If this was someone else in her life, her dad or my partner, who was nice and funny 10% of the time but abusive and cruel the rest of the time, people would be horrified that she still saw them when they were clearly wrecking her self-esteem and leaving her feeling worthless.

The triggers of Christmas will recede, but the need for action over this will not and so I am left with a sickening dilemma. Do I pull back further and leave myself unsupported and Nina with even less family? How do I pull back?I don’t get anything good from him but he does help practically sometimes, making food and helping when things at home break. But the way he complains and belittles me when he helps out, I just want to be free of needing his help. It’s hard though, as I can’t afford to pay for help with odd jobs and things. And I am still so scared of him that I never stand up to him. I am genuinely terrified of confronting him, disappointing him, enraging him, hurting him. It is clear I would rather Nina get lectured and sworn at and belittled than call him out on his behaviour and that is not something I am proud of. I am sure he is incapable of changing because he doesn’t act intentionally, he is just repeating patterns and behaviours he grew up with, but how do I pull away without telling him what the problem is?

I only know I can’t keep going like this. I hate that he thinks he is perfect and that everything mentally and physically wrong with me is caused by my mum. He kept coming up in therapy at the start of lockdown but I couldn’t go there, not properly there, with stupid remote therapy, so that trauma work is on hold till K and I can meet, which might not be till autumn. I need her to help me find a path through this that isn’t sacrificing mine and Nina’s well-being. She has never felt so far away. I feel so alone with this and it is even worse having had 5 Christmases of holding out for December 28th or 29th when I could take all the muddle to K that I am now on my own with it again. I talked to the friend I’m in a bubble with about it yesterday afternoon and she was lovely but she is not K and I couldn’t show just how fucked up this leaves me.

It is December 28th and I am done in despite having had 10 days off work. I think I’m coming down with a cold and I just need a break. A proper break. I have felt suicidal and anxious and in a constant state of dread since we got home on Christmas Day. 5 hours with my dad did this to me. I don’t want this anymore. And I can’t see a way out.

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