It has come to my attention that I rarely ever bring up my father in conversations. I’ll talk about other members of my family, but never him. Honestly, I am not sure what there is to say about him. It will be ten years since my father died, this May, but before that, he and I had quite a tumultuous relationship. We antagonized one another and I could be downright cruel when it came to him. Since I do not talk very much about my Dad, I thought I would try to explain why there is not much to say about him or our time together prior to his death.
I was the youngest child born to my father. He had two sons from a previous marriage. My oldest brothers are 22 and 20 years older than me. I never even knew about them until I was 4 or 5 years old, when I met my oldest brother, Dave and his family. When I was born, my dad was 47 years old. I spent most of my childhood explaining to people he was not my grandfather. He was my dad. To me, this could get pretty embarrassing, especially when I had peers who had dads who were in their 20s. Just for reference, I also have a full-blooded brother who is 2.5 years older than me.
When I was little, my dad lost his job. He was a Tool and Dye Maker. He apparently made pretty good money doing that, but it was dangerous and he was getting older. Around this time, I was having medical tests galore to determine my diagnosis, which was later confirmed as the muscle disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy. After my dad was laid off, he returned to college at Owens Community College. His wife was also in college, so I spent a significant amount of time with my grandparents, Willis and Melba.
A few years after my father went to college, he received his degree in Accounting and got a job working as a Tax Commissioner Agent with the State of Ohio. This meant he worked a lot in Cleveland and Columbus. It meant we did not see him much, except on weekends. This left my brother and I exposed to the thoughts of a woman desperate for attention and love from her children. I remember being told my dad did not know how to show love and affection because he was not overly emotional. To a little kid, all you know is your dad isn’t affectionate and you think that he does not love you. I believed this.
Our relationship (my father and mine) deteriorated, as I became quite a brat during the time he was home, baiting him to piss him off. I now understand this is a coping mechanism a lot of children use. If you can get someone mad at you and you feel they have abandoned you (even if they haven’t really) then it’s justified. They were going to leave anyway. They were mad at you, so you deserved to have them abandon you. I did this quite a bit, especially when we had family time. We never really fought if we were alone, but I felt incapable of showing him niceness, love or compassion in front of others, because I felt so hurt and betrayed by him.
My father was in a very serious car accident when I was about eight. He was okay save for scrapes and bruises, but his car was totally crushed. I remember being scared, but I still believed he did not love me. Little things his wife would say would provoke thoughts of inadequacy. It was as if she was turning my brother and I towards liking her best, because she was there for us, or claimed to be, and our father was both physically and emotionally vacant.
I did have a father-figure in my life, and he showed me love and compassion I did not feel I received from my father. My dad would always say he was too old to lift me up, even though I was tiny. This man would carry me around on his shoulders, up and down steps. I even remember loving going to my uncle’s house, who would throw me around in the air. That was so much fun and something I could never experience with my dad. It was another reason I resented him and led to me refusing to even hug or kiss my dad, as a result.
As I grew into my teenage self, I grew more distanced from my father. I became more independent. I loved sports, so I picked my own teams to like, not wanting to like his teams. Both my dad and she stopped taking me places because I had slowed down in my ability to walk normally and quickly. It became a “burden” to them to take me places, as I had no scooter or wheelchair. This led to even more resentment, especially when my older brother got to go wherever he wanted.
When I was 13, my father-like figure died and my world was turned upside down. I felt more grief and darkness, as here was someone whom I felt actually cared about me and he was gone. I found little comfort from my family, who did not truly understand the depth of the pain and rejection I felt from my own father. It took me a really long time to get over this death, and it made me dislike my own father even more. I did not understand how a good and caring person should die while they were still so young, and I saw my dad getting older and kind of bitter with that old age. I spent as much time with the few friends I had, out of my house, and ignored what my father said. I felt he was a bad influence who would often wake me up by slamming drawers and swearing while in the room next to my bedroom (the kitchen). Our relationship was barely existent.
My dad had occasional moments where he would try to show love. We went to a few sporting events. He would be nice to me then and I would constantly question if his apparent affection for a now, older me was genuine. It was very confusing that he could be so nice to me when we were alone and yet we could fight so terribly in front of others. I said plenty of things I am not proud of including telling him I hated him. I was not a nice person to him, but all of the emotions I felt towards him had been building up for years. I could NOT be nice to him. I would feel ill at the prospect of doing so, because I had so much rage and resentment that I felt for him.
When I came out as “liking girls” at age 16, my life grew harder. The person who was supposed to love me most, who rented a womb to me for nine months, became cruel and unpredictable. She would pin me down (I couldn’t walk but I could wiggle and thrash) and do terrible things to me. These are things I was so embarrassed to even talk about. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs for someone to help me and get her to let go of me. I hated my dad for letting her do this to me. I am more understanding towards my brother who seemed to have an attitude of, “at least it’s not me”, but my dad could have, should have done something.
Sometimes he would help her, by holding me still to get it over with, and he would have sympathy in his eyes. However, he never did stop her. I would cry and scream and then I would have so much rage after. I would scream at the top of my lungs and call them all terrible names. Then I would get in trouble for that. Nobody knew what they were doing to me, so other family members and family friends would just see my “rages” and assume I needed help or was just being a jerk.
I was not a pleasant person to be around. I acted out at home, at school, and pretty much everywhere I did not have to put on my “happy face.” I could pretend to be happy. Nobody knew why I was acting out. I went through a lot of bullying at school. I ran my mouth a lot, in answer to this bullying and that made me even less likable. I figured I deserved it anyway. My family would say I was being ridiculous. Everything was always my fault. I blamed myself as much as everyone else. My life continued to spiral out of control and my only saving grace was the GLBT group on campus at Bowling Green State University. For the first time, someone, anyone was accepting of me regardless of who I was, what my background was or who I loved.
My dad took my coming out with mixed emotions. After I came out to spite her, she outed me to my dad. At first, he was furious. I was supposed to be the only girl. What did I mean there would be no white wedding (with me in white/in a dress, marrying a guy)? What did I mean I liked to date girls? After a week of barely talking to me, it became the subject we did not bring up, though out of nowhere we’d be watching something on television, he’d point out how hot a girl was and ask my opinion. This was shocking to me the first time he did it, but it was much better than the abusive reaction I was receiving from someone else.
I stumbled over my relationship with my dad, from then on, for the mere fact that he was still letting the abuse happen. I was so mad at him for that, but he was also becoming more accepting of my love of the feminine persuasion. One day when we were alone (we were growing to have a lot of those evenings as my older brother either hibernated upstairs or hung out with friends and as the other person in the house was busy playing Ms. Cleo) he asked me why I had to like girls. He was really sad. It became very clear to me that my dad did not understand why I had to be that way, and I tried to explain, as best I could, that it was not a choice.
I could see he’d lost something with the realization that I really did like girls. At first, he too thought it was just a phase, but as the months passed and I became more involved, attending events on campus like the GLBT dances, it dawned on him that this was not going to go away. We had a few more talks where he asked me to reconsider. He did not mind GLBT people, but he had a gay friend before that had made him uncomfortable (I do not really know the details), so the entire prospect of his kid being a part of this community had seemed like a personal diss to him. Once he realized this was not about him, and I truly did love women (though he did occasionally ask me how I “knew” and asked about my love life – which wasn’t his business – his theory was “you do not know unless you have sex with a man”) he would joke about women with me and we’d occasionally “check out babes” at the mall, the car show or other places he took me.
By the time I was 19, I was miserable. I was constantly harassed about being into women. I was told not to tell my grandparents as they would hate me. I was told not to tell anyone else in the family, as they would look down upon all of us. I wanted to bust the hell out of that closet completely. Most people knew at college. I told my friends, except for the ones I went to High School with, whom I was told would never like me or speak to me again. The rumor mill had started to swirl around my small hometown, since some peers from high school saw me actively participating in GLBT group activities on the BGSU campus. I knew I could keep it from my family, but I am from a small, Midwestern, semi-conservative village (not even big enough to be a town). I knew soon enough the jig would be up and I was gearing up to be ostracized.
The stress of further rejection in my hometown was overwhelming. I was stressed from that. I was stressed when I was forced to move back home to live in the abusive environment I’d managed to escape, albeit for a few months. I was stressed because she was trying to dictate every move of my life. She was trying to live vicariously through me, by telling me what to do and threatening me if I did not listen. I ended up exploding and saying terrible, horrible things in anger. I screamed and yelled as I was told to shut up so the neighbors did not hear me. Then, my brother was instructed to turn off my wheelchair, push me into the center of my bedroom and leave me there. The manual switch for my chair was down by my wheels, so I could not reach it. I was enraged. Not only had I lost my dignity, I lost my ability to move.
My brother did as told, and my dad did nothing to stop this. I screamed for them to turn my wheelchair back on, as I sat there, trapped in it, unable to touch anything; not my bed, my computer or anything. I screamed until my voice was hoarse, but nobody came to help me. As my red, tear-stained cheeks grew even redder with rage, I looked at my wheelchair. All I had was a metal watch around my wheelchair joystick. Using the sharp edges of the watch face, I began to slash at my wrists, violently. I kept making scrape marks but could not draw blood. As I sat there, I felt no pain. I began to feel nothing, but the desire to be dead. I wanted to die so badly. I thought it was my only escape.
As I whittled, marks began to form that looked almost like welts. Still, I felt nothing. So intent was my work that I did not hear her come in. She looked so smug as she confronted me about trying to kill myself. She, at first, threatened to call the hospital. I told her to do it. Maybe someone would put me out of my misery. That was not the answer she expected. She called in my father and had him sit there as she explained what I was doing. He seemed alarmed, but he had just retired from his job. Our insurance was in limbo for a few months, which meant we did not have any. She informed me I was lucky, because we didn’t have insurance, so no doctor could tell me I was crazy. It was then that I realized I would not be getting help.
I would have two choices. I had to either escape or kill myself. As a sense of reality struck me, the pain of what I did to my wrists hit me as well. It hurt and I do not like pain! I was so numb in those moments when I was slicing, but once I became more coherent, the severity of what I’d done to my skin hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t want to kill myself! It would hurt and I hate pain. It became abundantly clear to me that my only choice was escape. I managed to secure that by enrolling at Wright State University. I just had to get through five months (summer break) and I’d be home free, so I believed. I passed the time by getting a job, which helped me get out of the house. My dad would often take me to work and pick me up, so we had moments alone, where we’d actually talk and were cordial to one another.
Going to Wright State was great, but I was forced to rely on my parents for financial assistance where necessary. I was not old enough to be declared independent, and my dad made just enough to not allow me to get enough loans to pay for all my housing (my tuition was free). I did not really understand the loan process and let them dictate the moves I made, which was a mistake, because it led to quite a bit of debt. I also was not allowed to stay on campus over breaks unless I was doing something creative (like being in a film). Going home was a horror in and of itself.
The entire time, I was placed back under their rules and their control. They put me to bed so I went when they wanted. They got me up on their schedule. I was banned from talking on my phone with my phone line bought by me most nights, even though it was mine. I ended up having to sneak my phone to bed with me. This was often my only means of escape and connection to the outside world. I was used to making my own decisions, as I lived on my own at WSU and my PCAs (personal care attendants) would schedule around my needs not around what they wanted for me. The old rage started to bubble up again inside me and it wasn’t long before I was screaming, because I was mad and upset at the entire situation.
We had some really horrible fights. She also made a big deal about every little health problem I had. After their 25th anniversary party, upon which my father and I had a huge fight at the pre-party restaurant dinner, she refused to let me return to WSU because my edema was looking like edema in my feet. It was a common problem given how often I used to have to hold it without going to the bathroom when I lived at home. Sometimes I could only go once or twice a day. She called up my doctor, who wanted to err on the side of caution, but I knew it was nothing. Still, unable to drive myself back to WSU I was left at her mercy.
The fight at the restaurant occurred after a lengthy session where she held me down, abusing me in the way I hated most. She was a pro at getting me alone and torturing me until I screamed and was enraged. Still pissed off by the time we went to eat, I called out my father, telling him what a jerk he was and saying a lot of other, horrible things. I laughed at him for it, and everyone attending the dinner was shocked and horrified by my behavior, but so much anger had bubbled up in the few days I was forced to be home and I was so sick of him letting her abuse me. I lashed out at him with ferocity.
Of course, it made me look absolutely horrible. I was so embarrassed about the abuse I was enduring and she knew that. She knew, at this point in my life, I would never confess so she would get away with it and I would forever look like the enraged demon child my family believed I was. That was exactly what had happened. Everyone told me to apologize to my dad, but I wouldn’t. They did not know, but I did. I was so mad that he could be a spectator to this abuse and let her get away with it. I think I was even more furious with him than I was with her. By now, I expected her to be like this, but he had moments where I believed he cared about me, and yet he would not defend me by stopping her. This meant I was once again the bad guy and my family was receiving pity from others, because they had to deal with such a horrible child like myself.
When I was supposed to go to the doctor, she had messed up the times. I was mad because my feet were fine, but she insisted I go. My dad took me and had to drive me right back home, as the 11:00 AM appointment was really at 4:00 PM. When we got home I was in a bad mood. Nobody came to the door after five minutes, to let me in the front door and I started yelling. She was furious and yelled at me when she finally let me in. Apparently, my dad had collapsed. Apparently, I should have known and been patient. I, of course, felt bad. Still, I am not a mind reader, so I did not feel it was fair for her to be mad at my impatience when I had no idea what was going on.
My dad was rushed to the hospital and the prognosis was not good. His heart problems had caught up with him and he was almost 100% blocked. He was in congestive heart failure and was too old for them to do anything about it. I was 20, and I was sad. I felt bad for the fight two days before, and blamed myself for adding to his stress. I was still mad at him, but did not want him to die. My brother took me to the doctor and the foot problem was nothing, so I was allowed to go back to WSU. By now, my grades had slipped and I went back knowing my dad was going to die. I saw him a few more times before he finally did, two months later, and we kind of made our peace, but his death opened the floodgates for all the pain I felt and the pain he had caused in my life. I was a wreck.
At WSU, I went to therapy. As I recounted stories about my family, for the first time someone listened. For the first time, someone said, “they did that to you?” For the first time, I was told it was not my fault and what was being done to me was abuse. I was finally able to talk about the abuse in detail, though even today I still feel twinges of embarrassment at the thought of the unconventional abuse I received. I started to heal. I have read a lot on abuse and coping with it and now I try to help others in similar situations. I want them to realize life does get better. I want them to realize they can escape and move on to live productive, full lives. I want them to know they are not alone.
In the summer of 2002, I started going by Dominick and having close friends call me that. My dad had been dead a year and after a summer alone with her, I had vowed never to return home again if I could help it. I did only once more, that Christmas, where I was insulted for falling in love with my partner of almost a decade today; so much that I knew I could never go back to that environment. With the help of Ash, the first person I told about going by Dom and being a transgender person, I was able to research what being transgender was. With her supporting whatever I wanted I found a way to finally identify myself that made sense to me. Ash stood by me and made my decision to transition easier, because she made it clear she would love me no matter what I decided.
Today I often wonder if my dad would accept me as Dom and if we could come to an understanding. I wonder if had he not died, whether I would have been able to forgive him for letting her abuse me. I wonder if he would even admit his part in it, because she only admits it when she thinks we’re alone, by saying I got what I deserved. When others are around she seems to have no idea what I’m talking about.
Regardless of what my dad would think, I’d still be who I am today. This is who I am PROUD of being. He could accept me or not. If he would is anyone’s guess, so there is no use speculating. I am happier than I ever have been, living a life of truth. If he was a true dad he would love me, accept me, and want me to be happy. I’d like to think he would.
My dad is a part of my old life, and a part of a lot of horrible memories. There are some good in there, so I try to hold onto those instead. I am proud of my Polish heritage and love my wide array of cousins I have thanks to him. I am grateful many of us have been able to find each other on Facebook and reconnect. However, that old me is gone. That old me has moved on to greener pastures. To talk about my dad and think about my dad is to step back into that life and remember all the sadness and anger I endured. Instead, I want to move forward.
I do not speak much about my dad, because I have moved on and he has been gone a decade this year. I think he would want me to move on and have the courage to leave the abuse behind me; courage he never had to stand up to her and stop it from happening in the first place. I can only imagine today he’d be proud I had the courage he never did, and that is the only thought I really need to have when thinking about my dad. I’d rather focus on the positive, because thanks to being honest with myself, that is exactly what my life has become…positive.
[tags]family, relationship, father, parent, abuse, kid, yelling, suicide attempt, hurt, death, dead parent, story[/tags]