The Road Out via Compassion
I grew up inside a Terrorist Regime: in my family of origin where my father was the dictator and his word was law.
When I was a pre-teen he would shout me down into submission when he disagreed with something I said and end with telling me I was being illogical.
This was worse than death, torture of my dog.
He would continue to castigate my mother by telling her she was “irrational”. More often than not she was intuitive and non-rational
Around that time we adopted a stray dog: Peewee. He went everywhere with me – on my walks in the woods and to the reservoir. We never tied him up when we weren’t home. He ran with a pack of dogs that ate sheep. The sheep owner told us we would have to tie him up. We did for a while and then not having the heart to keep him tied up we let him go and he ate sheep again. My father was to take him to the vet to be put down. At dinner that night my father said:
I took Peewee to Yale to be experimented on.
My head sank. This was worse than death, torture of my dog. I was so sad and down.
I thought you liked science – my father said.
Not anymore – I said starting to get angry.
But I couldn’t show my anger otherwise I’d get in-trouble so I stuffed it.
After dinner beginning in my early teens we played Ping-Pong every night after dinner. He’d use psychological tactics on me to goad me to become angry, throw me off balance so he could win. One night, I thought – this is supposed to be fun. I decided not to get angry and started winning games. Once that happened he stopped playing and admitted that I had been a better player than he was and that by using psychological tactics he knew he could win.
he would bait others into Republican ideological arguments and then shout them down when they didn’t agree with them
When I was a teenager my father would bait me into arguments that I was emotionally invested in and then use his premise to make me feel wrong and confused. I’d fall for his debate tactics every time. When I was in my twenties I began to disagree with his premises and all “debate” ended.
My mom came to me and asked: “What am should I do about your father?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well you know how he is.”
My mother’s friends never came over anymore because he would bait others into Republican ideological arguments and then shout them down when they didn’t agree with them.
“You could see a therapist or minster,” I said.
“I couldn’t do that,” she replied.
“You could get a divorce,” I said.
“Oh no, I couldn’t do that,” she replied.
“Well, I don’t know what else to tell you,” I said.
My sister and I would spend all daylight hours outside of the house away from my mother and father and that I supposed was normal. We lived surrounded by bucolic regions of farms, fields and woods. My father would use his booming voice to call us for dinner while we were at least a mile away. He had had a lot of practice bellowing.
He told me once that he promised never to hit us like his father had done to his mother, him and his two sisters. But he broke his promise a few times. However he made up for actually physical violence by terrorizing us with verbal and non-verbal threats.
He often accused and never apologized even when he made a mistake.
He oscillated between sometimes being a looming or threatening boss to be a playful child albeit isolating. He was jealous of my mother having any recognition and acted passive-aggressively to quell her recognition: My mother would play the piano and we would sing folk songs and Christmas Carols after dinner. My mom also painted some. My father decided he could paint too. He painted some squares and a triangle on a canvas and put a mahogany frame around it. He hung it over the piano. When this happened I felt a profound shame and the childish jealousy of my father. My mother’s only visible protest was never to play the piano again. We all knew and my father had won his petty little game.
One time my sister and I – always the rivals often competing for my father’s attention were having a blast; bickering. It was a bit like the Monte Python sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLlv_aZjHXc
Our father yelled from the other room to “Stop it,” in his booming voice. We furtively glanced at each other snickering under our breaths and then began bickering again:
“Yes it is,” I fired out.
“No it isn’t,” my sister came back.
And on we went…
Our father appeared in the door of the kitchen his face red with rage, fists clenched he spewed in a vitriolic manner:
You kids cease and desist this instant!
I thought blood would spurt from a vein in his forehead. He glared at us full of fury and rage. I had to bite my tongue so as not to speak or laugh. Many years later my sister told me she was so terrified that she had wet herself.
In my arguments to my father about the Vietnam war – I returned from college and told him I was against the war: he punched me across the face with a 1-2 punch and then in the stomach. He opened the front door of the house and threw me into the bushes and said:
Don’t you ever set foot in this house, again.
I was shaking and crying. A moment later he came out and invited me back inside saying:
I guess I didn’t brainwash you good enough.
I knew my mother had stood up for me in that moment.
I learned to bring emotion into our debate and was able to stop many debates cold such as: The Vietnam war is wrong because killing for any reason is wrong and that’s how I feel.
my father was extremely obnoxious … after drinking in the afternoon
Later when I was going through a very rough time and we were in family therapy without my sister who was in college out west my father agreed to be nice to me. For about a year and a half he was nice. And then he changed back.
When I asked him about the change he said: “I can see that you were okay so I decided to be myself again.”
I offered to do some hands-on healing.
My father would have an occasional beer and an after dinner liquor when his friends came over for dinner. Once I had lunch with him in New Haven in the 1974 when we both worked in the city (it was the summer that Nixon resigned). He had a pitcher of beer with lunch. He seemed the same before as he did afterwards. At that time I wasn’t as aware of the various shades of alcoholism as I became later.
In the 1980s my sister visited with my mother and father. I met them for lunch. I was to meet them later at their Bed and Breakfast and then we were to meet up my woman lover at a restaurant in Glen Ellen. When I met them at the B&B my father was extremely obnoxious: grabbing a magazine article from my hands while I was reading it, ignoring my protest, telling me I had to listen to him etc… Later I learned that he and my sister had gone to a bar after lunch and had been drinking. My mother probably just watched – she didn’t drink due to health issues.
I felt satisfied that I was able to help him and that he had accepted my help.
They moved from Connecticut to North Carolina and I visited them in 2000.
My father said out of the blue:
“They’ve discovered planets in other solar systems.”
“Good for them,” I replied.
“How does astrology explain that?”
‘Oh brother here we go again.’ I thought
“Sounds like your trying to make fun of my profession as an astrologer,” I said going to the end point.
“Ah, no, no I wasn’t,” he said and dropped the whole thing. I was relieved and he seemed relieved as well.
He often accused and never apologized, ever.
By August of 2005 my father was on oxygen from pulmonary fibrosis – a lung disease. Even on O2 he had difficulty breathing, gasping for air. Towards the last hour of my stay I offered to do some hands-on healing. I thought he would refuse since he rarely praised me and denigrated my actions, choices and accomplishments at every turn of my life. I was surprised that he agreed.
For the next 45 minutes while I was there he breathed normally and appeared thankful though he said nothing. I felt satisfied that I was able to help him and that he had accepted my help.
He died in 2006 on my birthday from from pulmonary fibrosis.
END NOTES: I learned much about the frightened Conservative stance towards the world through my father and his strong patriarchal ideals. Underneath all that bluster, anger and rage was a frightened boy who had never recovered from the abuse at the hands of his father. My father acknowledged the beatings that my grandfather had meted out on him his sisters and his mother. I’m sure there was sexual abuse that was repressed and / or supressed by alcohol abuse and acting-out rage, just as my garndfather had sexually abused me in horrific ways.
Beyond the unhealed abuse and fear that caused him to shift from an expansive man who had voted for JFK to one who embraced Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushs. Nixon was elected in 1969 when my father was almost 50. This is sometimes the period that people wither or break free from their parents belief systems. Or they become dissillusioned with the ideals of youth and fall back into what they know. My father embraced conservativism because it was about the past – government unresponsive to the needs of the many and only able to see the needs of the privelged and the elite in which he identified.
Fear is a breeding ground for greed, having enough, believing government stood in the way of making as much money as possible for himself. He was angry at those in civil service work because they made almost as much as he did as an executive for Ma Bell. Manual labor was beneath him. The intellect was all powerful and deserved the best of the elite. The common man – the middle class became superfluous, invisible and therefore inconsequential to him.
He belived in the platitudes and the American Dream and thought that all had access to it through hard work. He was sexist and racist and homeophobic. He was a sad broken man who took out his wounds on others.
I am happy to have survived my childhood with my heart intact though it took me many years to get in-touch with my emotions. I have forgiven my father for all the wounds he had perpertated on me. And I trust that his consciousness is growing in a life beyond his mortal coil.