Saturday, June 15, 2024

How to Break a Seven-Year-Old

It's time to talk about Pascal

Round about the time I was twelve or thirteen, my parents decided that it would be a good experience, for our family, to have a foreign exchange student come live with us for a year.  And since we three children were all relatively young, they selected a much older, eighteen-year-old, recent high school graduate from Belgium.  He would attend our local high school and simply repeat his senior year.

Now for myself and my younger brother, age eleven, having an eighteen-year-old in the house was a new and exciting experience.  He was older and foreign and cool, and we pretty much worshiped the kid.  Well you would at that age, right?

However, our seven-year-old sister had a vastly different experience.

The problem was really two fold.  First, my sister was a bit chubby and struggled with her self-esteem.  This problem was heightened by the fact that my parents did not give two cents about the self-esteem of their children.  They never did.

Second, this eighteen-year-old was an arrogant narcissist of the most cruel sort, and he mocked and belittled our sister at every chance he got.  This, in itself, was a problem, but it was not the problem.  No, the actual problem was that our parents never, not once, put a stop to it.  You know basic stuff, for instance:  Pascal, we do not speak to nor about a member of this family in such a way.

And the kid was relentless.  Looking back on it, the proper course of action would have been to stop it, and if it could not be stopped, to send him home.  This should have taken mere weeks.

But this was not done.  In fact, nothing was done.  So our sister suffered this bullying from within her own family for a year.  And I think it is only fair to confess, that eleven and thirteen-year-old boys will mimic whatever an eighteen-year-old does in their house.  So instead of contending with just one bully, my sister had to live with three of us.

Now, my brother and I were no where near as bad as Pascal.  We knew our parents would step in if we were.  But we were bad enough, and I'm sure my sister would say we, the three of us, were all the same.  Remember, she was seven.

I don't think my sister ever got over it.  Maybe she has, but we have never discussed it.  But what I know for sure, is that we have never had a good relationship.  Sometimes it has been better than others.  But it has never been normal.

As smart as she is, one mistake my sister has made over the years is that she has always blamed the eighteen-year-old and the thirteen-year-old and the eleven-year-old.  And I'm very sorry for the part I played in this.  But to my knowledge she has never held my parents accountable for their inaction.  Parental impunity has always been the hallmark of our family.  This is their legacy and our long term tragedy.

In any case, my abnormal relationship with my sister is not one hundred percent Pascal's fault.  I would say, perhaps not even mostly his fault.  It primarily stems from the way my parents raised their children.  In an abusive family, the kids either come together, fiercely loyal to one another, or they become divided.  For us, it was the latter.

My theory is that when an abused child is not the current target of abuse, he cannot help but be relieved.  That is, if abuse is bad enough, a young child is simply grateful that it is not him...this time.  It becomes every kid for himself.  This degrades trust, and does nothing for long term family cohesion.

Pascal just fueled this preexisting dynamic.  But he was a monster, and it was something else our sister had to endure.

The internet reports that he died during early Covid.  Naturally, no one in my family shared this with me, even though he died over four years ago.  So-called experts speciously advise estranged families to cut all lines of communication and information; one is simply in or one is out.  This is the choice they have made, as if I am the one responsible for our estrangement.  Somehow they seem to believe that they hold the moral high ground, when I have done nothing but recoil from their behavior.

Anyway, I learned about Pascal's death yesterday.  At the time of his death, he was fifty-nine years old.
𓐡

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Thanks for Letting Me Know

A Short Story

The phone rings, which is somewhat strange because no one calls me these days.  It takes me a minute to realize that it is actually the phone making the noise.

I answer:  “Yes?”

“Hey man.”  I hear my brother’s voice.  I have not spoken with my brother in years, so this can only be bad news.

We’re long past small talk.  “Mom died this morning.”  He tells me.

He had emailed me a year earlier, telling me that she had developed some type of cancer.  Then he would occasionally email me one-line updates, but that stopped after a couple of months.

I remember the last time I saw my mother, the year before that.  And the last thing she said to me was that she loved me.  They had come to see me for some reason or other, but did not stay long because they could feel how unwelcome they were.  My father did not say a word the whole time.

Other than that extremely brief visit, I had not seen them for three years.  Not since they had asked me to help them with a house they wanted to buy.  During their long search, they had asked for my advice and I gave them the best counsel I could from a distance.  But the house they ultimately selected was only about forty minutes from me, and I could actually get involved.  I did not seek out involvement in this affair; they asked for my help.

It did not go well.  Oh they got the house and all.  But they behaved shamefully.  Mind you, not towards the seller.  No, shamefully towards me.  I will spare you all the gory details.  But the worst of it was that they decided to put the house under contract for cash, when in fact they did not have the cash available.  That's bad enough.  But they blamed me for the consequences of this bad decision.

Well, that's not actually the worst of it.  The worst of it was their attitude, which was belligerent and condescending all the way through.  Venomous is a better word.  As if I was the one preventing them from doing what they wanted, however irrational it may have been.  Had they not been my parents, I would have withdrawn from the transaction.  As it was, I felt an obligation to see them into the home they wanted.  So that is what I did.

It only cost whatever was left of our relationship.

About three weeks after they closed on the property, they showed up at my house – Uninvited, unannounced, and unapologetic.  I think their goal was to put the bad blood behind us and simply move on.  But there was no explanation and no apology.  Nothing of the sort.  When I complained about their attitude and behavior, all I got was, We’re sorry you feel that way.  That was my mother.  Again, my father did not say a word.

But I was having none of it.  By this time, I did not need an explanation.  I knew who they were.  My parents, with typical self-righteous impunity, tied their supposed love (well, our relationship anyway) to their irrational expectations, including my acceptance of their betrayals and their lies, and of their sheer nastiness and spitefulness and venom.  That is who they were.  That is who they always have been.

Sure my parents loved me.  But it was a conditional type of love.  Conditional on what?  Well, whatever it was they expected at the time.  And if I did not meet their expectations, well there was a price to be paid.  There was always a transaction on the table.

But by this time, I had the strength, or rather the experience, to say:  Oh no you don’t.

You see, by the time they bought that house, I knew unconditional love, belated though it may have been.  I had met someone who would later become my wife.  And in my mid-forties, she became the first person in my life to love me unconditionally.  And now that I had experienced unconditional love, I simply would not tolerate anything less.  Certainly not from people who happened to be my parents.

The effect was explosive.

I had to accept my parent’s conduct and bad faith for what it was:  A termination of our relationship.  No doubt, they would argue that it was not a termination because they still wanted to fix it.  My mother even said:  You may have given up on us, but we've not given up on you.  But words are easy.  There is a level of maltreatment that indicates that you no longer value a relationship and that you have no expectation nor desire to maintain it into the future.

Let me say that again:  There is a level of maltreatment that indicates that you no longer value a relationship and that you have no expectation nor desire to maintain it into the future.

Surely we, all of us, can expect some minimum level of goodwill and behavior.  We owe this to ourselves.  So I just decided that it was time to make their decisions irrevocable.

That was very difficult for me.  But conditional love is all they knew and all they were capable of.

And for my parents?  Well they have other children.  And their own comforting self-righteousness.

Now my parents love their other children conditionally as well.  Like I said, it is the only kind of love they know.  But my siblings are more willing to indulge it than I am.  And no doubt it helps that they have certainly done a better job at meeting parental expectations.

Without my wife, I would still be trying, and failing, to meet their expectations... their conditions.

The transaction on the table.

Their table.

So my wife and I crafted a new table.  And around our table, there is only unconditional love.



Now before we continue, it is important to acknowledge that my parents have done a lot for me.  They have been extremely generous.  It would be foolish to deny that.  But they have also treated me worse than anyone.  This, too, cannot be denied.

Did the one necessitate the other?  And how does one weigh that?  I do not know.  But I do know that one should not have to weigh it at all.

But there are matters...to be considered.  For instance, what kind of mother does not buy milk for her children?

She would have to be desperately poor, right?

She would first have to sell the house.  And then the furniture.  And then her wedding band.

She would demand that her husband buy milk; or threaten to divorce him, taking the children, and filing for alimony and child support.

Wouldn't she?

Or...she could make the entirely reasonable decision to not have children.  Perhaps she cannot afford children.  Or perhaps she does not want children.  Either way, the decision to have children is just that – a choice.  And if you make the decision to have children, at the same time you make the decision to take care of them properly.

Or...she may not give any thought whatsoever to whether she wants children, or whether she is well-suited to parenthood.  She certainly does not consider whether the man she married, a truly angry and contemptuous soul, would make a good father to her children.

Ultimately she has children per customary expectations, and perhaps for her own selfish vanity.  Certainly for her husband's vanity.  I can think of no other reasons.  And yet she decides that providing milk for them is a bridge too far.  An expense she is unwilling to bear.

When I was a kid, there was always beer and wine and Scotch whiskey in the house.  But there was never any milk.  It is important to understand:  This was not neglect; it was a conscious decision.  It was simple and genuine miserliness.

It was cheapness elevated to cruelty.

By any standard, my parents were incredibly affluent...

I am five feet six inches tall.

I remember when was maybe, four or five.  This was early 1970's.  A time when small-town parents still allowed their children to wander unattended.

Late one afternoon I was out roaming the neighborhood with my best bud, kid next door, and frequent bully, Steve Cashwell.  And right in front of my house, we found a pack of matches in the street.  Big stuff for pre-internet five-year-olds.

Steve, who was bigger and stronger, took custody of the newfound afternoon possibilities.  And against my urgent protests, he immediately went looking to put the pyrotechnics to use.  I stumbled along, as bullied kids so often do.

He settled on a solitary bush just off the street between our two houses.  As I am sure he'd never before struck a match, it took a little doing.  But before long, he had the dried leaves beneath the bush alight.  And then very quickly, he had that bush ablaze.

Well, that was too scary for me and I took off for help.  I ran through our front yard, past the front door, headed around the house, toward the back door that we actually used.  Unbeknownst to me, my father had arrived home, and saw the burning bush from his bedroom window.  We met just beyond the front door.

He yelled at me to go inside while he went and dealt with the Cashwell's flaming shrubbery.  Steve, by this time was no where to be found.

Afterwards, my father came inside the house and beat the crap out of me.

I tried to tell the story.  Of course I did.  And even after the beating, I denied that I was responsible.  So my parents, my well-educated, liberal parents, did what they considered appropriate and sufficient due diligence:  They phoned over to the Cashwell's, to find out what had actually happened.

And when they were informed during that telephone conversation that ... I ... was the actual culprit, they beat the crap out of me for a second time that night.  For lying about it.

I remember once, when my brother and I were quite young.  John and Pat Shaw invited all of us over for dinner.  All went well until after dinner, when the adults were playing bridge in the basement and the four children were playing in the adjoining playroom.  I remember, Michael and Susan Shaw being rather rowdy.  Well, by our standards.  And my brother and I, were scared to death.  Rowdiness was just not to be tolerated.  So we sat in the middle of the room, meekly, and Michael and Susan sort of danced around us.  We were literally shaking.  Sure enough, Dad comes in and beats the shit out of us.  Right on cue.

This sort of fear really defined my childhood.

Now the Shaw’s never invited our family back.  Never.  And they never came to our house.  No doubt if you ask my parents, even today, they would tell you that their children (my brother and myself) made a bad impression and the Shaw’s no longer wanted to be friends.  But I was invited to that home hundreds of times after that.  No, I think the Shaw’s were appalled by how my parents treated their children.  And no, they did not want to associate with such people.

I remember when I was just a bit older, maybe six, we had moved into a new house.  My brother and I had our own rooms for the first time.  We shared a bathroom between the bedrooms.  Let me be clear:  My room, bathroom, my brother's room.  I remember I started peeing in the waste paper basket in my room.  It was actually a basket, and of course, all flowed to the carpet beneath it.

Naturally, sooner or later, the stench became noticeable and my parents confronted me about what was going on.  When I confessed (how could I not?), there was talk of big punishment, which I don't recall ever coming to pass.  But let me tell you what there was not.  There was never any talk whatsoever about why a six-year-old might develop this odd behavior.  All blame, and that is exactly what it was, was directed at the child, and the parents never once questioned their own behavior and attitudes.

As to why the promised punishment never came to pass?  Well they knew didn't they?  Deep down, they were perfectly well aware of who was at fault.  And why.  Of course they were.  Like I said, these were extremely intelligent, well-educated people.  They simply did not care enough about the project of childrearing.

Like all of us, the most basic needs of children are food, water, and shelter.  But Maslow taught us that right above these physiological needs sits:  Safety.  Even before love, children need to feel safe.  This is the primary job of parents.  This is the primary purpose of a home.

And I learned very early that my parents and our home were not reliably safe.  My greatest fear as a child was not the dark or getting lost or whatever it is that children typically fear.  Rather, I feared the volatile and capricious nature of my parents.  All too eager to find fault; all too willing to strike with unpredictable abuse.  Physical as well as venomous verbal assaults.  Abuse used to insure preternatural behavior and obedience, and to protect a warped view of their own reputation.  For my parents, fear was the tool of choice in their burden of childrearing.

I did not feel safe with my parents.  How could I?  I was scared to death of them.  Trust is a vital element of safety and we are all born trusting.  But if you learn at the age of three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and beyond, that your parents cannot be trusted, do not be surprised if you have trouble trusting anyone, ever.  How does such a child find mental and emotional stability?  You can expect trouble forming and maintaining relationships, distrust of authority, and other symptoms of the maladjusted.

And if a child's home is not safe, he may never feel home anywhere.  He may spend a lifetime seeking a home that he lacks the emotional capacity to find.  If a child does not feel safe, how can he possibly develop Maslow's higher-level pursuits of belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization?

My parents did not give two cents about the self-esteem of their children.

But that is not all.  Abused children are likely to grow up to be angry adults.  And this internal rage affects everything they do.  And all of their relationships.  How could it not?  I wonder what percentage of our prison population were abused as children?

So, angry and unfulfilled.  And unable to find happiness.  Yeah, that sounds about right.  But Jordan Peterson says that happiness is not the goal.  It is rather, a mere byproduct of moral venture.  So I guess, there's always hope.  One muddles onward, searching and hoping.  What choice is there?  The question becomes:  Can abused children transcend their anger and their lack of self-esteem to live a life of moral venture?  Here's hoping.

In any case, there was nothing special about the abuse described here; these are just early incidents that I remember clearly.  My parents were always ready, even eager, to find fault and assume the worst about their children and act on those assumptions.  They knew that Steve, the neighbor kid, was bigger and stronger and a bully.  But they found the idea, that their kid was the one responsible, irresistible.  This was the defining element of my childhood.  Imagine what that does to the psyche of a little kid.  I don't think I ever got over it.

Now I know, plenty have it worse, physically.  Far worse.  Some are hospitalized; some go hungry.  But for me, I think this willful neglect of self-esteem, even actively working to suppress it, may be the absolute worst form of child abuse.

Today, it is so easy to mock parents for how they raise their little snowflakes.  Self-esteem above all else.  Above right and wrong, above winning and losing, above proper and appropriate discipline.  These parents are misguided and do not prepare their kids for the real world.  That's bad.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, what happens when parents do not care about self-esteem at all?  Surely this is infinitely worse.  It's unconscionable. These people do not attend to the most basic responsibility of parenting:  Raising strong, productive, and mentally and emotionally healthy adults-in-the-making.  They have no business raising children at all.

When children do not have this, it follows them, like a shadow, into adulthood.  Where it lingers… for a lifetime.



I struggled mightily to overcome their abuse, and had put it behind me, and perhaps had even forgiven them.  But when they bought that house, they were all too willing to demonstrate that nothing had really changed.  Behind the veneer of respectability lurks a common and wholly unrepentant child abuser, who longs for the day when he could simply beat his children into submission to his will, however irrational it may have been.  For her part, my mother was his chief enabler and an often participant.

The worst part is that they continued to believe that their abuse was within the bounds of decency.  They refused to acknowledge any misconduct.  They had no shame and denied all accountability.  It was arrogance.  This is what is so unforgivable.  Not their actual abuse or misconduct, but rather their continued belief that these derelictions were acceptable.  And why would they have believed otherwise?  They never suffered any consequences whatsoever for their bad behavior.

In any case, fifty years of bad conduct and bad faith was quite enough for me.  Our relationship came to an end with that house.  And my wife and I moved to the other side of the world.

I think to myself, I should ask my brother:  What are the odds that all three of their children would suffer mental health issues?  As adults.  One out of three might be statistically about normal.  Two out of three might be a high statistical outlier.  But three out of three?  That is something altogether different.

“Hello…hello?”  I suddenly remember my brother on the phone.  “Are you there?”

I let my question slip away; at this point it no longer matters.  Before hanging up, I simply say:

“Thanks for letting me know.”
𓐡

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Father's Contempt

What kind of father has contempt for his children?

Contempt, thy name is father.

From the very first post in this series, I have struggled mightily to understand.  To answer the question:  What kind of parents treat their children this way?

I am still struggling with it.  But at this point, I think it comes down to contempt.  Sheer contempt.

My father always had contempt for his children.  And I do not mean for his adult children, although, at least in my case, that certainly followed.  No, I mean he had contempt for his children from the day they were born.  Sounds crazy I know, but I think it sprang from contempt for neediness and the burden he was forced to bear.  Which of course begs the question:  Why have children at all?  Children are so obstreperous.  And ever so needy.  Burdensome.  Expensive.  Whiny.  Smelly.  And embarrassing.  It's all just so...contemptible.

Later, I think he had contempt for his children's affluence.  Ironic of course because he was the source of it.  But I think he was contemptuous of what we had and how we lived...I suppose compared to what he did not have at our age.  Most parents want to give their children a better life than they themselves had.  My father never suffered from this delusion.

Finally and most importantly, I think he was contemptuous that his children did not measure up to the standards of his vanity.  Certainly I never have.  He's never been one to brag about his children.  But when asked about them, vanity demands that he is able to outdistance and/or outclass the accomplishments of his interlocutor's children.  I suppose it's a pre-digital form of humblebragging.  But even if not asked, he wants to feel superior.  He's perfectly happy to be quietly superior.  In any case, this contempt continues to this day.

The real irony here is that if you want your children to excel in this way, in a way that truly allows you to feel smugly superior, if that is what you need and what your vanity demands, you must first, and always, treat them well.  Responsibly.  If you do, your children are as human as anyone else, and they may still disappoint you.  But if you treat them badly, they will struggle and most likely let you down.  This is no one's fault but your own.  And your contempt is misplaced.



Imagine what it might mean for children if their father holds them in contempt.  Little kids.  And later adolescents.  Of course, if you hold something or someone in contempt, it allows you to justify and excuse any of your own bad behavior towards them.  In the extreme, you don't even recognize it has bad behavior.  Simply put:  Contempt gives you license to treat someone badly.  If you add lack of consequence, you have a recipe for real damage.

And imagine the damage.  The physical and emotional abuse.  While the physical abuse quickly heals, the emotional damage lasts a lifetime.  Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.

But that is perfectly okay because they're contemptible.  Contempt justifies bad attitude and behavior which yields failure and disappointment which produces yet more contempt.  My parents produced three emotionally damaged, even broken, children.  Who later, naturally, became emotionally damaged adults.

And my parents could not care less.  They take no responsibility for the damage.  They were entitled to their attitude and conduct.  Even today, they retain their self-righteous impunity.

Contempt allows for it.

In fact, I think it is only contempt that makes this possible.
𓐡

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Waiter Rule

In the last twenty years much has been written about the Waiter Rule.  I have mentioned it in at least one previous post.

Let's state it here:
If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.
Or more formally:  One's true character can be gleaned from how one treats staff or service workers, such as a waiter.  This is so obvious that I simply don't have anything further to say about it.  But if you are interested, have a look at the above Google search.  Or read this management article from USA Today in 2006.

My father is horrible with wait staff.  Always has been.  For many years my mother indulged him, tolerating his completely unnecessary rudeness.  But even she got to the point where she could not take it.  These days, she will not allow him to even deal with wait staff or pay the bill.  But it took decades.

If you put the question to him, and I have, he would say that in a restaurant, the only way the customer has to deal with bad service is through his interaction with the waiter.  Whether it is within the waiter's control or not, this is the customer's only recourse.

If you choose to skip dealing with the manager, I guess this seems logical.  But it is a lie.  My father never chose to deal with the manager.  No, the reason my father treats wait staff so shabbily is that he is simply not a nice person.  He's mean and miserly.  If left to him, he will gladly leave a zero tip on each and every occasion.  This business of bad service is merely an excuse.  Believe you me, he'll find some bad service.

This became clear to me in my twenties.  I was having dinner with a middle aged couple.  The man's silverware, on the table when we arrived, had not been properly washed.  However this might have happened, once he noticed this, he simply and gently asked the waiter for a new set.  This seems totally innocuous and of course it was.  But it made a huge impression on me.  Further, he went on to treat the wait staff with tremendous respect and left a generous tip.

I knew immediately and devastatingly that I had been raised improperly.

Imagine that feeling.
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Friday, November 13, 2020

Cheap Elevated to Cruel

What kind of mother does not buy milk for her children?

She would have to be desperately poor, right?

She would first have to sell the house.  And then the furniture.  And then her wedding band.

She would demand that her husband buy milk; or threaten to divorce him, taking the children, and filing for alimony and child support.

Wouldn't she?

Or...she could make the entirely reasonable decision to not have children.  Perhaps she cannot afford children.  Or perhaps she does not want children.  Either way, the decision to have children is just that – a choice.  And if you make the decision to have children, at the same time you make the decision to take care of them properly.

Or...she may not give any thought whatsoever to whether she wants children, or whether she is well-suited to parenthood.  She certainly does not consider whether the man she married, a truly angry and contemptuous soul, would make a good father to her children.

Ultimately she has children per customary expectations, and perhaps for her own selfish vanity.  Certainly for her husband's vanity.  And yet she decides that providing milk for them to drink is a bridge too far.  An expense she is unwilling to bear.

When I was a kid, there was always beer and wine and Scotch whiskey in the house.  But there was never any milk.  This was not neglect; it was a conscious decision.  It was simple and genuine miserliness.

It was cheapness elevated to cruelty.

By any standard, my parents were incredibly affluent...

I am five feet six inches tall.
𓐡

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Transaction on the Table

Finding Unconditional Love After Forty and the Explosive Outcome

I met Mira in 2011.  We fell in love.  Nothing unusual about that.  I will save our story for another post, but the experience was new for me.

Prior to Mira, the people who "loved" me, loved me conditionally.  You might even call it transactional love.  But I think most people understand it as conditional love.  If they think about it in those terms.  And of course, most do not.  But most people do understand unconditional love.  And because of that, they can infer what conditional love must be.

Of course, it's not really love at all, is it?

Anyway, conditional love was all I had known.  This certainly includes my parents and later friends and girlfriends and later still my ex-wife.  Yes, they all supposedly loved me.  But there can be no mistake about it, it was conditional.  Conditional on what?  Well, whatever it was they expected.  And if I did not meet their expectations, well there was a price to be paid.

After all, there was a transaction on the table.

So Mira was the first person, ever, to love me unconditionally.  And this experience, this continuing experience, gave me the strength to say to all the others, primarily my parents:  No more.

See, now that I have experienced unconditional love, now that I know what real love is, I will not tolerate anything less.  It is sad that it took me so long to get here, but there it is.

Several years later, my parents, with typical impunity, tied their supposed love (well, our relationship anyway) to their irrational expectations, including my acceptance of their betrayals and their lies, and of their sheer nastiness and spitefulness and venom.  But by this time, I had the strength, or rather the experience, to say:  Oh no you don't.

The effect was explosive.

So be it.

I belatedly accepted their conduct and bad faith for what it was:  A termination of our relationship.  Which has been very hard for me.  I still have trouble dealing with it.  But for my parents?  Well, they have other children.  And their own self-righteousness.

Now my parents love their other children conditionally as well.  It is the only kind of love they know.  But I guess my siblings are more willing to tolerate it than I am.  And no doubt it helps that they have certainly done a better job at meeting parental expectations.

Me, I have always been a bit of a black sheep.  Even more so after depression set in almost immediately after completing college.  Thirty years later, I am finally coming to understand it all.

But without Mira, I would still be trying, and failing, to meet their expectations... their conditions.

The transaction on the table.

Their table.

So I crafted a new table.  And around my table, there is only unconditional love.
𓐡

Monday, November 2, 2020

On Child Abuse and Depression

Last month I quoted an article about child abuse and PTSD.  The author, Susanne Babbel, makes the point that child abuse can lead to a number of psychological and emotional disorders in adults.  It reminded me of the Herbert Ward quote:  Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.  I think this is true.  It certainly has been for me.

To whatever extent I can, I try to leave my siblings out of my writings here.  But all three of us have suffered mental health issues in adulthood.  What are the odds of that?  One out of three might be statistically about normal.  Two out of three might be a high statistical outlier.  But three out of three?  That is something altogether different.

I only mention this in order to assure the reader that I am not some shallow ingrate with daddy issues.  The kind you occasionally find on the very popular subreddit, Raised by Narcissists, and on other similar sites.

I don't think I am.  In order to maintain my relationship with my parents, I was able to set aside my issues for more than thirty years of adulthood.  The issues were there, but I had put them behind us.  It was only my parents' renewed misconduct along with their reinvigorated attitude of self-righteous impunity that belatedly led to our estrangement.

The sad reality is this:  Behind the veneer of respectability lurks a common and wholly unrepentant child abuser, who longs for the day when he could simply beat his children into submission to his will, however irrational it may be.  And it has always been this way, I just did not want to face it.  I mean, who wants to face that?

The final break was eighteen months ago now.  I question my actions every day.  But I should not.  My actions were really only reactive.  My parents' conduct and attitude terminated our relationship.  I reacted in the only way I could to protect myself.  It was self-defense.  And further, estrangement finally allowed the pain of my childhood and the reality of our ongoing relationship to come to the forefront.

And what this has done is made it clear to me where my lifelong battle with depression originated.  As Babbel suggests in her article, I have suffered with depression and relationship problems all of my adult life.

For some people, perhaps most, depression may be the result of a chemical imbalance.  But for me...well, I know the source of my shadows.
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Monday, October 26, 2020

Your Parents Did Their Best

Earlier this year, someone said to me:  I'm sure your parents did their best.

I am not an unreasonable person.  I can forgive a lot if it is true that anyone does their best in any endeavor.  Most of us can.

But with a bit of reflection, I had to ask:  Really?  Because I do not think they did their best.  That would mean that they actually tried to do their best and I just do not see that.  They simply did not care enough about the project of raising children.  As I pointed out recently, responsible parenting was beneath their dignity and tolerance.  They were not willing to take the time and make the effort required to be decent parents.

By the time you get to my age (over fifty), you've seen good parenting and bad.  You've seen parents say:  Look little Johnny, I told you not to do that; now go sit on the stairs for a while.  And you've seen parents grab their kid and beat them for accidentally knocking over a glass of wine.  It's just not a difficult distinction to comprehend.

And while it may not be politically correct to say, surely education level plays a part.  To my mind, more educated parents have less excuse for mistreatment of children.  They should know better.

They do know better.  Some just don't care.  They do not care enough to conduct themselves in a proper manner.  And whatever you may think of this, it is very difficult to argue that:  They did their best.

They certainly did NOT do their best.
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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Grateful Children or Grateful Parents?

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child.

Traditionally in our culture, at least since the time of Shakespeare, it has been the norm that children should be grateful for all the blessings they have received from their parents.  And for their parents themselves.  It's simple:  Parents gave, children received, therefore children should be grateful.

Clearly, this idea is no longer the norm.  So when did this change?  I would put it somewhere around the middle of the last century; say around 1950.  I am sure that the academics can expound on this subject greatly.  But let me tell you what I see.  I see a generation who grew up in the Great Depression and then survived the Second World War.  And afterwards, the survivors came home, grateful to be alive.  And when those people, men and women, got married and started families, they were rightfully grateful for their children.

Parents were fortunate and lucky to even have children.  Some would say, blessed with children.  So rather than parents gave, we transitioned to parents owe.  Parents owe their children everything.

Should children be grateful?  Of course; this is not an either/or proposition.  But it is the parents who bring forth children, not the other way around.  If the gratitude of children is paramount, it gives the parents unlimited license.  License to mistreat and abuse.  But these are mere symptoms.  What I really mean is:  License to have contempt for one's children.  License to hold your children in contempt.  And just think about all the consequences of that.

Well one consequence, and only one of a number, is the difference between unconditional love and conditional love.  It is impossible to love a child unconditionally when you have contempt for him.  After all, he owes you so much.  And he is a burden, and perhaps an embarrassment and a disappointment.  So contempt gives rise to conditional love.

Anyway, this was a new and enlightened phenomenon:  A whole generation grateful for their children.  And there remain large swaths of the world where this is not yet the standard.  But of course, once a society makes this cultural leap forward, there is no turning back.  If you doubt my thesis here, just consider the areas and countries where this new standard has taken root and where it has not.  Which of these societies are advanced, and which of these are undeniably backwards?

Now sure, we can ask, has this gone too far?  But it is clear that the idea that parents should be grateful for their children is far superior to the idea that children should be grateful for their parents.  Parents should be grateful.  If you do not see the supremacy of this idea, you do not belong in this age.  You belong in the age of King Lear, a father overflowing with contempt.
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Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Question

Did my parents abuse me?

Let’s expand the question just a bit:  When I was a child, did my parents' conduct rise to the level of abuse?  This has been a question for me, basically, all of my adult life.  Broken as I may have been, I still asked the question.

And what a question, right?  But I doubt I am alone in asking this terrible question.  For some, the answer is an obvious yes.  However, those unfortunate souls need not ask the question.  They already know the answer.  But some of us are unsure, and seemingly there is no answer.  So the question just sort of festers…indefinitely.

Well in 2019, well past the age of fifty, I found an answer and it helped change my life.  Notice I say:  an answer.  I am sure other people will have other answers.  But for those of you who are perhaps unsure of the answer, as I was, maybe you will find this helpful.

I read this somewhere:
People who were not abused do not ask themselves if they were abused.  The question never occurs to them.  The only people who ask themselves this question are those who were in fact abused.
It is not a perfect answer.  Some might even argue that it is a bit trite.  But I found it immensely helpful.

And for those of you who might dismiss this simple theory, allow me to pick it apart…for you.  Just a bit.  The first two sentences, I believe, are simple statements of fact.  Indisputable.  So really, it is only the third and final sentence that is at all open to question.  But I can tell you this:  For those of us who have asked the question, that third sentence is spot on.  I know it is a bit of a clichΓ©, but to ask the question, is to answer it.  Notice that there is no no.  Because if the answer is no, the question does not exist.

Some will argue that this is overly subjective and does not allow for any objective standard.  But this is not an academic work.  If the reader needs an objective standard, I urge you to search elsewhere.  The goal here is to answer our own individual version of the question.  For ourselves.

Now, might there be some people who will use this idea disingenuously?  In order to feign abuse for their own ends, whatever they may be.  Sure, I can see that possibility.  But this is not a question for others.  Again, this is a question for ourselves.  We need an answer to the question.  Not for others and not to use as an excuse.  To determine how we should move forward, we need to resolve the question in our own minds and for our own benefit.

So, did my parents abuse me?

Yes.
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Friday, October 23, 2020

Only Lazy Parents Beat Their Children

Parenting is a lot of work.  I know loads of good parents.  Mostly friends and neighbors, clients and colleagues.  I am always amazed at how much work is involved.  And of course, how it never ends.  It's 24/7 for years on end.  If it ever really ends.

Part of that, a big part of that, is teaching children to be good people.  To teach them right and wrong.  That is a big part of a parent's job:  To produce good, productive adults-in-the-making.  To that end, Jordan Peterson says:  Never allow your children to do anything that will make you dislike them.  I totally agree.

And think about how this is done.  It is a years-long daily exercise of example and instruction and correction.  Sure, some parents are better at it than others.  Some parents work harder at it than others.  Some parents care too much, and sadly, some parents care too little.

But there is a shortcut.  If your kid does something that you do not like, just beat them.

They'll stop.

And if you are the absolute worst sort of parent:  You'll congratulate yourself for it.  You might even look down on other hapless parents, with their rowdy, rambunctious children.  If only those people knew enough or cared enough to be effective, responsible parents, like you.  If only they had your...courage.


Just to be clear, there is a difference between lazy people and lazy parents.  My parents were very hardworking people.  But they found responsible parenting to be beneath their dignity and tolerance.  They were not willing to take the time and make the effort required to be decent parents.

So...they opted for the shortcut.
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Part Three of Three

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Myth of Spanking

I have to write a follow up to my previous post, On Child Abuse and PTSD.  People who beat their children always say:  I spank my children because I love them.  And if you allow these parents, they will expound on how they explain to their children why they are to receive such a punishment.  As if it is all done in some calm and constructive manner.

Well it is a lie.  And to the extent it is believed, it is a myth.

My parents firmly believed in spanking their children and were enthusiastic practitioners.  And if asked, you'd get the party line above.  But it was never calm and constructive.  It was ALWAYS done in anger.  And very often in front of others.  Sometimes even as a demonstration to other adults — Of what righteous and responsible parents they were.

Parents strike their children because they are angry.  Period.  There may be additional reasons:  The parents are tyrannical or unstable.  Or they lack self-control.  Whatever.  But there is one additional factor that is always present:  Parents strike their children simply because they can.  Without consequence.

Now, is it possible that somewhere out there is a parent who waits 24 hours, and then says:  Now little Johnny, I am going to spank you for your behavior yesterday?  Maybe these parents exist.  But if they do, they are extremely rare.  And I am certainly not about to justify even this parental misconduct.  Example:  Okay little Johnny, yesterday I caught you hitting your sister, and it is not right for you to hit anyone, and to prove it, I am going to hit you.  Simply labeling this reasoning old-fashioned relieves the parents of their culpability.  Would it be hyperbolic to label it barbaric?  Perhaps we can agree on primitive.

In fact, my parents struck their two little boys so much and so frequently, that looking back on it, I have to conclude that it was much more than mere anger and a lack of self-control.  Without consequence, their abuse was an entitlement, achieved with complete impunity.  It was a power trip and a fetish.  Even today, fifty years later, they gloat about it.  Just imagine.

Imagine the contempt that they must have had for their children.  An idea comes to mind:  They sacrificed their children on the altar of their own ego.  But that's not quite right, is it?  Whoever heard of an angry sacrifice?  A real sacrifice is done in sorrow in order to bestow future blessings.  An angry sacrifice could only ensure future sorrow.

An angry sacrifice?  There’s another word for that:  Execution.
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Part Two of Three