Gender & Identity, Life

I grew up with an abusive parent – but I didn’t know

My dad degraded my mom my whole life, but I felt powerless to stop him.

I grew up with an abusive and controlling father, but I never knew it until I went away to college and left my toxic, stifling family.

Until I started reading books about feminism and race theory, and interned for a law firm dedicated to representing battered women, I was not able to fully internalize the type of household I grew up in and the negative effects my dad had and continues to have, on my family.

I’ll never forget sitting with the attorney, staring, dumbfounded, at a chart that outlined behaviors that are considered domestic violence. One of the bullet points described throwing things, breaking objects, and angrily slamming doors as a way to intimidate others and show the aggressor’s power.

I’ve dealt with this from my father my whole life.

Unfortunately, I still live with him and living with him has been, at times, like walking on eggshells. I never know when he’ll explode, or why. But I grew up witnessing his behavior, and on some level, I genuinely thought this was just the way some people expressed their anger.

It has always caused me overwhelming amounts of anxiety, but I learned to suppress my uneasiness, only to have it manifest as depression years later.

It may sound naïve, but since I lived my whole life in this type of environment, I didn’t know any better.

To add to the problem, several relatives told me that my father “wasn’t that bad” and even accused me of being disrespectful to him when I retaliated against his controlling behavior. I spent my first 18 years knowing something was off about my family, but not having the resources to identify the issues and fight for myself or my mom.

I didn’t know how to grow a backbone.

The list also included “financial control” which, again, struck a nerve with me. My dad is the sole financial provider of the household; my mom has been a stay-at-home mom since I was born.

I have witnessed a disturbing pattern throughout my childhood and into adulthood that has included my dad cutting off my mom from money to buy a new car when she desperately needed one and accusing my mom of using him for his paycheck. He continually expects her to complete the never-ending housework without any help, because, since he makes the money, he believes he gets a pass on washing the dishes, vacuuming the house, and grocery shopping.

He has used his position as the financial provider to manipulate the family, specifically my mother, and leave us powerless to make decisions involving his money.

In my English classes, I started learning how housework has been perverted and degraded to “women’s work” and how this labor is often unappreciated and expected of wives and mothers.

My father has downplayed the amount of emotional and physical energy my mom puts into caring for our family. She does an extraordinary amount of work: she cleans, cooks, manages our finances, arranges doctor’s appointments, deals with the insurance if there are issues and grocery shops. She drove my brother and me to school and sports activities when we were younger and helped me apply for college and FAFSA, even though she never went to college and the application processes were foreign to her.

My dad has ignored these contributions and has belittled her work in relation to his own career.

One summer, while moving me into my new apartment, my father had a meltdown because I was defending myself and my mother to him in an argument that the whole apartment building probably heard.

He kicked my garbage can, grabbed me by the neck, then stormed out, driving all the way home (2.5 hours away) because I stood up to him.

I called my mom sobbing, shaking, and barely coherent.

I’ve embarked on the road to self-help and peace through therapy and medication for my anxiety and depression. I’ve tried to cut problematic family members out of my life as much as possible. I fight back when my dad tries to start an argument or says some sexist, racist, or xenophobic bullshit.

I refuse to let him belittle me.

I’m finding my voice, but it’s still exhausting and sometimes scary.