I have a very early memory from childhood that usually resurfaces in my mind at least once a day. It is one of my father. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing. We were probably sitting down having dinner. I don’t have happy memories of dinnertime. This was usually my dad’s prime time to be. . .difficult, to put it mildly. We’d be enjoying our meal and then someone – my mom, older sister, or I – would say something wrong. He’d get pissed, and dinner would be ruined. We would sit and eat the rest of our meal in a tense silence, no one brave enough to break it, lest we make it even worse for ourselves.
In this one instance though, I remember him looking at my sister and me, singling us out. He told my sister that she needed to marry rich because she wasn’t smart enough. He told me I was the brains and would be a scholar. I remember his tone, so matter of fact. He had a way of saying things in just the right way to make you feel tiny, insignificant. He’d tilt his head to the side a little and look you square in the eye, daring you to defy him or defend yourself. My sister was usually the one to argue. I just learned to be quiet.
His statement became a belief, a mantra, instilled in our young minds. My sister spent years seeking attention from boys because of my father’s emotional negligence. If she got any attention from him, it was negative. I grew up with major self-image and confidence issues. See, my father had not only placed a label on us, but he also placed a constraint, an imaginary finish line, that we couldn’t cross. Because my sister was pretty, she shouldn’t pursue an education. I was smart, not desirable. There was no room for both. I really can’t begin to describe the monumental effect this has had on us as young women.
Growing up around this kind of negativity was suffocating. It took us years to realize and admit to ourselves that we had suffered from abuse. I believe his remark also sought to pit us against each other. Thank God, it did the opposite. Now, years later, my sister is a college graduate. She made it her mission to prove our dad wrong, even if it meant paying for her education herself (naturally, he refused to pay for it). She’s married, has a job that she loves and is passionate about, and is trying to start a family of her own.
Like her, I haven’t ended up where my dad expected me to. I spent years pushing myself in school, placing enormous pressure on myself, until one day it just became too much. I ended up attending college for a year and a half. I left with barely any credits and severe social anxiety. I think in a way I was trying to defy the expectations my dad had placed on me, so I just said “fuck it,” but my brain was like “oh no baby what is u doing?” (hence the crippling anxiety). I now have a full-time job and I completely support myself financially, as I’ve been doing for two years. I’ll go back to school when the time is right for me.
I no longer have any contact with my father for multiple reasons. My sister keeps communication with him to a minimum. This decision was the most adult choice I’ve ever had to make. My quality of life and overall opinion of myself has improved drastically. In no way is this essay meant to bash fathers. Quite the opposite. Fathers play a pivotal role in our upbringing. There’s a quote by an Everclear song called “Wonderful” that comes to mind: “Promises mean everything when you’re little and the world’s so big.” Young minds are so impressionable. As children, we look up to our parents, even if they suck, because they should be setting an example and guiding us to grow up to be confident human beings. There are certainly different pressures placed on boys and girls as children, but little girls should never have to choose between beauty and intelligence. I just want all my friends and future parents to be aware that our children’s fates lie in their own hands.
Our parents can want things for us, but ultimately we have the freedom to choose our own destinies. Father’s Day is always a time of reflection for me. In no way do I want pity. Hell, I don’t feel sorry for me, so why should anyone else? Obviously, the things my father said to my sister and I are fucked up, but I can’t help but wonder who I would be if he hadn’t. It sounds funny but at this point in my life I’ve achieved a sense of mental clarity. I know who I am and what I want out of this one life more than ever because of what I endured.
Thanks, dad!!!
Tanner Moore