I have thought about writing this piece for a long time. I feel it is important to challenge myself as a father. Being a child of alcoholic and so having had a traumatic childhood, the use of denial is something that I can easily fall into if I don’t step back and question myself from time to time. This piece is not about falling into morbid reflection or about taking blame. It is about open and honest reflection that brings about the opportunity for positive change. I believe in breaking the cycles and i believe that, certainly in my case, I need to be real with myself. Again, this is not about blame. I have an understanding that these effects within my family are born out of the stress of trauma’s passed down through generations. These are not even failings, these are simply some facts i have found from looking inward, that can now become my cornerstone for real change and the demolition of long-lasting cycles.
1) I Was Too Young.
I was 18 when my first child was born. I was too young, but I am not simply talking about age here, I am talking emotionally. At 18 years old I had absolutely no idea who I was as a person and emotionally, I was a child. Society may dictate that 18 years old is adulthood, but I was a child.
When a child is born into this world they are completely helpless, and they gain their sense of worth by the ways in which they are loved, held and supported in those early years – the eye contact, the skin contact and the answer to their every need. I couldn’t show up for this. I had 4 children by the time I was 24 and in that time I did not really grow emotionally at all as I was too consumed in escaping the ways I felt.
In those years my children missed out on some vital bonding that every child should have access too. Mainly because in many ways, I was still that traumatised child on the inside who had needs that conflicted my relationship with my children as a father.
Now, it wasn’t all bad, I was able to be emotionally available during periods of their early years but I can’t deny I fluttered in and out. Thankfully, since finding recovery and healing it has given me the opportunity to grow with my children. Many of you will know, I talk about family recovery and me and my children get to grow together which is something that today I am grateful for.
2) My Need To Be Loved
My need to be loved as a COA is something that I have written about in more detail before. This is something that although I am much better with today, is still there and that I continue to work on. My need to be and to feel loved can take so much of a president within my life that naturally it can feed through into how I parent. It can mean that I struggle with setting my children clear, obvious and healthy boundaries. For example, there might be something I don’t particularly want me children to be doing but upon upsetting them with a simple direction I want to take that direction back. My fear of them not loving me wants to take power over me instead of me making sure they do whats best for them. If I don’t keep on top of this I can end up teaching my children that certain reactions will get them certain benefits. Furthermore, flitting between the 2 can create confusion!
Fortunately I am aware of this and so because of this I have the opportunity to work on it and as such, become a better father. There are too, positives to take from this. In my quest to be loved, I am a very loving father today and as result, my children get to feel very loved… but even then I have to be aware of it becoming too overpowering.
3) Difficulty Being Present.
I would say this one is probably the most prevalent in my life today. Anyone who has any kind of childhood trauma, regardless of how small and perhaps even those who haven’t, can relate to this to some degree. Just being.…. it’s not always easy for me. Some days are more of a struggle than others but I know it is there. So despite making sure I am there for the moments I want to be, sometimes I am not there. My mind can go into ‘flight’. People think ‘flight’ means ‘running away’ but that’s not always the case. My overactive mind can do the same job of taking me away. It can get so busy it is like an un-tuned radio and as I result I miss out. Sure my body is there but I am not. So I can sometimes miss those moments, the eye contact after 1 of the kids completes something as simple as a forward roll, the type that makes your whole body tingle with connection. The interactions that deepen that bond just a little more… every time. I can miss them when I am ‘tuned out’. This is a coping mechanism, ingrained in me from those early years.
Children notice this. More than we care to believe. They may not be able to articulate it, it may not even manifest itself as a knowing that their dad isn’t present… but it’s there.
I have various different ways I manage this that I wont go into on this post but like everything, awareness of it gives me the opportunity to bring about positive change. I try not fight it, because I find that gives it power but rather I accept it and look to manage it and adapt so that it does not have such a hold over my life. I take this day by day recognising that each time I become ‘un-present’ is not failure but an opportunity to grow in my experience.
This ties in heavily with ‘difficulty being present’. I am not necessarily talking about the impatience that makes one lose their temper but more of the ‘needing to get somewhere‘. An example would be walking to the shop as a family. The journey itself should be fun and un-rushed, stopping for the younger ones to investigate something. But if I am not careful, I become all about the destination. I am hurrying everyone along and being too obsessed with getting to where we are going!
This is something that can be true of life in general for me. Always trying to get somewhere. The great Alan Watts says life should be like a dance, it is not about getting to the end it is about the fun in the middle. If my lack of ability to be present manifests itself as impatience, I can miss the fun in the middle.
5) No Blueprint.
Now, firstly I should say that I had amazing step dad from the age of 10 years old that taught me a lot about life… but for me, it wasn’t the same.
I never experienced the true love of a father, or at least that I could remember. So I had nothing to go on, no blueprint. So sometimes, I feel like I am going blind. I question myself, is this right?Is this what dads do? I have very little memory of the day-to-day stuff from being anything below about 13 years old so I struggle to find experience to draw on.
I would imagine again that this is something all parents can relate to at various times and to some degree. I do have the rather cliché thing of learning ‘how not to be’ and although I know this is a positive angle, it can only be true to some degree.
But again, the recognition of this and the acceptance of it creates a platform where I can be open and honest about it and so seek the help and input of others.
6) Struggles With Processing My Emotions.
Another point that is still a part of my life. There are some emotions I just do not process well, both positive and negative. Sometimes they can send me into shut down and make me completely unavailable. Sometimes I cannot express them and so I bottle them until I burst, seemingly without provocation and sometimes I just dodge them and side step as if they didn’t happen.
Mindfulness has helped me so much with this. I can begin to process the unprocessed. But it can still leave the family unsure of where I am at. I may seem irritable for no reason or struggle to let things go as I scramble to process how I feel about any given situation.
The greatest asset I have for tackling this one is my openness with my children. I tell them. They are not stupid and this idea that keeping secrets from them in an internet world is somehow going to protect them is ‘old hat’. So I tell them what I am telling you. I say that I struggle with emotions and that I internalise things and that it is no ones fault and doesn’t have to define us as people or as a family. I encourage them to be open with what they are feeling, even if and perhaps especially if, it is negative.
7) Escape Can Still Be My Default.
We often talk about addiction in terms of substance and/or behavioural. However there is a common bond in all addiction and it is one that joins them all. It is the addiction to escape. From alcohol to our mobile phones, central to all of these is escape. The need to not be here, wherever ‘here’ may be. Often this is a subtle want to escape, a unwanting to be present, much like I motioned in point 3.
In times gone by, before I found any kind of healing, my escape was very much in the literal sense, running away. Time and again in my active drinking days I would let my children down as I sought escape in any way possible.
Today however, escape is not always something that I do in a physical sense but is often in the form of ‘shutting off‘. My mobile phone is often a port of call. Anything to tune out and not meaning to sound too dramatic, this comes from finding ‘just being’ too painful.
Much like all the points, an awareness of this gives me the opportunity for change but does not bring about change in itself. It is something I have to keep myself open to, with a willingness to work on.