I can spot a worthless father in just a few minutes. I’m an expert as I had one. They’re actually not that hard to identify if they are remotely like my own father. His words were just as repugnant as his actions. He could spread his lies the way Martha Stewart ices cakes.
It was when I was 11 or 12 that I heard my father on the phone with a woman that was certainly not my mother. My two sisters and I were at home, alone. This was not uncommon. It was a different time in the 70’s. We were living in Belleville, Ontario and I believe it was most likely summer, which would explain why we were all home in the middle of the day. Dad came home unexpectedly, and told us all to go to our rooms. When we objected because we were watching the only television in the house, our loving father turned off the TV and loudly told us to get out of the living room. We all retreated to my bedroom, eager to get away from his ill tempered mood.
At the time, we lived in a small bungalow with an unfinished basement. Perhaps it was 1000 square feet, and that’s being generous. There were three bedrooms, all huddled together on one side of the house. You could whisper in one room and hear it in another. We had one telephone in the house and it was located in the living room on a side table. It was positioned gunshot style, directly in front of my bedroom door, probably a dozen or so footsteps away from each other. My dad picked up that phone and used it to call someone that he proceeded to plead and beg with. It was astonishing to me how his tone had changed. He promised to take this person away. That no one else mattered. He LOVED her. It soon became clear to me that he was talking to a woman who was NOT my mother and it literally made me sick.
My 6 year old sister, Sarah, was crying because she was likely scared. A completely reasonable reaction. My other sister, Wendy, did not believe me when I told her who dad was probably talking to. As she was only 11 months younger than me, we were both at approximately the same point in our intellectual development, but she was the peacemaker in the family and quick to leap to the best possible conclusion, rather than the worst.
I told her to try leaving our room and to see what reaction our father of the year would have. She took me up on my suggestion. She barely got out of the room before dad aimed his viciousness at her. It appeared that while my dad didn’t care how loudly he was proclaiming his complete disinterest in his own family, he did not care to be observed while doing it. He had his standards.
We stayed in my room until our father ended his call. I’d love to write that we hunkered down, while giving comfort to each other, but I can’t remember that. In all likelihood, as we were not encouraged to love and support each other, we just sat in my room, apart, and waited for the ordeal to end. Dad did not come to my room to declare that we could now come out. My recollection is that he just left. And that, in a nutshell, describes his utter narcissism. He did not care that we had heard everything. He did not consider us at all. He had made his call, and now was off to do whatever he needed to do. He thought his telephone call would remain a secret because he knew we’d never dare cross him.
Once he departed, we probably went back to watching TV. We would never have discussed it between us. I can’t opine as to how either of my sisters felt at that moment. I, however, was filled with a burning rage. I wanted to tell my mum what had happened. Of course I did nothing of the sort.
When my mum got home that night from work, I said zilch. I laid a big goose egg. I was paralyzed. I wanted to tell her, but if I did would she believe me? If she believed me, then what? She’d confront my dad and then I’d face his fury? If she did not believe me, then what? I’d be subject to her wrath? I must have comprehended on some level that the messenger is not always welcomed. These many years later, I can still feel my conflicting emotions. It was simply too much for a 11 or 12 year old to deal with. So I stayed quiet. I did not get involved. I pushed it aside in my mind. Compartmentalizing was a skill I learned at a young age.
I regale you with this memory because I relived this in 2014. Coincidentally, it involved an overheard phone conversation as well. This time on a smart phone instead of a 1970’s era rotary dial phone.
It was a surreal and horrifying moment that defies description. Everything that I thought to be true and stable was, in an instant, completely destroyed because I realized that this person was having a sexual conversation with someone that was clearly not his wife. What made it truly awful is that the wife was a close friend and family member. I went numb, then got white hot angry, and then confronted him. It was cathartic and terrifying all at the same time. Excuses were given, threats were made, and then finally came the pleading and the tears….all from him.
When the dust settled, one thing was made plain to me. I had knowledge of this persons infidelity, and I was unsure of what to do. I had a bomb and while I wanted it to explode in his face, I did not want to damage her, or her child. There were other family members to consider as well.
Due to the circumstances of how I found out, and what transpired immediately after, I decided to cut myself off entirely from him, which necessarily entailed me not seeing her as much. There were exceptions, the worst of which was a family Christmas Eve gathering at their place where I had to watch him fake his devotion and love to his family. It made me sick. It was one of the longest nights of my life and I could not wait to leave.
When she finally found out, it was about two years later. She immediately ended things and moved out, without telling anyone on my side of the family. She was pregnant and had a toddler to take care of. To this day I have no idea where she got her strength from. I imagine it was a harrowing few weeks trying to haul ass through the emotional, mental and physical wreckage that he left her with.
The first time I saw her after her horrific discovery, I looked her squarely in the face, and confessed everything to her. As I told her, she stayed calm. She actually did not look shocked. She took a moment to gather her thoughts and then explained to me that she already had friends come to her with similar stories. Both before she finally discovered the truth, and after. As it turned out, she would have most likely ignored what I had to tell her, as she had ignored other warnings from her friends. Her generous words did nothing to ease my shame at that moment, but I have had plenty of time to reflect since then.
Whenever I have made a substantive lasting change to my life, it has always been due to a decision that I have made, not because someone told me to do something differently. The choice to change (and it IS a choice) must come from within. As a fitness professional I have told countless people WHY making certain choices will lead to a healthier life, but until the person decides that this is the right thing to do for them, the desired behavior is usually short lived. Certainly, my intrinsic changes have only occurred when I’ve had an actual life altering experience for myself.
It did not matter that I kept the information from her. She had her own journey that she was on. She was going to believe whatever she wanted to. If there is one thing I’ve learned about this amazing woman, is that she is incredibly sharp. She could not control what I ultimately decided to do. That was my decision based on my own circumstances at the time. She certainly could not control her husband’s actions. Those were all his own revolting decisions. What she could do was to be responsible for her own conduct. She has shown me what a strong woman does. She gets up every single day and gets shit done. She has to. She has no choice. She has two children that come first. Their well being is front and center for her. The only life lesson I can even see in this situation is victory. Not for me, but for her. That’s got everything to do with her positive transformation, her faith, her tenacity and her perseverance. It’s terrible that this had to happen to her, but personal growth comes from adversity. The desire and hunger for real change comes from experience. Contentment comes from moving forward.
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Just fabulous. Change happens when we are ready to make it happen.
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It sure does!