While working as an uber driver I bonded with a passenger on the subject of our parents. We both recently moved back home. Me, after college and him, after losing his business, wife, and children all at once.
Living back at home has made me realize that I love my parents but I also resent them. And I don’t know how to deal with it.
I was abused as a child. It was not the kind of abuse people usually think of when they hear the word “abuse” so it’s frightening for me to use this word. I wasn’t sure if I would be taken seriously. But after looking up the definition on Google, I realized that “abuse” is entirely accurate. Google defines abuse as “the improper use of something” or “to treat a person or animal with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.”
From 7-16 years old, my father forced me to play a sport that I didn’t want to play. A sport that was painful, difficult, and both physically and emotionally demanding. I hated the sport. There was not one thing I liked about it. But I had no choice in the matter. That sport was track and field and at one point, cross country. I was running anywhere from 8-10 months out of the year.
Track dominated my life, consuming most of my energy and free time. Throughout those 8 years, my father used physical and emotional violence to control me.
When I first started running at 7, I was slower than him. He would jog behind me and when I wasn’t running as fast as he wanted me to, he would hit me. So there I was: miserable, fatigued, crying and then as I would round the corner for the last 100 meters or so my father was behind me physically disciplining me as I ran down the track and everyone watched. This was violence. Violence through intimidation and embarrassment.
When I resisted, or tried to quit, my father punished or threatened me. I recall one morning in 7th or 8th grade, as my father was driving me to school, I told him I was not going to run anymore. He turned around and punched me in my leg. A hard punch. The kind of punch that fills you with hate and fear at the same time. He says he punched me because I used the word “freakin”.
The most common tool of intimidation was verbal threats. He would say things like, “if you don’t run track, I will make your life a living hell.” To me, the only reason someone would choose to make my life a living hell was if they hated me. I wanted my father to love me so I did as he wished.
I always felt nauseous before practice. Nauseous stemming from trepidation, from wanting to be anywhere but there. It was hard to spend so many hours doing something I didn’t want to do that was also physically painful. Competitive running required me to use my body at full capacity–literally, until my body shut down. I’ve seen many people pass out at the finish line. I myself have come close to passing out on dozens of occasions.
In addition to blatantly disliking the sport, the fact that it prevented me from exploring the things I truly loved or wanted to do, made me hate it even more. Running had no value to me besides pleasing someone else.
I was also under surveillance. Once I tried to skip practice to spend time with a friend. My father showed up to check on me and I wasn’t there. I never did that again.
A few times I needed to skip practice for school or some personal reason. But my father would make sure that I completed my training for the day, even if it had to be done at 11 o clock at night in the driveway of our house.
There was no escape.
One excuse I heard often from my parents as to why I couldn’t pursue certain interests was financial difficulty. But somehow my father found the money to pay for track expenses. Somehow he found the time to leave work for 2 or 3 hours to attend my track practices and track meets. He could have used that time and energy to help me manage and pursue my own interests. And if necessary, to help me find free or affordable avenues.
My parents also had very high academic expectations. B’s were not allowed. That meant, for the most part, I was a straight A student from elementary through high school. Academic expectations combined with track expectations didn’t leave much opportunity for me to explore my personal interests. When I came home at night I was either doing hw or tired. On weekends I was usually training, competing, doing hw, or doing chores. TV was generally not allowed. I was rarely allowed to go out with friends and usually if I did it was because I begged or manipulated my parents.
The only real refuge I had was books and sometimes music. As a young child, my mother used to bring me a handful of books from the library once a week and in middle school there was a library right next door. I read hundreds of books throughout those years. I was an obsessive reader, usually finishing multiple books a week. These books were my safe haven. They were my world. I took on those worlds as my own and lived fantasy after fantasy after fantasy.
Outside of my readings, I felt powerless. I had very little agency or self-determination. I was constantly under threat of punishment. I felt the only way to be loved was to perform well in track and school. I felt that no one was truly “paying attention” to me or who I was.
Ultimately, I felt that my life was not mine to live. But don’t think that I lived a terrible life. I got used to my imprisonment. I learned to make the best of it. Traveling for competitions was always fun. I took pride in the dozens of awards, medals, and acknowledgements I received. When I wasn’t rebelling my dad and I sometimes got along really well. And I had great times in my classes where I met awesome people. Nonetheless the immense sense of powerlessness and exploitation was always there.
There were a handful of times that I found the courage to attempt to take back control over my life. But every attempt at carving my own path ended in failure and disappointment. In every situation I was forced to give up my passion. And each time, I grew more and more angry at my parents.
6th grade I made the step team. I trained for 2 or 3 months. But I only got to perform once because performances didn’t start until the second semester of school and by that time I had to quit because track season had come back around. 9th grade I tried out for the step team again, and the same thing happened except this time I didn’t get to perform at all before I had to quit.
Junior year, first semester, I finally convinced my mom to pay for dance lessons. After school I would train for track with a specialized coach and then take a local bus to dance class. I would not get home till after 9 or 10 at night. I was taking difficult classes so I would stay up late doing homework. After a few months of sleepless nights, extreme stress, and self-consciousness in dance class because I couldn’t stretch properly with sore and fatigued legs. . . I cried to my mother that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was overwhelmed, so I quit dance.
Shortly after that, I made it onto the varsity soccer team and I was ecstatic. I had spent almost the entire year and a half prior learning soccer from scratch on my own time. I knew I had many more years of training to catch up on, but I had already learned a few years worth in one year and it didn’t seem unrealistic to me that if I continued to work hard I could go on to play soccer in college.
But both my soccer coach and my father would tell me that I could only do one sport. My father had made it clear that if I did not run, my life would become hell. So I quit the soccer team before the first practice.
At 16, I finally escaped my father’s grip believing that I would never have to think about my track situation ever again. At the end of my junior year of high school, I was accepted on a full scholarship into a 2 year international program called United World College (UWC) and I got the hell out of my house. My friends were so confused as to why I would leave right before our senior year. How could I give up homecoming, prom, being able to drive to school, and graduation with all my friends? How could I miss what was considered to be the most important year of our lives? What they didn’t know was that I had spent a year and a half preparing to apply to UWC. I was a prisoner in my own home and I badly wanted to get out. I was ready to do anything for my freedom. Senior year was the last thing on my mind.
At UWC, I tasted freedom for the first time in my life and with that freedom came the unraveling of all habits of discipline that I had previously developed. There were so many opportunities for fun, for stimulation, for human connection, and for self-exploration that I was overwhelmed. Without my parents around to instill a strong sense of fear, grades started to feel less and less important.
Throughout UWC and college I attempted to reconnect with some of my interests like dance and soccer, but especially dance. But I wasn’t skilled enough in dance or soccer to go very far. This was devastating to accept. At the same time, I was no longer a high performing student. I felt unaccomplished. The medals, awards, and high honors had ended. I had learned to value myself based on those things so I thought something was wrong with me.
In college I felt heavy. I started things and didn’t finish them. I felt useless and incapable. Sophomore year, I was diagnosed with depression and took a medical leave of absence. After returning to school I continued to have bouts of depression and struggle with anxiety. In order to avoid thinking about the heavy sense of failure and worthlessness that I felt, I exploited my freedom to party, drink, and socialize.
6 years after leaving home for UWC, I returned home with a mediocre college GPA, little self-direction or self-discipline, various emotional problems, and a profound sense of resentment for my father. I resent him because I feel like he stole my childhood from me. He stole the best opportunity I had to explore my interests, to follow my passions, to become excellent at something I valued and follow through with a self-directed goal, to put my mind to something I was passionate about and shape my life around it. I resent my father for limiting me and my mother for letting him do it. Now, I am a post-college adult and passion does not pay my bills.
I recognize that my life is MY responsibility. My future is MY responsibility. I cannot blame anyone for any current disappointments, inadequacies, or failures that I might be brooding over. Logically, I know this. Yet, I still resent my parents. I resented them 7 years ago when I left home and I resent them today.
My uber passenger called these feelings “knots.” He said, “they are knots we have to unravel.” He described them as land mines. “You think everything is okay but then you step on one and Boom! Everything blows up.”
In trying to explore my insecurities, my weaknesses, and my fears so that I can “get my life together”, unlearn some of my bad habits, and live a meaningful adult life, I have stepped on one of these land mines. Boom! There it was. . . the realization that I was abused as a child.
I understand that abuse is a sensitive word. For many people, abuse brings up experiences of poverty, sexual violation, and physical abuse far beyond any physical violence that I had to deal with. What I experienced was within the context of a type of class privilege that made my situation far less traumatic than it otherwise could have been. My family was able to afford the basic expenses of playing a sport, like shoes, money to buy food at track meets, and for a short period of time, a trainer. Though my parents could not afford to pay for dance classes until I was near the end of high school, there are families for whom that was never an option. I also had the privilege of time, time to participate in sports rather than work to support my family.
I understand that my story might not seem like abuse to many people, but to me it is. It was the improper use of me and my body. Though physical violence and verbal threats were used to enforce the situation, the true violence, the most hurtful violence, was the denial of my dreams and my pursuit of happiness. It was having to choose between my father’s love and my self. It was the message that I was of no importance to him unless I was doing what he wanted me to do. It was the feeling of being used for someone else’s pleasure without my consent. And I lived with those feelings for 8 years.
I love my parents. They are not monsters. They are flawed individuals who I like and admire. My father is one of the most beautiful humans I know and so is my mother. Though they made their mistakes they did a lot of things right. Out of fear that I will appear ungrateful, I never raise the subject. I also know that it can be difficult to admit to wrong doing, especially as a parent. The last thing I want is for my father to feel bad about himself.
I empathize with my father. I know that my father’s aggressive exploitation came from a place of pain. Of wanting to fulfill a dream. Of perhaps feeling that he had missed his opportunity to fully explore his passion. Maybe I was his redemption, his last hope. I understand how he felt because I have fantasized on many occasions about making my future children into star dancers and star soccer players. I have imagined my children to be my only remaining opportunity to live my dreams. I have seriously entertained doing to my future kids exactly what my father did to me.
Everything happens for a reason and I am grateful for my life experiences. If it wasn’t for track I probably would not have went to UWC, and after that, Pomona College– two experiences that I would not trade for anything. Though I am grateful. . .the pain is still there. Until 3 weeks ago I had never seriously confronted that part of my life or opened up to anyone about it, not even my closest friends. I would only mention in passing, “my dad forced me to do track.” No one ever asked me what that was like.
It will take time for me to heal and eventually I will have to let go. Opening up to a friend 3 weeks ago was the first step. He was the first person to listen to me, to let me cry, to let me feel, and to validate my feelings. Validation can be so powerful. Writing this blog post was the second step and last night was the third. Last night I told my father that I was going to release this blog post and it might be difficult for him to read it. After a bit of arguing, crying, denial on his part, and frustration on my part–he apologized. He admitted that he was selfish and that if he could do it all over again he would let me do the things I wanted to do. I appreciate his apology. It matters a lot to me.
Everything goes back to our parents. They are the first ones to condition us and usually the first ones to hurt us. So what do we do with that conditioning? How do we learn from it?