Words

September 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I went to my first college football game (roll tide!) with my dad, a close family friend, and a prof from UA. it was a fun day and I had a great time. I’ve always been something of a daddy’s girl I think, so I love getting to hanging out with my old man.

I don’t think dad realizes how much his opinion of me matters. After spending all afternoon and evening with him, the one thing that’s overshadowing my memory of that event is dad calling me “weak” on the ride home because I didn’t want to drive him all the way home, suggesting instead that he just spend the night at my place and arrange to get home tomorrow when everyone isn’t tired from a day at the stadium. “What you’re telling me is that you’re weak?” After all that I do, after how much I bust my ass to try to take care of myself, to do good things, to have big plans, to work and work and work to make something of my life, he thinks I’m weak because I don’t want to drive another 1.5 hrs after a long day when there’s really no rush or reason for him to be home that night.

I don’t get a lot of praise from my dad. I’m not needy or anything like that, I certainly don’t need to be praised constantly, but I feel like I’m constantly being critiqued and never recognized by him. In a lot of ways, we’re very similar which definitely leads to some clashes, but I wish like hell that wasn’t the case and I could have a harmonious, positive relationship with him instead like I have with my mother. She always tells me she’s proud of me, even when I’m unemployed and asking them for money. She’s always so careful about being critical of me, choosing to emphasize the positive rather than constantly point out the negative. I don’t have a lifetime of memories of her critiquing me like I do my father.

I’m always surprised and somewhat bewildered when people tell me that I’m “strong” because dad has made me feel weak and small and simple-minded. I don’t know why his voice overrides all the others that tell me positive things, but I’ve always been weird like that with men. Alec told me I have “humble looks” and that I’m “no Angelina Jolie.” Mark told me I had “thick legs” (though he meant it as a compliment) and has a long list of complaints about my personality. I’ve done pretty well about purposefully trying to let go of the negative things Jason said when we broke up because we’re supposed to be starting fresh and moving forward but I can still remember the sting of his words if not the exact things he said.

Maybe I’m just very lucky to have women in my life who are positive and try to support me and my decisions no matter what. The women in my life are so full of love and wisdom, two things they never hold back from me or fail to offer me on any occasion. I feel like I’ve spent my life trying to get dad’s attention, trying to get him to talk to me instead of napping or being absorbed in some piece of technology. Trying like hell to get some kind of approval from him. I remember when I was in high school, dad told me I’d never be a straight A student. When I got straight A’s in college and grad school, his response was “Of course you did. I wouldn’t expect anything less.” When I’m not the best, I just don’t have it in me to be, but when I am the best, I still don’t get approval, I get “Meets Expectations” instead.

Knowing dad, his response to any of this will be “you’re remembering it wrong,” like somehow his memory is infallible and mine is incorrect because it doesn’t align with his. He knows that’s total bullshit, of course, because all memory is a fluid, messy, subjective, and sometimes ever-changing organism. Whether or not something actually happened one way or the other, the significant takeaway is the emotional response to that event, which is something that cannot be right or wrong. You can’t and should not dismiss someone’s emotional response to a memory just because the details of that memory don’t align with yours. That’s like saying “You’re remembering it differently from me so your emotional response is invalid and irrelevant.” He has a long history of doing this with me, so I should probably just let it go instead of letting it continue to upset me.

And people wonder why I’m fucked up. Words matter. Their delivery matters. And unfortunately for me, I constantly seek approval from the men in my life while the women supply it freely and often. Is that just part of a patriarchal society? Am I just a product of the sexism that permeates Western culture? Or is it something specific to me, specific to my personality, upbringing, lived experience, emotional needs? I hate growing up like this has pushed me to the point where when a man says something positive to me, I’m skeptical of it or disregard it as an empty compliment.

I hate that depression is added into this as well, because it only complicates things further. If I talk about my actions, thoughts, emotions, etc. and point to depression as the cause of how warped or messed up they are in reference to “normal” or “appropriate,” they say I’m using it as a crutch. But any time I say that I’m good or healthy, they remind me that I’m still heavily medicated and that my mind is still severely warped by a lifetime of depression. Anytime I get really sad or upset, they point at it and say “See?? You’re not healthy!” instead of realizing that even healthy people have bad days and emotional reactions. Is that a result of Western embedded sexism as well? You can’t trust women to know themselves? You can’t trust women to speak truthfully about how their feeling? You can’t trust women to analyze their emotional reactions and categorize it according to the event or mental illness as they see fit? Or is it not about women at all and much more about the male ego? “I’m right and everyone else is wrong. I see things clearest. I know you better than you know yourself. I know what you’re feeling and why. I know what you’re capable of and what you’re not. I have a penis so I’m all-powerful and all-knowing.” Is that really what the male ego is like?

Sounds like someone needs a solid kick in the balls.

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