Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret
Because I follow some blogs that focus on surviving abusive parents, I happened to see the graphic I’ve included above the same day this conversation happened. One of those example insensitive comments made me laugh—perhaps more than a bit sardonically. Because as soon as I read “You’re going to regret this when they are gone,” my immediate thought was how many people I would enjoy saying, “Every time you said that you were wrong. I absolutely do not regret cutting him out of my life at all.”
Before I go on, I should make a content warning. I’m going to be talking a bit about my abusive father, and some things he did…
After my parents’ divorce provided the opportunity to move 1200 miles away (when I was 15 years old), I never once regretted the distance. But there were no shortage of people (mostly relatives) who kept telling me that I should regret it—that I should feel guilty about not wanting to have him in my life.
Maybe if he had ever expressed regret I would have felt differently. Or if he’d made any attempts to make amends, there might have been a case for arguing that I should try to make a little room for him in my life. But he never even admitted it. He rather aggressively denied that he was ever abusive, or that anything he had ever done to any of his kids, either wife, et cetera, was even out of line.
For example: about 17 years ago I was surprised by a phone call from him out of the blue. We hardly ever talked, so when I saw his name on the caller ID, I half expected it to be someone else calling from his landline to tell me bad health news about him or my grandparents or something, right? But it was him, and he was angry.
But he wasn’t angry at me! He was calling because he wanted to vent at me about the horrible things my half-brothers and sister and half-sister had done to him. It took a while to get the story out of him (and to piece more details from others afterward), but the gist was he had slapped one of his granddaughters (my niece) who was only about four years old at the time. Not just slapped her, but hard enough that it had sent her tumbling over a coffee table and beyond. Her parents (my sister and her now-ex) had to take her to the urgent care. And then my sister’s social worker got involved, having to explain to my sister that if they didn’t get a restraining order forbidding Dad to be around the child, that Child Protective Services would get involved.
So, long story short, within a couple of weeks my other sister and our brothers all also had restraining orders forbidding him to be around their children without a court-appointed officer or employee of Child Protective Services present.
He was venting at me because I was the only one of his children who hadn’t served him with such a court order. So suddenly I was the only kid who was not (in his mind) lying about him. Because that’s what he insisted it was: all lies. “How can they stand up in court and lie and exaggerate like that?! They’re the ones who should be punished! I did nothing wrong!”
Quick aside: during the call I was being simultaneously horrified thinking about how hard he must have hit my niece (which was reminding me of some of my own beatings and those I saw Mom and my sister endure back in the day), but also trying really hard not to laugh at other parts of the situation. Because the only reasons that I hadn’t gotten a similar restraining order against him were that I lived 1200 miles away, I don’t have any children, and until that moment it had never occurred to me that it was an option.
I mean, there had been a point after the angry call I’d gotten after I came out of the closet (at the age of 31) when I wondered if there was a real possibility he’d come all the way to Seattle to beat some sense into me, as he had threatened to. So I had thought briefly about a restraining order that forbid him contacting me, but this was a bit different.
I don’t know how long my various siblings kept the orders in place. I know that he was talking to both sisters again a few years later.
Over the next many years, I would continue to be asked by various relatives whether I had heard from Dad lately. And when I would say I hadn’t, and sometimes add, “thank goodness” that’s usually when comments like, “You’re going to regret that when he’s gone.”
To say that’s insensitive is an understatement.
If someone says that to me, they’re trying to police my feelngs. They’re telling me that I should have subjected myself to more abuse for no other reason than to validate their notions about parent-child relations or to assuage their guilt for not intervening when I was a child suffering the abuse.
My pain and my recovery belong to me.
I said in the post I wrote shortly after his death that I thought I had moved on years ago. But the immense feeling of relief and gratitude that came over me when I got the call to say he was dead belied that. So, three years on I still feel no regret for the decision to distance myself from him. I’m grateful I found the strength to do it. I’m grateful that I stood up to the family members that tried to make me feel guilt over it.
The only regret I have ever had regarding Dad is that he was never the kind of father that deserved love and respect. And none of that is my fault, nor the fault of any of his children or anyone else he abused.