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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Father, My Husband

Something I wrote back in the mid-1990s for a newsletter run by a women's shelter my son and I stayed at.

My Father, My Husband
By N.E. Phemayle (had to write anonymously, though this name was eventually considered too "political" when I started writing regularly for the newsletter.)

I met him on my first day at a new job. My initial response to him was one of immediate and intense hatred. I had never had such a strong reaction to anyone before. In fact, I almost quit my job because of him; he made going to work very stressful. The only words out of his mouth were invectives spewed against the world and all its inhabitants, except for himself. He'd constantly yell and hurl things across the room; he never smiled. He only laughed at other people's pain - a real deep belly laugh. I hated him....Two years later, I married him.

Why? What happened to all the warnings my intuition had given me? We were as different as night and day. He was a macho, cocky punk - always in and out of trouble with his parents, peers, police, and supervisors. The most trouble I ever got into was not living up to my family's precarious expectations. I was sweet, quiet, and gentle. I wouldn't say "crap" even if I had a mouthful of it; whereas he lived and breathed four letter words. We were the epitome of the "odd couple."

Why did I squelch my intuition and start a relationship with him? I've asked myself that question many times. I have no intellectually based answers, only an emotional one. Subconsciously, I recognized my father.

I had always wondered why my father abandoned me, and I yearned to find him and ask him, "Why didn't you love me, Daddy?" But it was not safe to contact my father; he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had threatened to kill me. I don't remember my father; I was two years old when I last saw him. Apparently at an unconscious level, however, I knew exactly what my father was like. My subconscious made the decision to find someone just like dear ol' dad, someone who could answer the question, "Why did you leave me, Daddy?" I found my father in this belligerent co-worker; he was paranoid schizophrenic, too.

I wasn't aware of his mental illness at the time, nor how like my father he really was. I was never attracted to him; he was not my physical type. And out of more than 30 traits I desired in a potential mate, he only had one. I can't say I was drawn to him; I didn't find him the least bit fascinating. He wasn't an addiction, because even the worst addictions have some euphoric moments.

No, he was more like some sort of mission I had to complete - a mission to find out who I was. Unseen dynamics set in motion the day I met him; the little girl in me recognized "Daddy." I could now begin to unlock the mystery of who my father was, who I was as defined by my father, and what it was in me that made my father abuse me and leave me. Through this sick surrogate relationship, I could perhaps redeem my sins as a baby and become lovable. He would make it all right that my father didn't love me. He would be my panacea for all my childhood fears and failings.

My greatest fear was of abandonment. He told me he was the one who was always left in relationships; he never initiated a break-up. I knew he would never leave me; as a result, I felt safe with him - or so I thought.

The abuse started gradually. I don't think anyone knowingly enters an abusive relationship. Abusers don't show their true nature all at once; if they did, no one would want to be around them. Similarly, an animal in the wild won't step into a trap if the trap is constantly opening and closing. The animal unwittingly steps into the trap and is then enmeshed. Many times, it must chew off its limb in order to regain freedom. Often times, victims of domestic violence must amputate a part (albeit an unhealthy one) of themselves in order to break free from the emotional, psychological, and/or physical prison they're in.

My abuser slowly and insidiously took control of my life. I didn't realize how terrible things were until the very end of the relationship. Something finally clicked, and I "woke up" to the fact that my life and my baby's were in danger. Looking back, I see that my mind was actively engaged in denial; it was a daily requirement. Perhaps my mind did this in order to divert attention from the horrors surrounding me. I've read that the road to homicide is paved with denial. I'm sure that road is well traveled by many abused women.

In addition to my denial, I also didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like. All I had imprinted on my subconscious was my abusive father. Clearly he wasn't a good role. And I was always told that he loved me "in his own way." He loved me, yet he abused me; he loved me, yet he abandoned me. Because of this, I equated love with being abused. The message I internalized was that love was cruel, harsh, and punitive.

Another family member also taught me a twisted view of love. She would call me names and constantly put me down. Yet she claimed to "love" me, her little "good for nothing." The message I received from this was that love entailed constantly being criticized and humiliated. Love meant having no rights; love was conditional. I came to believe that it was my responsibility to stop the maltreatment; if only I could measure up and be good for something, I'd no longer be mistreated.

For so many years I carried all these elusive feelings just below my surface of understanding. It took the birth of my child to make me realize that it wasn't my fault my father went away; I am not responsible for another's actions. Daddies don't leave because their babies are bad. They leave because of something inside themselves, and no matter how "perfect" anyone is, nothing is going to make them change. My baby was exceptionally good natured, yet my ex still wasn't impelled to be kind and non-abusive.

Fittingly, my divorce was final on my birthday. Ah, rebirth! I am stronger and healthier now; I'll never take on another's dysfunctional baggage again. It's his/her problem to solve, not mine! I like the new me. I am wiser, deeper, and more compassionate; yet I'm also more fearful. Fearful of the day my ex will find us. I always carry with me the thought of my last day on earth; it will probably be my child's last day on earth as well. The last person we will see is him - raging and out of control. He will finally control us again by the ultimate abuse - homicide. This haunting fear is the prison I now must live in for the rest of my life.

[Note: I no longer live in fear. I have no reason to believe my ex is any less dangerous, but I won't let him control me and my feelings anymore].


  1. My goodness, Tracy. You are incredibly brave to write your post. I applaud you for your bravery. I know a few other women who have been abused by their ex-husbands and fathers and have feared very much being found by them as well. I cannot even imagine living with that over my head day in and day out. I have not ever been in that situation, and I hope beyond hope, that you will never have to live with that fear again, either. Be careful. Be safe. And may you be blessed with a happy rest of your life for you and your child.


  2. Thank you, Susan. As they say, time heals...well...kinda. Every time I get a phone call on my caller ID indicating the state my ex lives, I always get a little apprehensive. But I'm feeling safe enough now to put myself out on the internet, even with a little picture of myself. It's time to not let him control me anymore!

  3. And, I too, think you're a very brave woman indeed! I am also proud to know you.
    Thanks for sharing this with me Tracy.
    Love and Hugs,

  4. Thank you, Michelle. I'm so happy we "met." Maybe one day, we will in person. :)