A Change of Heart

A change of heart can occur of any number of things.  Maybe it is your opinion on a food, for instance pumpkin or whole wheat bread.  Perhaps it is a change in your political orientation, religion, or view of others.  For me, my most important change of heart throughout my life has been the one revolving around one of the most important figures in any person’s life: a parent.

My father was not the typical parent growing up.  He was quick to anger, difficult to please, and unpredictable.  The three months that he spent away from home travelling every year were heaven, and we would all dread his coming home from work everyday when he was around.  He expected respect, but at the same time he did not feel like it needed to be reciprocated.  He said on more than one occasion that “All girls between the ages of 11 and 18 were not part of the human race.”  And yet, as I child, I adored my father.  After all, he was my father.  How could I not love him?  And he did dote on me--outrageously so.  I was his favorite, the youngest child, the most easily pleased, and he went through no pains to hide this fact.  If my older sister who grew up with me did something to anger him, he would offer to take me to go get ice cream.  Favoritism is something that every child can easily recognize, and of course both my older half and full sisters resented my special treatment.  So, in response to this resentment, my inner nature, and necessity, I became the “peacemaker.”  If something needed to be done, and he would not do it, I would ask knowing that the odds would increase.

As I grew older, my adoration for my father began to decrease.  I have wondered as an adult how much of this was due to me gaining a greater understanding of the consequences of his actions and how much was due to him getting worse.  I imagine it is some combination of the two.  For instance, the treatment of my older sister got worse as she became a teenager and began to challenge his authority more and more.  And then, eventually, it happened, though I am not sure exactly what the major tuning point was. 

Perhaps it was when he came to visit my mother, sister, and I after we left him and he threatened to leave and never come back.  This was a favorite tactic of his whenever someone made him angry.  He would say he was leaving us and storm out of the house.  Sometimes he would just walk out.  Other times he even packed a bag first.  Sometimes he would come back that night, others the next morning.  And each time he would do it, I would be devastated.  I would cry and beg him not to leave.  As a result, when he threatened to leave when he was in “my” house, I was finally able to change the script.  I was no longer having it.  I told him he had better well get out after making a statement like that and essentially kicked him out the house—a gusty move give I was all of 12 at the time (kudos to my mother for letting me).  Maybe the turning point was when I went to visit him by myself in Australia at the age of 14 for a month and was forced to come to terms with the past and who he truly was.  Regardless, eventually there came a time when I found that I no longer loved him.  He was a horrible parent and that was all there was too it.

And so the story would seem sad, if that was where it ended.  And indeed, for one of my sisters at least, that is where the story has ended.  Maybe I am a glutton for punishment, but for me that was not enough.  I had to understand.  How could he be this way? What is the truth of the situation?  And so, I have continued to meet him at random intervals throughout my adulthood. 

When I met him at the age of 18, I came to realize that he does indeed love me.  It is an extremely selfish, possessive, and toxic love, but love nonetheless.  And I finally conquered the fear he had held over me my entire life while he was yelling at me in the car in England one day.  He was screaming and my heart was pounding, but I finally had the confidence to tell him that he was being childish.  I will never forget the look of shock on his face.  Though I think even that did not compare to the shock when I finally told him that no one would want to spend time around someone who made life unpleasant, and who would ever find being around someone who yelled pleasant? (You can imagine how fun of a trip this was.  Thankfully it was a relatively short car trip).

And so, in my case, I have had a change of heart a number of times in relation to my father.  I am not entirely sure that I do still love my father, but I can say that I do still have a certain level of fondness for him.  He still dotes on me when I let him.  He still loves me and always has.  I know now that he loves all of his daughters even if things do have to revolve around him.  I even have a certain level of appreciation for him.  After all, he really could have been so much worse.  But most of all, I have come to see him as a tragic figure.  He continues to live in Australia, abandoned by one daughter, held at arms length by another, and truly only included by one (and even her relationship is strained by the fact that she did not grow up with him and an ocean lies between them).  And yet, like most tragic figures, all of his hardship has been self-inflicted.  So I guess my change of heart could be summed up as this:  that of an adoring, unconditional love to one of hate, and finally sympathy and distance.  I guess some stories are incapable of having a happy ending for everyone.