How do I deal with my abusive father who wants to reconnect?
My father was verbally abusive during my childhood. Mom died when I was young, and he never recovered. He continually belittled me and ridiculed my interests and pursuits. He was aggressive and threatening. During my teen years, he was a tyrant, and went out of his way to embarrass me in front of my friends. As I was approaching college, he mocked my planned major and my ability to make passing grades even though I was an honor student. Strange. Graduation and escape could not have come fast enough. I was grateful for the education, but resented his unrelenting negativity. By the time I was 23, I had to cut off contact, and haven’t communicated with him since.
I’m in my early 30’s now. Dad called recently, and said he wants to reconnect. He is ill. I don’t sense, however, any authentic desire to meet me with vulnerability and clear the air and genuinely connect. He seems basically scared, and his tone was not warm.
I feel for the fact that he lost his wife and had a hard childhood himself. I’m just beginning to heal some of my childhood wounds myself, and I’m in the middle of my own very deep process. How do I possibly establish a healthy way to reconnect with my dad when I don’t think he has the slightest inkling of what a healthy relationship could be? How do I protect my needs and my process of healing? Any ideas greatly appreciated.
What comes up for me first is self care, honesty and clarity. Knowing what I do of your situation, if I were in your shoes, I would let my him know what the boundaries and ground rules would be for any kind of reconnection. I’d be open about my healing process. If I felt it genuinely, I’d offer that I’d love to heal my relationship with him, and establish a meaningful connection.
I agree that you need to take care of yourself. If you are working with a counselor, would your dad be willing to join you for sessions? As always, I feel like the biggest challenge is relieving the wounding of your own heart and releasing contractions in your being for your own sake. You don’t have to condone your father’s actions, but you will find great peace if you can see him as a product of his conditioning and wounds, and let go of any animosity that might be present. Whether you engage in a new relationship with him depends on your boundaries and offerings and his willingness to engage with you in a healthy way based on these conditions.
This is a tough issue. If you connect be aware it will probably be awkward and you will both feel the pull of past patterns. It may be that a few light connections over time may lead to a deeper connection. Basically, I would approach the situation without expectation about how it will go or what will be accomplished. Authenticity is key: don’t force yourself to “get over” anything or be all evolved and beyond it. If you stay connected to your authenticity, have no expectations about what should happen, and listen deeply to yourself and him, the likelihood is that it will be ok.
I am wondering how great your clarity is on your own desire here – we know that he wants to reconnect, we know that you’ve intuited he likely will not be any healthier.
But what do -you- want?
You ask how to reconnect in a healthy way… my question is, do you want to reconnect? And if so, on what terms? Do you want to reconnect only if he is healthy? Do you not want to reconnect even if he is healthy? Do you want to reconnect whether he’s healthy or not in case he is dying and you miss a last chance with him, and to try to protect yourself and make the situation as healthy as possible knowing that it likely won’t be all that healthy? What are your lines in the sand? What do you want to get out of reconnection…. or disconnection? What would you not be acceptable? Would your motivation to reconnect because you genuinely want a connection with this man, or because you wouldn’t want to say no or would feel guilty turning away a dying man, etc?
I think having strong clarity on this will help the answers to the other questions come…
I concur with everything Bruce has shared above and encourage you to follow what resonates. I would also further stress that yes definitely practice empathy towards yourself for all that you’ve been through with him, AND also empathy for him – seeing that we are all products of our own conditioning. We don’t have to agree with the things that happened within our childhood, but it we can truly understand the makeup behind it, – that is powerful. This will support compassion for both ourself and the other greatly. From my own experience as a 30-something, I’d also add that life is short, and for me it is better to say what needs to be said and work towards healing, as it can all end tomorrow for any of us. And living with the possibility of regret is a big weight to carry. Especially since you mentioned he is ill. Again, from my own experience I can say that illness changes people in big ways. Even if it’s a very, very slow shift. Him picking up the phone seems like the beginning of that shift. His approach may have been different than what you expected, simultaneously he is trying, and for sure it’s going to be an uncomfortable experience for both of you.Take good care of yourself – love, strength & courage to you.