Good Night Papa Bear
“Good night Baby Bear”.
“Night Papa Bear”, I respond as the closing door takes with it the last sprays of golden light that radiate from the hall-way beyond.
As a pre-schooler of three or four years of age, this was the comforting exchange that would end my day. On this note, I would be happy to snuggle into the added comfort and warmth of my soft toy as I drifted into slumber. It was as it should be…a father comforting his child as she relaxes into the knowing that all is safe and secure in her world, with him there to protect her. This was of course, how things were before I had learned to shut my door, turn the music up and suck in my breath.
For a very short period in those early years I looked to my father as a soft, rounded, reliable figure. I recall being perched on his shoulders at a circus, his thick hands gripping my ankles reassuringly as I strain my neck to peer above the crowd. I am Safe… in the knowing he will not let me fall. I feel the pride swell in my four-year old chest as I follow him faithfully up and down the white chalk lined boundary of a soccer field, whilst he yells directions to the boys chasing the round ball within. I am Secure… in the knowing he will not lose me in the crowd. It was as it should be. This was of course, before I learned to hunch my shoulders and shrug out which ever response was expected as he carried out my mother’s business.
Numbness connects these memories of my father. A blank white wall confronts me. I stare and stare but can’t seem to find the detail. I cannot distinguish the surface from plaster, timber or brick…I have no idea if its’ finish is gloss or matt. Impressions of my father have simply become a white-wash of nothingness. Over the years, each experience of betrayal I encountered caused the illusion of my father as an ally to dissipate into a languorous puff of indifference; his role as my mother’s accomplice in the game of manipulation gradually exposed.
On so many many occasions when I needed a voice of strength and authority to stand up for what was right and fair and normal, his silence ricocheted from ear to ear, echoing in my head with voluminous discord. At other times his outbursts of rage literally shook the floor boards beneath me, and saw me scream “Stop it…Just Stop It !”, only to be ordered to my bedroom by my mother. The fear and confusion incited by my view of the limbs of a father and his sons entangled in a violent scuffle on the rumpus room floor, soon transformed to disgust and eventually contempt. As the dynamics between my four brothers disnintegrated, cruelly orchestrated by my mother, I came to despise his placid allowance of her manipulating behaviour that had turned the males in my household into virtual putty.
Interestingly, acceptance of my father’s role as silent conspirator settled easily within me as a young child. I did not struggle against it. Generally, I did not question it, though at times I did ponder how he could adjust to the world beyond our front door …the real world…as an employee and colleague in a high profile company. That he did exit the house every morning to maintain a seemingly well functioning professional persona, made his betrayal of his children even more unforgivable. Yet his incongruous existence did not consume me. I simply grew to see him as a pathetic figure who had succumbed to a life riddled with false premises espoused by an emotionally corrupt woman, that even an eight year old could detect.
When I was around the age of ten or eleven, I witnessed a scenario that cemented my understanding of him as a conscious conspirator in the madness that was our family life. I recall a commotion one evening that lead me to quietly inch open my bedroom door, just enough to provide a view to the top of the hallway. I saw my father standing with his hand on the door knob, a brown leather suitcase at his feet. “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving”, I heard him say. Good I thought Go Go…She deserves it. My mother was on the floor, hysterically grabbing at his legs. Maybe if he leaves, the bars of control that trap us in this existence will melt away freeing us from the poisonous happenings within. Yet I see him pick up the suitcase and retreat back into the front room. Weak I thought, shaking my head in disgust. Yes that’s him…Weak.
Wow. We have so much in common. A controlling, domineering and violent woman was my mother. A weak, spineless man was my father. I see echoes of what I experienced each time I read something of yours.
It’s comforting to know there are others, and yet, frightening as well.
Hello, Kindred Spirit.
October 29, 2009 at 1:46 am
Hi DarcKnight. Yes for so many years I thought I was the only one who had to endure such an existence. To learn the tale is actually shared by many has been of some comfort…as sad as it is. But I am learning to be grateful for the contrast they added as it has helped my spirit to identify all that is good and pure and healthy and loving, and to draw these sceanrios onto my canvas of life.
October 29, 2009 at 2:22 am
The power of silence and of complacency is often underestimated. Sometimes I think it is worse to be subjected to this than to the outbursts and overt abuse, if only because it is not seen for what it is–abuse. You were wise beyond your years at a very young age, Colleen.
October 29, 2009 at 2:31 am
Hi Danielle. Yes I do marvel at how I could just “see through” the people around me as a child but strongly believe I was highly attuned to a guidance system that helped save me from shrivelling up into a ball of trauma. I’ll write some more about that soon …
And yes, silence is insidious and equally destructive. I can only wrap words around it now…and it is still incredibly difficult to describe.
October 29, 2009 at 11:48 am
If it is difficult to describe it must be because of the emotion behind it. You certainly articulate it brilliantly in your writing.
October 29, 2009 at 1:37 pm
My prayer for you, Dear Heart, is that you find your own power, your own strength, your own healing in forgiveness. Forgiveness, not for your parents, but for the healing of your own spirit. Your writing is very powerful and from the responses, extremely helpful to many. Thank you for your ageless wisdom and your willingness to face the pain of the past for healing yourself and others in the present. I remember a violent childhood, but it took me longer to know how to use it for my own healing and the healing of others. You are so young to be so wise. Peace, Sharie
October 29, 2009 at 3:24 pm
Beautifully written Colleen. Yet again I smile wide at Your articulate, powerful release….
Cheers to the Wonderful Woman You’ve become!
October 29, 2009 at 3:39 pm
Thanks Bliss. And thankyou to all the other Wonderful Women who share their strengths together to promote healing and joy !
November 1, 2009 at 4:16 am
Memoir is so powerful, beyond the mere words you share. Thanks for your courage and your honesty, not to mention the exquisitely well-written and insightful truths.
October 29, 2009 at 11:04 pm
Glad to see you back again Purple. I’m feel happy that my writing touched you.
November 1, 2009 at 4:17 am
If I could wish one thing, I wish I could have been your mom… I would have hugged you, held you and told you what a beautiful girl you are.
So since my wish is impossible, I will hug my own children, hold them, and tell them how beautiful they are.
Thank you for sharing your story!
October 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm
Oh Cindy, what a beautiful sentiment. You brought a tear to my eye. I too, turned to my children and shared a hug and loving comfort.
November 1, 2009 at 4:19 am
I’m at Aunt Judy’s house and just found you with your amazing memories written with such clarity and beauty. I know one day it won’t hurt so much. I am so proud of you that you have the strength and courage to share it with the universe. Huge hugs and blessings from across the Pacific. I don’t know when yet, but I’m coming to see those aluminum fish.
October 31, 2009 at 5:56 pm
Hi Sara, hope you are enjoying yourself at Aunt Judy’s ! Don’t worry, I am not hurting so bad…it just helps to honour my strength even more by finding the words that have taken such a while to come.
It would be fantastic if you could come and visit the reef and rainforest of Far North Queensland…and the Fish ! How happy we would be !
November 1, 2009 at 4:23 am
Goosebumps, I have goosebumps.
November 4, 2009 at 2:15 pm
I have to echo what DarcKnyt said… I too had a violent mother and a father who just didn’t know what to do with it. They were divorced from an early age, but those summer visits at his house were murder simply because he would always return us to Hell.
I never understood why he couldn’t see the situation as it was. Denial? Fear? Sheer avoidance? And I never got a clear answer…
The pain of childhood may leave… but those scars are lifelong. Some soften with time, others become so much a part of the scenery, it’s hard to know who we’d be without them.
Brilliant work as always, Colleen. I always leave here with lessons learned, and grateful at how far from the madness we have come. Thank you.
October 31, 2009 at 11:00 pm
Hi Belle. I’m so glad that sharing my story helps others to consider their own stories too and understand we are not alone. For so long I struggled with “Why me ?”…”What did I do wrong ?”, as if my life was some sort of punishment. Now I know there was an intent behind my journey and I have to be grateful, for as I consequence I can consciously choose happy, healthy relationships and create an environment full of love for my children.
Yes we have came far..very far…always heading in the direction of harmony and love.
November 1, 2009 at 4:27 am
I’ve never read anything here about your father, Colleen, at least that I remember, and I had wondered about him. I wondered if he had left because of your mother and abandoned you children.
He abandoned you in a far worse way, by acting with her–though it seems he was weak and under her control the way you kids were. He was an adult though and how could you not expect him to be stronger.
Keep writing and healing, dear girl.
November 1, 2009 at 11:28 pm
Hi Pam. Yes he doesn’t really feature much in my writing or in my memories. It seems my mother was always the focus of my hurt and bewilderment because I knew she was the one who orchestrated the events and dynamics that created our family life. He was simply the silent conspiritor and I always acknowledged he was under her control. Funny though it has always been a mother that I have yearned for…not a father. Oh if only I had the time to sit and write every day ! There is so much to unravel, explore and share ! Pray for me please that some new circumstances enter my life to allow this freedom !!!!
November 2, 2009 at 12:04 am