CW: References to parental abuse
If I had to pick my least favourite word, ‘closure’ would be a front runner. It’s not the word itself, mind. It’s that I’ve had it thrown at me so many times over the years, as others insist it’s what I ‘need.’
The conversations in which this happens tend to be about my childhood, more specifically about my relationship with my father. Our relationship was … not good. He was emotionally and psychologically abusive, and even though he’s been dead for over 20 years, and we had almost no contact for nearly a decade before he died, it would be wrong to say that I’m not still affected by the way he treated me.
It would also be wrong to say there was ever any hope for our relationship to be anything other than what it was.
And that’s the root of the problem with the entire ‘closure’ conversation.
See, when most people say ‘closure,’ what they really mean is ‘reconciliation.’ I couldn’t tell you how many times in the first 30 years of my life I was told that I needed to make up with my father. The main reasoning behind why was that, once he was gone, I’d regret not having done it.
At the time, the advice made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t articulate. Looking back on it now, I realize just how messed up it was to place the responsibility for ‘fixing’ an abusive relationship solely on the shoulders of the abused. (Especially when they’re still a kid.)
Not long ago, I learned there’s a term for the people who side with abusers: flying monkeys. They’re the people like my high school teacher who said that it was my responsibility to figure out how to appease my father when he flew into a rage, threatening to ‘start swinging.’ They’re the old biddies at the store I worked at in university, who insisted I was exaggerating when I told them my father was indulging in one of his months-long silences, not uttering a word to anyone at home. They’re my mother’s friend, whom I’d not seen in years, who tracked down my phone number and called me out of the blue to tell me that I should be the bigger person and reach out to my father because family was more important than anything, even though she’d seen how miserably he’d treated me over the years.
Of course, none of these people ever suggested to my father that he make an effort. There are many reasons for why they didn’t: they had experience of him and knew it would be futile, they knew I’d roll over and thank them for their concern while my father would explode, they felt children were supposed to take whatever their parents dished out. Whatever the reason, at least they could pat themselves on the back for having tried.
The other thing that people often mean when they say ‘closure’ is ‘resolution.’ It implies there’s a question that needs an answer and, while I get that that’s the case for some, it definitely doesn’t apply to me. It doesn’t matter why my father behaved the way he did. What really matters is that the why had little to do with me.
I just finished rereading James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series. Near the end of Tiamat’s Wrath, one of the characters composes, and then deletes, a message to his son. He records it because he’s about to do something dangerous that he might not survive, and deletes it because he realizes the futility of trying to tie a complex relationship up in a neat little package. The passage contains one line in particular that resonated:
There was this idea that one message could change a lifetime of decisions you’d already made.
And that, to me, is what ‘closure’ is: an attempt to deny that the messy bits in life are just that. Messy.
Sure, I can look at my father’s own history of abuse as an explanation for his behaviour. I can recognize that much of the tension between us was rooted in his racism and his sexism and his homophobia. I can accept that he had major self esteem issues. But none of that changes the fact that he was a racist, sexist, homophobe who chose to perpetuate the abuse cycle in order to deal with his own self-loathing. The fact is, when I finally started to push back, things only got worse.
Underneath it all, what it ultimately comes down to is that he didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him. And when I stopped pouring so much energy into someone who didn’t deserve it, my life became immeasurably better.
Seems pretty fucking closed to me.
Very powerful post.
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The most sober post on the subject of parental abuse I’ve ever read. Makes me feel not so uncomfortable that I did “walk away”. And… I “am” much better for it, in many ways. Thanks Donna!
Thank you, Don. It’s so important to take care of yourself. I’m glad you were able to take that step.