My Past, My Parents, My Pain: How My Own History Affects My Parenting
Illustration: Erin McPhee
It’s a social experiment but we are making the blog series “Queer Brown Girl Trying to be a Parent” into a column! So get ready for a monthly blog about all things Queer, Brown and Parenting! This month’s blog: My Own Parental History.
CONTENT WARNNG: This blog includes personal information about family violence , domestic violence and child abuse.
As an Indo-Caribbean in the South Asian diaspora, it has always been hard for me to accept my father abandoning me and my sister. It is not unheard of for a father of South Asian decent to leave his kids and never look back but it is not common. When I think of its commonality among racialized communities via racism and reality, it is statistically more common among Black men. This is in part due to the ongoing oppression of post-colonial slavery, poverty and genocide of Black peoples. If you systematically dismantle a family over generations, it will be mighty hard to sustain one on the interpersonal level.
But I digress.
My father was arrested for domestic assault for the second time when I was 8 years old and never came back to live with us. I saw him a handful of times between being 8 and 31 years old. Every one of those times included fear, anger, neglect and miscommunication.
I held fear because my father was abusive to my mother, he was an alcoholic and unbeknownst to us, a schizophrenic. He was violent, unpredictable and neglectful. I lived in constant fear before and even after he left.
In the last 5 years, my sister decided to seek him out. We hadn’t had any communication since we were around 11 years old, except for one short-lived period of 4 months when I was 20. At that time, he took my mother to court and contacted her pretending he wanted to send money as we were in university at the time. Instead, he sent her a court order petitioning to stop child support payments. (Anecdotally, my father paid none of his child support until his wages were garnished).
So in the last 5 years, I have been speaking to my father. Perhaps twice a year on the phone for birthdays. We meet maybe once a year for lunch. It’s awkward to say the least and we don’t talk about the past, even though I do want some accountability and acknowledgement.
And, then, I had a baby.
My father softened. He sent me money for my baby shower (the first time he has ever given me money). He asked to meet Adli directly after he had been born and called me within two weeks of his birth. He even said ‘I love you’ to me and said Adli was ‘a good guy’ (Adli was 7 months old at the time).
So, I hope it’s easy to glean that having a baby really makes you reflect on your own upbringing, your relationship with your parents and your need for support.
Families who don’t rest in the trauma that mine does, show up for each other, support each other and such things, or so I have heard. Although my son has a grandfather, I imagine that he will likely never babysit him, seldom visit him or do anything to bond with him. I would surely never leave my son alone with my father.
So the pain of my father abandoning me resurfaced in many ways because while my father, is curious about Adli, his interest only goes so far. And, he won’t make any moves to be accountable to me about our jagged past.
My father never made promises to be anything to me or Adli and yet I yearn for some acknowledgement and accountability for his past transgressions. And some hope for a future. What do I tell Adli when he asks why he only sees his grandfather once a year? Or what if he never sees him? Why do I need recognition of what he did to me and my sister in the past to move into a relationship with my son in the present and future? Am I just deluding myself with unachievable expectations?
Something huge happened recently that made me realize that I do need to tell my father how I feel, how his violence changed me and clearly state what I want from him, even if he is incapable or outright refusing to give it. So, I wrote him a letter.
Please read with caution as it is graphic in nature.
I am epically and forever changed by the night you threatened to kill us. I am changed by all the violence but this is one of the memories that paves the way to my trauma most.
I often wonder if I am missing things or replacing one memory with another because of the trauma or that perhaps my memory is skewed because time has gone on. But I know some of these memories are vivid and real and not made up.
I remember which knife you brought into me and my sister’s bedroom. It was the kitchen knife with the brown handle. You threatened to kill us. To our mother. I don’t know what you were fighting about this time. There was always a justification and apathy accompanied with your violence.
The police were called that night. They came to our room looking for the knife in the couch. But they didn’t find it. This time the police were called was the last time of many.
Whether you believe me or not, will be more about your own character and love for your children than whether or not I have an accurate memory as an 8 year old.
There are countless memories like this. Ones where you put us in extreme danger: you beat doors down to find my mother to beat her, you arrived at daycare drunk, you both screaming at all hours of the night, the police being called before and after mandatory charging was legally instituted. There are so many memories of you terrorizing us, screaming, beating my mother in cars.
This impacts how I see you and whether or not I can trust you.
You have never owned the fact that this happened, that it shaped me and my sister. You only say you can never be the father we need.
You never were any kind of father. And that shapes how we see you now and our trust level with you.
Even when I finally look to you for accountability, acknowledgment or recognition, you say defensively that I’ve only ever heard my mother’s side of the story. You’ve had 5 years to tell something of your side. Why haven’t you?
You discount my memory and my truth. You discount the weight the love of a father has for his daughter and how that love could have changed my life for the better. You cannot change the past, but you can be accountable to it. You can acknowledge my truth.
You have hurt me in the deepest way a person can hurt another. You abandoned me and my sister, you laid the foundation of violence and pain in our lives for the duration.
Everything I have done, worked for was to overcome that violence and abandonment. Our neuropath ways were predisposed to violence from ages 0-8 years old. We could not learn as healthily as a child that did not grow up in that environment and so much of our lives have been on the course to change acting from that foundation of violence.
Even if you think you could not have stopped what you did because of your disorders of schizophrenia and alcoholism they are not excuses for violence. People live with these disorders and do not act out this way so consistently and for so long.
One thing is right. You cannot change the past. But you can change your behaviour in the present. You can acknowledge the deep hurt and violation you caused and its results in our current relationship and in my life.
You can share information about the past, be open to me and my sister asking questions and not be so protective.
Even when I asked for your address you seemed skeptical and protective. Like as if I could hurt you. You seemed resistant to even receiving this letter and flippant when finally agreeing.
Either way, the past is the only thing we have between us. Even after 5 years with no real discussion around it, I continue to feel resentment and distrust with you.
I appreciate all that you have tried to do for us over the past 5 years, the money and time you have taken to talk and see us and meet my son.
Having heard of your illness, it made me want to have a more authentic interaction with you. This is my attempt.
Maybe you can figure out ways to be more real and more accountable with us. Maybe not. This letter, I, hold no expectations over you. I needed to tell you how you and your actions changed me and the course of my life. What you do now is up to you.
Deborah Andrea Elizabeth Singh
I wrote this letter for myself. As much as it hurts that he hasn’t responded to the letter as of yet, it wasn’t only about him. It was also about the bravery to speak my truth, to ask for what I want even if I won’t get it and to release some of this pain. Surely it would be better if my words struck a cord with him and moved him to accountability, but it was also about saying my piece to him, and being able to say to Adli one day when all his questions rise to the surface that I did say what I needed, whether my father responded or not.
And, as a new parent, my estranged relationship with my father makes me want to promise that I won’t ever abandon Adli, physically or emotionally. I will create pathways for Adli to communicate with me and tell me his truth before it comes to that point. And Adli will know that I tired with my father to remedy my part of the past.
There are so many negative patterns I have to unlearn growing up in a violent household but I am working on them. Through my relationships with my past, and with being a loving, open parent, now and in the future.