I can’t ever beat my father with words. He flips them and uses them against me; he fails to understand my meaning; he doesn’t understand my meaning; he throws statistics and facts in my face. I cannot compete. It doesn’t really matter what we’re talking about, he always wins and that is the way he likes it.
When my middle sister was a teenager she would challenge him (or try and have a conversation with him) over dinner and I remember her leaving the room in tears, time and time again, frustrated that she couldn’t get anything out of him. I tried on occasion, but I learned from my sister that it wasn’t about winning, as winning was impossible, but it was about trying to have a go. I did say to him more than once “I’m right and you know I’m right but you just won’t admit it so I’m walking away from this conversation.” which summed it up. I gave up.
My eldest sister threw the tantrums and my middle tried arguing. Way before I remember either of these I had learned to keep quiet, to retreat, both physically and emotionally. I hid in books, in keeping quiet, in keeping my head down. I didn’t challenge then and I still run away from confrontation even, sadly, when it’s simply being assertive.
In all the scenarios in my head when I have challenged my parents I have always done so with words, because that’s how we communicated. Even in EMDR sessions it’s been about myself and my people explaining to my parents why their behaviour is detrimental. Today I did something different and that feels important. We camped a lot as a family so that we could camp and walk as opposed to just walking. It makes for a nice variety. My memories of camping are blurred by time but I remember the misery of waking up in a tent in Scotland with midges and my middle sister before I got my own tent and how joyless it all felt. The above photo, and the look on my face and body conveys all the exasperation that I felt.
So this time, in the scenario in my head, rather than talk about the fact that this was all we did on holidays, that no-one ever asked me what I wanted or how I enjoyed these times, that maybe a bit of variety would be good etc. etc. I decided to slash the tents instead. A magical knife appeared that allowed me to slash through the canvas of the tents, both layers, and wreck the tents. That wasn’t enough though and I stomped on the water bottles, the billy cans, all the camping paraphernalia and flattened the lot, breaking tent poles and doing almost a war dance on the remnants, with snotty tears cascading down. I can see me. My sisters couldn’t stop me and my parents returned from their stroll to find a horde of fellow campers and officials watching me throw this massive tantrum. Some of the campers suggested to my parents that I clearly wasn’t happy and maybe they should take me home.
That felt like a win. Maybe the first full time win in my head when my parents couldn’t not see me, even if they didn’t understand. At least they saw my rage. In my head they did anyway. This also explains one of my favourite moments in Marcel Pagnol’s autobiography, when as a little boy he stands up in defence of his father and is seen. It’s a moment of glory and power that I’ve always treasured and now I understand why.
That feeling of strength stayed with me for a bit and I’d like it to stay for longer. I think of assertiveness and autonomy being an iron bar in the shape of “I” that is my spine, that it’s the strength of valuing being me. I think of the imaginary mini-me dancing on the grave of the campsite and I see strength in her that is inspirational. I need to find other non-verbal ways of challenging.