My adoptive father was not physically abusive, he was not an alcoholic, he was not a drug abuser, He was by all accounts a man who did what was right by his family and saw to it that to the best of his ability his family was provided for.
But in thousands of ways, big and small, he was an abuser. He tore us down verbally, mentally and emotionally. He was distant, he was dismissive of our emotional needs, and through what I will call sins of omission he taught us nothing about how to live. We never got the birds and the bees discussion. We had no concept of what money was nor how to handle it,. When I was 12 I solicited a few neighbors for lawn mowing jobs. When he got wind of this development Daddy sat m e down and said, "Son, you're going to have to go to work one day and for the rest of your life. So don;t start any sooner than you have to. If you need money just come to me."
We were informed as often as possible that we would never amount to anything, and often we lived down to those expectations.
Did he do this intentionally, no. Did he do this out of some inveterate need to keep us under his thumb, no. Did he do it because he was unable to express feelings, to help us understand our own, and out of a complete lack of understanding that what we would need most in this world is self-confidence? Yes, I believe that to be the case.
In my particular case I believe it to have been a case in which he was of the opinion that he had two children, a boy and a girl, and that his child rearing years were getting close to being behind him. Then the girl next door to his in laws got pregnant when she was 16. And his wife decided that since she was unable, she was going to adopt that child. Me.
He raised his two biological children very differently from my experience. There was a bit of a iron fist policy where they were concerned. Not so for me. There was direct and physical punishment for their transgressions. Not so for me. There were familial expectations. Not so for me.
From what little I was able to glean from the stories when those in the know were alive, he was told early on that I was not to be physically abused (i.e. spanked). That I was not to be told to sit quietly on the floor and speak only when spoken to. His reactions to such demands were seldom meek. It seemed that early on after my arrival there was a sort of armed truce between them that very infrequently boiled over, but was noticeable none the less.
We're settling his estate this month and all these things have been discussed in the process. He could have been considered by most to be "well-off", and though that's true, he wasn't rich in the things that matter most.
He wasn't rich in love, he wasn't rich in healthy emotional experiences, which is where our discussions ultimately end. We don;t sit around and talk about that the time that Dad did this or that, or about our time playing catch in the backyard, (never) and sadly we don't have fond memories to carry with us and give to those we will leave behind one day.
I will come away from my experience with my adoptive family with all the material things I always expected. I will have a comfortable retirement. I will have a home and likely a vacation home. I will want for none of the worldly possessions that seem to matter in our culture.
But I will always have a certain envy for those whose father's who put forth an effort no matter how big or small to share at least part of themselves with their children.
Don't hold your children at arm's length, hold them in your arms. Teach them who you are and allow them to learn and grow at their own pace. But without fail, no matter what they do, want to do, or what they think, remind them daily that they are loved and that they are a valuable part of your life.
Those of us who have no experience with such things highly recommend it.
And so it goes.