Friday, December 10, 2010
My poor grandmother! She would be heartbroken. I started thinking of all the sacrifices she had made. How she had worked and hoped for a different fate for her daughters other than the (abusive) path her life had followed. I thought of my mother and her failed choices in men, her failed marriage and her continued search for ‘her mate’. I then thought of myself and right when I was about to wallow in my self pity, it hit me. I could not believe I had not seen it before. The weight of the revelation pushed the fear out of me. I was no longer afraid, I was puzzled, surprised even. I couldn’t believe this had evaded me for this long. This whole situation really had been in some odd unconscious way, my fault. My fault because I had simply chose what I had seen my grandmother and mother chose throughout my childhood. It then made sense to me that three generations later, I would be in the same situation as the matriarchs of my family. My grandmother had suffered mercilessly under the reign of my abusive maternal grandfather. He was always absent from the house and when he showed up it was extremely tense and everyone was on pins and needles. His absence in turn led to an absent father figure for my mother. My mother in turn, trying to find that father figure which she never had, chose someone who was older and who she thought would provide the security her father never provided for her. So, unfortunately, when she met my father…surprise, surprise, he never stuck around long enough for me to even see his face.
I, two generations later in the absence of a positive father figure made the choice I made. And true to form, I ended up picking someone who, even though did not seem to have violent characteristics towards me in the beginning, ended up treating me the same way my grandmother and mother were treated. How can it be three generations later and I unconsciously make a choice like this. Time had evolved. Women’s’ place in the world had changed, and so why had my choices in men remain so archaic and consistently the same? To answer that question on a sort of path to self actualization, I decided to interview other women with absentee fathers to find out how it has affected their relationship with men and how they’ve overcome it. Was there really some link between absent fathers and wrong choices in men? Or was it just me? Or my family?
Doctor Jane Rosen-Grandon a marriage and family therapist, in her article “Father-Daughter Relationships” says “ a daughter’s relationship with her father is usually her first male-female relationship. From Dad, little girls gain their first reflection of themselves as female” (1). She further goes on to say that females are able to differentiate between acceptance and non acceptance, between being valued and discounted. I agree with Dr. Jane, in a loving two parent home this is an excellent factor for any child, especially a female. She will be able, by all accounts, to choose someone who emulates her father and if her father is a “good man” then all is supposedly well. But what about those girls who did not grow up with that loving mother father two parent dynamic?
Meet *Roxanne Gilbert. A 40 year old single mother of 2. Gilbert grew up in a very volatile household. Her father was psychically abusive towards her mother and he was absent from the home on a regular basis. When it came time to choose men, she found them to be very unfulfilling emotionally so she decided to have her children and move on with her life. She says that since her father was never really in the house, she associated men as just being sperm donors so to speak. She was never really interested in having them stay after she had her children.
“Well to tell you the truth, I really don’t see the point of getting married. I feel that if women are ready to have their children then they should just choose who they want to have their children with and make it happen. To my horror, when I was 19 the first man I moved in with did in some ways remind me of my father. He was very controlling and ended up being physically abusive towards me. I was shocked and could not believe I had made that same mistake as my mother had made. After that realization, I decided never again. I have never lived with a man since.
It’s not a good thing to have a man around I learned. Since as a child, I never really viewed myself staying with them past having my children. If they stayed and things worked out then great, but I really never expected much. So to ask how I choose them to have children with, there really aren’t any set parameters. If I think they are attractive of course and treat me well enough and over time, if I want to have children and they stay long enough then I chose them. Both my kids’ fathers do not support me financially at all but it’s not the end of the world. I have my kids and that’s what I wanted. As a child I remember being told over and over again to be independent, to be self sufficient. To this day, I have drilled this into all my kids because that’s a sure fire way to ensure that you have means to take care of yourself and have the option to leave. I know there are many women out there who have been or were self sufficient until they met men who they thought they loved and some have given up on that. Sometimes these women don’t even know what’s going on around them and by the time they pull the wool off their eyes, its usually financial hell and a few broken bones later.
I know that true love exists, I think. But besides the love a mother has for her child, as with my mother and us kids, I don’t really one hundred percent believe there really is pure love between men and women. None that I can relate to anyway. Men are fickle creatures and I’d rather deal with my own shortcomings than take the chance and deal with someone else’s shortcomings in addition to them being abusive towards me. Growing up had its ups and downs. My mother was victimized, sometimes in the worst way but I learned from it.”
When asked how this view affects her own daughter who is now in college, Gilbert says,
“I’m not gonna lie. I think I've made her afraid of men. While I’ve never said anything degrading about her own father to her, my attitude towards men as a whole has definitely affected her, maybe for the negative. I think its better if my own father were not around. With his volatile attitude, I definitely would have been better off had that man stayed away completely instead of showing up like he did. I want my daughter to have a full, fulfilling life. Do I want her to get married and remain happy for the rest of her life? If that’s what she wants, absolutely. Whatever she does, I will just tell her this, to make sure no one takes advantage of her and to always stand her ground.”
According to Dr. David Popenoe, a noted sociologist, in the relatively young field of research into fathers and fatherhood, Gilbert’s attitude is sometimes typical of children who grew up in volatile households. Popenoe says “Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships. In contrast, research has shown that husbands who display anger, show contempt for, or who stonewall their wives (i.e., "the silent treatment") are more likely to have children who are anxious, withdrawn, or antisocial.” Gilbert is testament to that. Her withdrawn and sometimes antisocial behavior towards men has manifested itself in her completely dismissing them. For most women either one of two things happens, they pick men who do the exact same thing their fathers had done and they accept it as normal loving behavior or they try to rebel against it and hope they choose the opposite.
I had the opportunity to interview Gilbert’s younger sister Rebecca Gilbert. A 35 year old recently married mother of a one year old girl. I asked her the same questions trying to find out what made her decisions and path so different from her sister’s.
“I remember my father appearing in the house after he had been absent for, I don’t know, maybe about 6 months. I remember the dress my mother was wearing. I remember the song on the radio, they were playing Hotel California. I don’t really know or remember what the fight was about at the time but I do remember coming in the room and seeing my mother on the floor, passed out and foaming at the mouth. I really remember that dress. I kept staring at it. My older sisters and I just stood there looking at her then at our father. We were in shock for some time. I think even he was shocked. He didn’t say anything. Finally my oldest sister started screaming that he had killed my mother and in a rage she grabbed a knife and went after him . He in a state of terror or maybe just shocked at the audaciousness of my sister jumped out of the bedroom window and took off. We were kids and didn’t know what to do. Finally one of us went to get help, I don’t know which one. Before help came though, she woke up. I wasn’t sure what I felt. They had argued because he was upset that she was pregnant again. It was her fault and the baby was not his. Neither were we really. He said it constantly.
Looking back I understand Roxanne’s apprehension when it comes to men but for me, I really believe there’s hope and there just has to be more. Has it affected me, absolutely. Have I chosen wrong or bad men, yes. Have I chosen men who remind me psychically and mentally of my father, yes. My father was about thirteen years older than my mother and light skinned. Even now I tend to choose lighter skinned older men, hell, I’m married to one. If I had to give my own daughter a list of attributes to look for in a man I would tell her to get a man who has integrity, someone who can communicate non-violently. I want her to understand that men are not women and they do have their own limitations and emotional shortcomings. Still, those limitations should not manifest themselves in the way they did between my own mother and father.”
After interviewing the Gilbert sisters, I understood the types of decisions that one makes in choosing men and it all comes down to an individual psyche of an individual and how they perceive and interpret things. There’s no question that some women who grew up in abusive volatile environments tend to have stunted emotional growth. For others there seems to be an ever reaching, overbearing cycle of abuse with bad and misguided choices in men.
I wondered what happens to those girls who do not grow up in volatile environments, just absent fathers or positive male role models. How do they make decisions and choices when it came to men.
In “Love Life: Single Parent Upbringing Affects Children’s Relationships” by Cinthia Sierra, we are provided further analysis from one of her peers. Cinthia, while interviewing peers in her college in a quest to find her own answers regarding male choices in single parent homes, interviewed Monica Luna. Luna says she never noticed the effect an absent father would have on her until it came time to making choices in men. Luna believes that she did not have a model to compare judgments against and as a result when she dates men she has to start from “scratch”. While most women who grow up without fathers in the home grow up unaffected but there may always be a fair amount of uncertainty when a new relationship starts.
Jessica, a 24 year old student describes her struggle to find out the difference between imitated behavior and behavior she consciously chooses to have. She recounts her earlier years.
“My father was absent from the home. It was only my mother and I growing up. I remember being in High School and wanting desperately to get attention from boys. Not that I liked any of them in particular, I just wanted some sort of feeling of validation from them. I did what most girls my age did. I started to dress in the over sexualized manner I knew would garner attention. I had my clothes I left the house with and then I had the clothes I snuck out of the house in my book bag. Girls wanting to get boys or wanting attention by wearing nothing- I didn’t come up with it on my own, It was everywhere. Matter of fact, I think it started with the music videos. I just emulated what I saw and had unconsciously made the decision to be like the girls in the videos. If my father were around, I guess I would have had more direction on what was acceptable behavior when it comes to dealing with boys. I mean I know the basics to look for, to avoid; the big ones like don’t let them hit you, talk down to you, no violence against you. But how is a teenage girl supposed to act around boys when she has never had someone to give her an intro into the male psyche. Going forward, I won’t lie, I have no idea what I’m doing or what I’m looking for. I hope I find someone who I can have fun with, who loves me and communicates with me. That’s pretty much the fundamentals but it’s hit or miss out there and with each relationship, while men are different, I learn common things about them. It’s sad that I’m just learning this now in college but better now than say twenty years in the future. I hope to get married with kids in a very happy and fulfilling relationship by then.”
Michelle Hall, Author of “Young Women, Absent Fathers, Abusive Boyfriends” talks about situations with like Jessica’s. “ Attention is something we all crave” say Hall. If girls get positive attention from their fathers and positive reinforcements then it’s a huge self esteem boost. It makes the individual feel cared for and needed. If that attention is not there and girls grow up without positive fathers then there’s a void. Girls may want to fill that void and get that validated feeling in another way and sometimes those ways are not healthy. In Jessica’s case, she decided to get attention from boys by dressing in a sexualized manner at a young age, in a manner she saw from music videos and television.