(Below I use the abbreviation ATI. Advance Training Institute. I’ll explain this in a future post but in the mean time it was the home school program I was raised in. If you can’t wait for me to explain it search for IBLP or Bill Gothard).
Somehow, even through my early childhood I knew I was never enough, good enough, perfect enough for my dad.
I was 9 when my parents got a piano and I started lessons. I loved it. I practiced hours and hours. Around age 15 my dad told me he wanted me to make a CD. I hadn’t written my own music and my dad had no clue about copyright laws. I tried to explain but he didn’t get it. I think he even said he wanted me to do it by the time I was 18.
I felt like he wanted me to be like the people who had CDs in the ATI program – some of them my friends. I looked at them as successful, beautiful, talented people – they were what my dad was comparing me to. And I didn’t measure up. I failed. I wasn’t perfect.
My dad would make us memorize verses and chapters of the bible. I was at least 15 when, as a punishment or before I could do something I wanted, I had to memorize 1 Cor. 13. I had already memorized Matthew 5, Psalms 1, 23, 8 and most of Proverbs by default.
By default I mean I’d heard 1 chapter of Proverbs every day since I was 4 or 5. Wisdom search was held at 5 or 5:30am. My dad would make us get up, sit at the table and read 5 chapters of Psalms and 1 of Proverbs. I was young enough that I learned to read after my dad started doing this. If we read it wrong or couldn’t read it we had to figure it out. Or get yelled at. Or get a spanking. At 5:30am.
I have no good memories of ‘wisdom search’. My mom would let us go back to bed some days and those mornings of snuggling with my mom and siblings are shadowed by the fact that it only happened because we had to get up so early for ‘wisdom search’.
My dad talked frequently of how he wanted us to memorize more of the bible. Yes, I did memorize Matthew 5. But I didn’t memorize Matthew 6 and 7. Like all good ATI kids did. And I didn’t memorize Psalms 119. Like those people on stage did at Knoxville for several years. Again, I was a failure. I didn’t measure up.
My dad made sure I threw baseballs the right way; not like a girl. Not like a girl was the theme of my childhood. With a brother just a few years younger than me I was good at cowboys & Indians, legos, lincoln logs, army, guns, climbing trees, using slingshots and carving guns out of tree branches with moms kitchen knives.
It was somewhere around 9 when I learned how to jump start a lawn mower. An old Gravely riding lawnmower. My brother and I cut our neighbors yard and to start the mower I would park it in front of the cars in the driveway so I jump start it. At age 9.
Not long after that I learn to change a tire and back the car up the driveway. We lived in the middle of nowhere a mile from the closest gas station and 30 minutes from the closest grocery store.
I learned from my dad how to use a hammer ‘the right way’ (not like a girl) and a power drill and table saw. I loved being important enough to him to teach these skills to. I loved the attention and feeling like one of the boys.
But the fragile feminine side of me was crying for attention also. I played paper dolls with my brother (somehow it always ended up being ‘wedding’) and dress up in moms closet.
Around age 10 my dad took a woodworking class and would bring me with him sometimes. I loved it. When I was 20 and decided to take a cake decorating class (which I paid for myself) my dad couldn’t understand why I would want to do that.
Also around age 10 was the first time I wore make up, 12 when I didn’t ask my dad about wearing colored nail polish and got in trouble, 14 when I asked to wear clip on earring (permission was grudgingly given) and 16 when my mom let me wear make-up.
Looking back I realize that my parents were holding me back from what they saw as worldly distractions of beauty, but what I wanted to experience as a female. At the age of 14 I was biologically an adult female, not allowed to wear make-up, talk to boys, wear pants or sleeveless shirts or anything with a v-neckline, cut my hair (not to mention dye it), get pierced ears and my parents still spanked me.
The little girl in me never came alive. I don’t remember being told I was beautiful. I do remember asking my dad every Sunday morning ‘How do I look?’ for as long as I can remember the reply was always ‘good’ or ‘ok’. I wanted to be delighted in, to hear I was beautiful and for my dad to love me not based on what I was wearing. I never heard that.
In my teen years I started feeling I was too much. I started realizing how different my family was, my dad’s anger problems, my mom’s hording problem, my inability to talk to people outside of ATI, how weird I dressed, how I couldn’t make friends… I was too much for people.
I remember asking my dad on multiple occasions if we could go out to breakfast on Saturday mornings together. He usually said yes but I was never able to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about. There was always a fear that I still can’t figure out. May be it was a fear that I would disappoint him.
By my late teens I had figured out how to make myself be okay with whatever decisions were made for me. If I didn’t like it at first I would convince myself how good it was and vice versa. I didn’t express emotion to anyone, only talked to my best friend about anything personal, didn’t try communicating or having a relationship with my parents anymore, told my dad to stop using me as someone to talk to about his marriage problems with my mom and told the same to my mom about my dad. I still wanted so desperately to be loved but kept it all hidden so I wouldn’t get hurt.
The summer I was 24 my dad and I spoke only a few times. I had decided to move to the midwest and he was not happy with that decision. I remember feeling very calm as I explained to my dad that my mind was not going to be changed – it was something I needed to do for me. In the years before we had yelled at each other most of the time but that summer I was done with the yelling, with being a disappointment, with not measuring up. I firmly told him I was moving and didn’t ask for his help. I bought a car and a trailer, I packed up my stuff and left. And then I sobbed as I drove down the road.
Sometimes I wonder if I could have been better or done more to make my dad love me. The little girl in me still wants to be told she’s beautiful, she still wants the attention and validation. And that’s okay. The adult girl has discovered she’s beautiful, she’s wanted, and she’s delighted in.