I wanted to have a ritual to talk to my dad, who died almost five years ago, of an overdose. He was a white guy, and at least some of my problems with white guys come from abuse from him. White guys I love have way too much power over me, especially when I want their approval, and trust their view of reality more than I trust my own.
On the surface, I had no real relationship with my dad, by the time he died. But the damage had been done by the time I was little. My view of myself, my world view, and what I look for in relationships got all messed up. How I ally myself racially, and what feels safe to me. The violence and neglect I endured from ages zero to adult harmed me, which was a group effort. But my dad had a huge role.
I could tell you about alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, law breaking, my dad’s suicide. But it’s not fun to talk about. Probably he was a narcissist. That’s a label I don’t know a lot about, but what little I know sounds like him. His needs were everything, at the expense of the well-being of his children, wife, and anyone who encountered him.
He had only one friend, and a hard time getting along with his relatives. Toward the end of his life, the only people who would really give him the time of day were my mom and my brother. His best friend was his dog, for sure. I wonder if he had autism like I do, a dude version that looked mean, different from my nicer style.
He needed a lot of distraction, babysat by television. He didn’t like to be alone with his own mind. And he had big problems with sleep.
His health was bad. As the years passed, my dad was on more and more medications, as if pills would solve his problems. Faith in the medical system seemed to comfort him, and he’s a negative example, to me–I try to take as few pills as possible and rely on doctors as little as I can.
Doctors treat me totally differently than they treated him–he was a white guy, regular sized, and not considered crazy, though he was a drug addict, and his anxiety was through the roof. He had a little money, and a sense that he deserved the best. But the list of pills he took every day panicked me.
He was smart but lacked critical thinking skills, in some ways. The world was designed for him, so he had the luxury of gliding through it, his needs met, in a way I never could.
Also my dad was racist and very closed off in his bubble. So even though my mom wasn’t white, she was mostly white enough for him. He made an exception for her, but that could shift sometimes. He definitely dominated her and used her, and let her serve him. That felt misogynist, but racist too.
When I mention my dad’s whiteness, that’s because it’s part of the harm, for sure. A standard white guy entitledness, willfully ignorant about the relative ease his privilege afforded him. But also the way he was racist against my mom, my mom’s family, and anyone not white really hurt me. I had to situate myself in that white supremacist bullshit, which is not fair to do to a kid, or anyone.
I looked white like him, but grew up entirely allied with my mom and her side of the family. Once I could choose, I stopped speaking with the white side of my family entirely. Racial loyalties, power imbalances, identity confusion–that was just one layer to a huge pile of family pain.
I still struggle to know who I am, what I really experienced in my family of origin racially, plus how I’m perceived by others, and how to talk about it. What’s authentic, what kind of power am I looking for, what matters to other people, vs the actual truth deep in me.
To add to the confusion, my dad was not born in the United States. He was born in another colonizer country. He grew up overseas, and there are huge stories there.
I could tell you a bazillion things about my dad, but I wanted to talk about the ritual. Well, let me back up to the reason I needed to do the ritual in the first place.
The breakup I recently endured–I’d fallen in love with a white guy. And some of the weirdness I experienced had to do with trying to get his love and approval in ways that seemed out of proportion to the actual situation I was in.
This man I fell in love with was also a drug addict and alcoholic, in an abuse cycle with his girlfriend, like my parents were in an abuse cycle. Not to mention the abuse cycle of my drug addict alcoholic brother and his girlfriend as well.
So it makes sense, I was going to get hurt and challenged, in this intense relationship where I fell in love with a drug addict friend. It activated my family trauma, and I had to face those issues in a new way. I’d never fallen in love with a drug addict alcoholic before. It was a big deal. In fact, that had previously been a deal breaker for me.
It wasn’t a full on ritual. I just faced the sun and started talking to my dad. My spouse witnessed me. We hiked up to a spring, and we did the ritual there. We ate special cookies, and I told my dad some truth.
I said my dad’s judgment of me doesn’t matter anymore. I told him that I don’t care what he thinks of me–I don’t exist to impress him. His opinions are nothing to me.
I told him that wherever he is, I release him. I don’t need his approval or anything from him at all. The end of the ritual was, “You have no power over me. And I’m gonna eat your cookies.”
It was a good try. Afterward I told a friend, the ritual might have been a warm up. Maybe I need to directly tell my dad to fuck off. If I don’t at all care what he thinks of me, maybe I can stop getting hurt by white guys who won’t approve of me or love me right either.
That’s the point–I take back my power, to heal the weird belief that I’m not good. White guys thinking I’m good will not make me good. I’m good already. I don’t want to keep looking for surrogate dads to approve of me.
Also next time, I might want to explain to my dad that I’m really successful, not as he saw success, but I’m actually happy. I’m not rich like a millionaire, but I have everything I need and more, so I might as well be a millionaire. I don’t have kids, but I didn’t want any. Or a car or regular paying job.
Often I cry about my failures, but I don’t know how to celebrate my wins. But my life is almost all win, in a way his never was.