Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No, Dad, I am Not Going to Conform Just For You



I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

The day before Halloween, I got into an argument with my father. He told me that I could not attend a party thrown by a family friend because I “was not invited”. Now, mind you, this is a party that happens every year, and is basically an open house. The attendees at the party are all people who I have known since I was a toddler, and an invitation has never been  required at any event they host. In fact, that all gush on and on about how happy they are to see me on the rare occasions I DO attend. But, this was the second time my father used the “no invitation” excuse to exclude me.

I told my father that I felt like he was ashamed of me, and that was the reason he did not want me around his friends. He did not bother denying it. I also said I felt that he cared more about his wife’s family than his own. He did not deny that either. So, I told him I did not need him in my life if that was his attitude.

Well, my birthday came and went, with no call from my father. Thanksgiving too. Then, a few nights ago, my father called me to find out if I wanted him in my life. I told him that if he was ashamed of me, I did not need him anymore. I really expected that my father would take this opportunity to tell me that I was wrong, that he was NOT ashamed of me. Nope, didn’t happen.

Instead, my father went told me that I “needed to change”. He told me that I talk about inappropriate topics, that I do not think like a “normal” person and that it is embarrassing. When I asked him for examples, he brought up the fact that I declare a desire to have a child. And I am NOT MARRIED!! God forbid a 37 year old woman contemplate having a child without a husband! I mean, what will the neighbors think? The funny thing is, I usually only discuss my desire to be a mother around him and his wife. There has only been ONE time that I mentioned it in front of one of his friends, and I caught Hell for that!

Another example of my supposed “odd” way of thinking is my curiosity about all sorts of things. I was told by his wife that I was “not normal” because I decided to do some research after I discovered that some women are addicted to corn starch. I had been speaking about it to her daughter, and mentioned that I did not know if they have nutritional deficiencies that they were compensating for, or if they were getting high. His wife accused me of telling her teenage grand daughter how to get high off of corn starch. Ummm… not even close to the truth. I was simply speaking about a topic I wanted to research, and supposedly my curiosity was “strange”.
My father’s wife and her family are ULTRA conservative. They are very straitlaced and believe people should conform 100% to their way of life. That is NOT ME. And my father was NEVER like that until he met this woman. He was always very supportive of me, no matter what I decided to do in life. Not anymore.

When I was attending holiday gatherings with his new family, I would get stern warnings beforehand not to mention any of my political stances. I was told not to say anything controversial, and not to respond if I heard other people talking about things I did not agree with. And, I am ashamed to say, I compromised my values and abided by his wishes for too long.

I cannot do it anymore. I cannot keep my mouth closed when I hear someone make a bigoted remark. I cannot sit idly by when I hear a three year old child proudly refer to herself as a “Rush baby”. I cannot stay silent when I see a toddler in tears because she thinks someone said she looked like “a mad Obama” (the ultimate evil in her parent’s eyes).

When I spoke to my father the other day, I mentioned several incidences of bigotry I witnessed at holiday gatherings. He actually accused me of lying because HE didn’t hear the remarks. Like I would just be making up racist comments I overheard for fun! Then he pulled out the old “They can’t be racist, they have Black friends!!” card! Ummmm…. Yeah Dad…. You FAIL!

I am angry at myself for allowing certain incidences to pass without comment. But apparently, even staying quiet about issues that are important to me while around large groups of people is not enough. I am not even supposed to talk about the things I am passionate about when I am with my father and his wife. My Dad actually told me I should ONLY express my opinion when he and I are alone (and even that was a compromise - originally he said I should not talk about my views AT ALL). Of course, even that does not help,  because he does not do a damn thing without his wife!

See, now if I had grown up with a father who was conservative and who I had to watch what I said around, maybe I would be able to accept his conditions without a fight. But, I grew up with parents who encouraged self expression, and who defended me when I was confronted by individuals who disagreed. But, now that my father has his new family, he says he recognized the error of his ways, and confesses that he believes he did not raise us right. Yes, he actually said that!

I guess it is WRONG to raise children to be free thinkers. It is WRONG to allow self expression. It is WRONG to encourage us to think outside the box. And it is WRONG to be open-minded.

Well, I was not raised to keep quiet. I was not raised to accept the status quo. I was raised to challenge authority, and just because my father has changed HIS value system to conform to someone else’s standards does not mean I will do the same.

So, I have decided that rather than change the very core of who I am, I would rather discontinue this harmful relationship with the man who helped create and raise me. It hurts, but I cannot conform just to be more “acceptable” to others. That is not how I was brought up!