My Journey To Understanding My Father

“Stockholm syndrome starts at home.”

Take it in. Take all of its heaviness, brilliance and sudden troubling familiarity and let it seethe you. This is something that was hidden in plain sight for a very long time that it bothered me to know I couldn’t discover it on my own. But once I understood it, it stayed within me; unsettled and shaken, but true. This was one of my friends’ many beliefs.

Last year, I had it written down in my notebook under something that I named Shady’s legacy. Shady was a bright mind that effortlessly managed to captivate everyone around him. He was an evanescent soul, a presence that once noticed could not be unseen. But an absence that, despite being present and hollowed, you didn’t necessarily detest. You couldn’t hold it against him. Instead, you look back at it and feel, not a bitter, nostalgic breeze, but a distant warmth.

If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it’s his legacy.

Stockholm syndrome starts at home.

And once I understood that, really understood that, my relationship with home finally made sense.

You see, my father is a difficult man. His tenderness had rough edges, a softness that left paper cuts behind. He had a preference for control, something that forced your independence to bend into codependence whether you liked it or not. He was smart; his decisions, while they smothered me, never really left behind any collateral damage that ruined anything. More like crumbs on your shirt, not tears that left it insufficient for wearing.

It still bothered me, to say the least.

For a while, I genuinely believed that he was the worst aspect of my entire life. The lack of liberation, the constant need to have a say in everything that silenced me for years. Even though he never really said so, it felt as if my voice had no significance, no purpose other than to be dismissed or ignored. I was conditioned into breeding and entertaining that idea for as long as I remembered. Maybe that’s why I’m always quiet now.

But he loved me with every fiber of his being. He had so much love inside of him that it weakened him just as much as it strengthened him enough to provide, even on the days where the world made a public service announcement saying that there wasn’t anything to provide. As a rebelling teenager, I both felt a compelled appreciation for him and a sense of dislike (maybe hate). I didn’t want to feel like I owed him something just because he was helping my life stay consistent in the sense where I lived. Because even though I hated admitting that out loud, despite it being apparent to everyone, I was my father’s daughter, and thus I had a liking for control myself.

We were too similar to not be repulsed.

We were both as strong and imminent as gravity. But I was dark matter, a certain repulsive gravity that pushed instead of pulled. And he was too stubborn, too protective to ever change anything about how he chose to raise me; high enough to reach the roof, but never enough to reach the sky. Everything about me had to be in his reach, in case anything bad happens, in case any damage needs to be controlled or fixed.

He was a good father. But his idea of parenthood was heavily inspired by its early beginning; the overwhelming warmth that soothed and moved him when he held me as a child. So it goes without saying that he didn’t know how to hold me when I grew up. Still, he was convinced, like many other parents, that no matter how big I grew, I was never too big for his hold, never too big that I was destined to fall out of his grip, never even big enough for his grip to feel uncomfortable or tight.

But did I love him in the same sense that a hostage ends up falling in love with its captive? Did I love him because there wasn’t really any other way around it? Did I love him because I had to, because it was my duty as his daughter?

Maybe.

Stockholm syndrome starts at home.

I hated the idea that my affection could somehow be disingenuous. That it was labeled as a syndrome, something ridden, instead of a feeling, something that came to me naturally. So after years of disobedience and general disapproval, I took a closer look at who he is and found out that all of those negative feelings I have towards him wasn’t directed at who he is as a human—in fact, he was a very inspiring person—it was directed at how he chose to be a father.

And ever since then, everything became clearer. His incessant urge to be in control wasn’t out of spite, it was to baby-proof everything around me. And while that still had a tint of abusive parenthood, it made sense. It even softened how I felt about him. The truth is, just like how my anxiety made everything around me seem like a potential danger, he was always terrified of all the possibilities that surrounded me from every angle. And as time went by, as I gently pushed to become my own person further away from him, he began to ease up and let it happen.

If you’re reading this, Dad. I love you. I really do.

But if I learned how to love you in spite of everything, maybe you should learn how to love me without holding me so tight out of fear that I might leave.

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