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30 August, 2007

Fathering In The Borderlands

One of the things that comes up as I go through and read and reread my BPD resources is the value and importance of other support structures to keeping a kid growing up with a borderline parent from sinking into the potential damage that that can induce. Markham's Behavioral Health talks about the importance of fathers and the role of the "enlightened witness" -- someone the child believes understands what is going on and can give some support, a reality touchstone. Understanding the Borderline Mother quotes someone talking about the risks of an 'emotionally invalidating environment'.

And it's easy to say, "Oh, right, a non-borderline parent would be able to stand up for the kid, protect them from the crazy", but ... it's actually a lot subtler than that. And I don't know whether a white knight would have been more useful, but I don't really think so.

I told my mother off a few months ago, told her some behaviour was not acceptable and I wasn't going to put up with it. She sent me back a, "Did you send me email? I thought I saw something, but I must've deleted it when I was clearing my spam. If you didn't send anything, la la silly me I'm just getting old." I forwarded the original message in reply. She didn't speak to me for two and a half months.

I told my father about that a bit afterwards, and he commented, "I'd never have been brave enough to do that." My father is ... not confrontational. (I get all my confrontational from Mom.) And he explained, among other things, that one of the reasons he was not brave enough to stand up to her was that he was afraid that she would take out being riled up on me, or on my brother. (Probably me. My brother was usually The Good Kid, at least until I left home.) I had noticed that he grew increasingly avoidant over time, spending more and more time at work or on business trips, and I believed at the time (and later had confirmed) that this was because he didn't want to be at home. Didn't want to be around her.

Not much of a protection, eh?

But yet.

My brother and I used Dad as terrain for driving Matchbox cars. Much more interesting than the floor, terrain with curves.

He read to us. To me, just about every night he was home between when I was five and fourteen or so, and after that I would drop in when he read to my brother. Every 21st of December, it was cracking open the Dickens and, "Marley was dead, to begin with" ... and he's been known to call me on the 21st of December to wish me a happy wedding anniversary and to read me Dickens. (I'm considering calling him this year to read to him, actually.)

He taught me to love learning. I would come to him with my math homework and say, "Dad, I don't understand this," and he would sketch it out on long yellow pads with thin blue lines in his near-illegible scribbling, explaining with enthusiasm, with utter joy, and then, "And here's what you can do with that!" and off into a tangent, a bit of exciting new mathematics, a little physics, something to show the way of manipulating the abstracts simply for the joy of playing with it.

I went to a psychologist for a number of years, junior high and early high school, and we would have dinner every week, just going to the McDonalds near the shrink, but grabbing our burgers and fries and sitting and talking. About all kinds of things. Is it halachically acceptable to unscrew an Oreo on the sabbath? This is the silliness at the Pentagon this week. This is this fascinating bit of Pelagius. This is the poet I should read. When I stopped going to the psychtype, I was sad to lose the dinners and afraid to ask -- partly because I was afraid Mom would get jealous -- and we started to meet up at a bookstore about two miles from my high school and go to the Roy Rogers every week instead, just to keep the rhythms of it going.

By the end of high school, he drove me to school almost every day, just so we'd have space to talk and spend together. (I didn't go to my local high school, or I'd have been biking it.) I'd get there barely after they unlocked the doors sometimes, go up into the hall where my locker was, and nap until my friends arrived.

Once, when I was frustrated with the pre-divorce tension when I was home from college for some vacation or other, I posted on my bedroom door all the words to Billy Joel's "Code of Silence". He took them down and left them on my bed, and said, quietly, that he was afraid of how my mother would react. I knew he knew; I knew he was afraid. I decided not to put them back up, half because he reminded me to be afraid, half because I didn't want to scare him more.

Having Dad didn't give me a mother who was sane, but ... I was reading through UTBM today, recognising bits of myself in some of the traits of some of the types, the generational damage of being raised by a borderline. And while he was distant quite often, and not directly protective of me, I still grew up knowing that I was loved, and supported, and that someone understood that sometimes the world was mad. And so it's only a few things, here and there; I can see the ways these things are not me, as well. The ways I have tendencies that I am able to overcome.

I learned how to nurture from my father, as the bone-deep, steady current of a voice reading even if today it's a little hoarse, because it matters as much to be there and offer it as it did to know the steady metronome of loving support, day after day, as something that could be trusted.

2 comments:

Daisy said...

Somebody had a thread about BPD being sexist in its definitions, but I forget who and where. If you are up for that discussion, I'd like to talk about various mental health diagnoses (BPD in specific) having a class/race/sex basis. When I get back from the righteous DRAGON CON (woooo!) I might start a thread on this, if I can maybe get a clue where to start! My daughter and I have had many, many discussions about this!

In men, for instance, weird and intense non-sexual fantasies are seen as evidence of high levels of creativity, but in women, possible derangement and hysteria, unless she learns to channel it into pretty place-settings, recipes and window-treatments. (Okay, not always, yes, that is a gross generalization, but you know what I mean)...

Let me know if this conversation would be helpful or offensive to you! Or if you have any particular direction you might like to pursue?

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Have fun at D*C! (My husband and I have been known to go, but not this year -- this year has been too insane.)

UTBM comments:

"Males with BPD may be diagnosed as antisocial due to aggressive and violent behaviour, and consequently are more likely to enter the justice system than the mental health system."

Which does have some interesting unpacking on the -ism level, though perhaps in a somewhat different direction. (It also suggests that in the same direction of cultural norms, POC will be less frequently diagnosed with BPD than other things.)