unpopular feelings

last night i finally acknowledged some feelings i’ve been having.  they’re not socially acceptable.

as a kid, i wasn’t really interested in my dad.  he was hard to understand on the telephone with his accent and the international delay.  i didn’t know him, but mom or grama would hand me the phone with a look of glee and joyful expectations for what i would find on the other end.  it was always a little awkward and uncomfortable.

my dad is here now.  alternating living with me and my brother.  i had to send a “letter of invitation” for him as part of his visa application to come here, stating that i would take care of all his needs when he came.  when i initially questioned him about this, he said not to worry about that.  i assumed that meant he would come with at least some financial resources.  you know what they say about assume… i’m a recently graduated unlicensed therapist making less than before i started school.  i didn’t think ahead on what it would involve taking care of all his needs.

that’s the least of my worries.  that’s the more concrete excuse that i feel people can grab onto.  the ickier part of it is that i hate having him here.  i really do.  talking to my aunt about it broke open the flood gates.  her father was also not in her life until adulthood, and she had ill feelings about him that my mother never understood.  hearing her understanding made it ok for me to acknowledge that i don’t like having my dad in my space, i don’t like taking care of him, driving him around, going on fishing expeditions for costly things i don’t have the money for, i don’t like him in my house when i’m dealing with other serious family matters that he knows nothing about because he wasn’t here.  he’s still a stranger.

he recently went on a short trip to visit other relatives and while he was away i told him that i was disappointed in my feeling that he hasn’t yet prioritized being with me on this visit.  he has had a lot of other stated priorities that i’m expected to help him with, but getting to know me is not one that he has expressed.  he felt bad that i felt that way.  when he came back this week, he tried to ask some direct questions.  he was expecting that i had some major things to tell him.  i told him that there was nothing wrong, in fact outside of some of those family matters, my life is actually going great!  he said that he feels like we don’t communicate very well.  i agreed, and we both acknowledged that it will take time.

but the fact is, my dad is a stranger.  we put on the father/daughter roles, we hug and kiss, we say i love you.  but i don’t know this man.  he’s a nice person, but i don’t know him.  it will take some time to build the affection, loyalty, and connection that would make me feel comfortable enough to embrace these duties i seem to have right now.  so i feel resentful, bitter, angry toward him, especially since there are other, more immediate and pressing issues with the family that actually raised me.

so i hate having him here.  i hate the way my mother, my friends, acquaintences, co-workers, relatives on telephones that are thrust into my face… i hate the way they expect this to be such a joyous experience.  it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me.  i hate that this is the black man i’ve been waiting for to help me solidify my identity, and that it turns out this trip has nothing to do with adding a missing piece to my racial identity.

i talked to a dear friend who i have bonded with for years.  she is a trans-racial adoptee, an ethnically colombian woman raised by white american parents.  she affirmed my feelings and reminded me that i have a right to them.  she knows how i feel.  she met her birth family in colombia as an adult and recently went back for another visit.  she reminded me of the way she felt – going to colombia was not a vacation.  not an exotic trip.  it’s sometimes painful, always emotional work.

i’m not sure where i will go from here.  i may ask my brother to keep him while i deal with my family issues.  i may get brave and have another serious conversation with my dad saying just this.  time will tell.

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June 2006, Mpls: 2 Month Reflection

so i took quite a long time to finish the nigeria blog. and i have to admit that part of the reason i finished now is because i have other stuff to write about but felt like i had to finish nigeria first.

so forgive me if these last ones are not as well crafted. sometimes one just has to finish.

i wish i could put a word on what i feel today. it’s hard for me to discuss this because of my perfectionism and polarized thinking. i’m very much inclined to think perfect or worthless, just right or garbage. i had such high hopes about the way it would be when i got home. and i was highly motivated and highly disciplined in the beginning. the first couple of days were great. but pretty quickly i slipped back into the stagnation breeding lifestyle that i’d left behind 2 weeks before. something about the pressure to change my whole life, mixed with the inability to do everything at once made me paralyzed to move in any one direction. on top of everything i wanted to change, i found out i’d have to move in a couple of months. the amount of change i was facing was too much for me. i checked out. stopped writing or reading anything. started drinking and smoking the way i used to. i stopped taking care of myself.

i think that one of the things i’m most frightened of in my whole life is not learning from my experiences. so when i went back to my old patterns of drinking and smoking and hanging out just to be hanging out, i felt like a total failure and did anything just to not feel that way.

i don’t think i would have come out of that if not for the caring of a couple of good friends. natasha was in town and after making a really shitty bad dishonest choice that affected her, she confronted me and asked me if this is the kind of thing i do now, if living irresponsibly is my thing now. that stung. then last week lisa was talking to me and expressed concern about how i had been so happy and so motivated when i got back from my trip but that i was different now. i’m not sure of what her exact words were at the time but it was a wake up call that i’d lost my hope in life, and for what? for knowing that i have a lot of work to do but being too scared to face the possibility of failure again to even start? if i stay a failure why would anyone expect anything else from me?

so i’d been suffering some trip backlash.

i’ve talked to a lot of people about the trip. people are interested but there are very few people i know that can relate in any real way to the feelings i went through or the places i saw. it’s a little bit lonely. but that’s just my part of it. on the other hand i’ve been really touched by people’s caring and interest. i’ve even had a couple acquaintences approach me about reading my blogs and thank me for writing them. that’s more touching than anything i can think of, especially considering how self conscious i was when i was writing them.

i’ve talked to my dad several times. i just today received my nigerian passport (no more customs drama ever) and a little note from my dad. he said he’s been depressed since i left. i understand.

me and my mom are getting along much better. i just don’t take things so personally anymore and i more see her for who she is. the wonderful woman that raised me. shortly after i got home, my dad called to thank her, too. she didn’t know why.

i’ve seen little changes in myself that come out in my choices and expectations now. changes in my self esteem and what i will accept. changes in the honesty i show myself and the people i care about. i take slightly more risks. and i have more feelings now. the deadpan, hard shelled with a smile is breaking down. slowly. subtly.

i see my time in nigeria as a time when i was fully present, uncomfortable, scared to death, highly emotional, crying a lot, giving my dad a hug and a kiss on the lips and not believing it was happening. it was a time to go through the hard work of chipping away at the protective barriers between me and life that i set up as a little kid but that were stifling me as an adult. it was a time to have questions answered and to sit in the passenger seat and look at my dad in the driver’s seat… stuck in traffic… all day long… and not being agitated in the least. it was a time to forgive three very important people. it was a time to clean up the mess so i could get on with my life.

and now i’m home and i’m scared and i have hope. and when people ask me about my dad and nigeria, i don’t ever have to say “i don’t know” again.

April 2006, Mpls: Immediate Reflection

so i was sad to see that my journal ended abruptly after my breakdown about forgiving my mother, and myself for the way i reacted to her. there should have been descriptions of the village, the badagry, different relatives, my last minute breakdown at my dad, leaving. honestly now it’s been so long that the purpose has been lost – fresh insight on the experience. the next entry i found came a couple of days after i got home.

“so i’m home now and it’s good to be home and it’s good to talk to people about it. that makes me understand that the experience really has changed me…

“so yeah, there’s just so much that i want to take care of and so many layers to it. i need to meet with my adviser, fill out 2 fafsas and get everything financial figured out. i want coffee. my gas tank is empty and i need to fix that. there’s unpacking and laundry and the bank and figuring out what i owe and where i’m at. and for not spending any money there, i sure did lose it once i got here. i miss my dad. and i feel bad that i flipped out at the end and i still don’t know if we’re fine yet. and how much is that form to file and i really want that to be one of the first things i do as i’m home. i’ve just got to get everything all together. i was thinking i should make a list of things to do but i think i did make a list of things while i was there. yay!

“so my peeps. it just strikes me so much that people really did care so much and really were deeply interested in my feelings about the trip and my dad and everything. i think katie was crying a little bit with some of the things i told her. i have to drop off my film, too. i was talking to katie about drinking and feelings and the idea of ‘too much.’ and sometimes when i start talking and get into it, i wonder if people can still follow me. it’s just so much and it’s still new and i just started speaking out loud about it yesterday. imagine that – it was contained until i saw mom and auntie barb. it really is so amazing and i’m so happy to be sharing the experience with the people that i’m being honest with about it. i can’t wait until my pictures are done, it’s so exciting. gosh, my dad is just so cute. and people’s faces are so cute when i talk to them about it. just seeing people and knowing that they care about the experience that i had and it’s touching them, too. it’s wonderful. it’s wonderful to recognize love from people…

“it was very interesting last night being out drinking. the old thoughts still came in but i was able to catch them before i reacted in the same way. and oh boy, on that trip was i frightened about how these situations would be. and i got to face them all – out with a bunch of people, alone with katie, going outside to smoke, people lighting up after work, drinking after work while shots are being poured. just catching myself in that moment where my brain says, ‘drink faster… take a shot even though it’s inappropriate to ask for a shot… everyone else is drunk… catch up… uh oh, i’m having uncomfortable feelings and this is not the time to deal with them… better drink them away…’ that was a real light bulb moment, and that’s how katie and i got to talking about ‘too much’. i’ve been through ‘too much’ now and i know that ‘too much’ isn’t real. God never gives us more than we can handle and i’m ready to face things again – or rather, for the first time. i’m ready to be honest and to care and to take care of business and to have boundaries. when i realized i wasn’t even going into the imagination of smoking that’s when i realized i had set a boundary and i liked it. and i COULD do it.

“i just looked at my dad’s pictures that i’ve had on the wall forever. and i realized that i was saying to myself – seeing him not smiling just isn’t right. he’s better when he’s smiling. of course we are.”

April 2006, Nigeria: Reflection on Drinking and Self

i didn’t drink or smoke at all when i was in nigeria. i rarely saw anyone that smoked. but i was offered drinks and just said no. i wanted that time to be absolutely clear and i couldn’t be happier to have done that.

“i kind of like to not write things down for a while because i like the way they swirl around in my head. after i write it down, it’s different. i’m thinking a lot about drinking. it’s so enmeshed in work and relationships and social time and expectations (my own and my projected). in a way i just want to be flat out done because there is no more ‘will i or won’t i?’ element of choice is taken away and the new struggle is just upholding the choice not to drink. but what about ______? vacations, special occasions, just wanting a beer, hanging out with friends, going out dancing? so many situations to take a stand in. either way, things can’t continue as they have been. what about what i want for myself now, today? i want ambition, discipline, drive, self control, creativity, energy to act on that creativity, i want to not feel shitty in the morning. i want to feel like getting up and doing my pages and then going to the gym is not harder than getting up, turning on the tv, laying on the couch and calling it a day. i want to be open. i want to recreate/rediscover who i know i am. i want to come from a place of competence and capability. i want to feel my confident self when i’m with my mom. i cried on the way to the airport because nothing would ever be the same. and it isn’t. all of my agitation in life has no more basis. i’m not unwanted, i’m not unloved, i’m not rejected by both my parents, i’m not the center of the universe which isn’t getting it’s proper love/respect/acknowledgement. i don’t have to apologize for who i am. i am learning to accept being neither/both. i’m becoming comfortable and accepting of my calm, resting self. my dad is real and he makes it ok for me to be so many of the things i am. i’m attached to people and it’s ok. kinship and the unknown is ok. my fantasies are ok. my dreams are ok. i don’t need to be perpetually embarrassed. i’ve seen lagos, i know lagos. it’s in my heart and my memories. it’s ok that i’m watching out the window and blueprinting art pieces as i go. that’s still living it, experienceing it, memorizing it. it’s ok to be uncomfortable here and want to go home. it’s ok to be comfortable here and see places for rent and wonder what i could afford if i stayed here for a while. and it’s ok that the thought of that is scary and depressing and exciting all at once.”

August 2012: Reality

It’s an interesting time in my life, so many things are happening.  But in staying relevant to this blog, I have just graduated with a Masters in Counseling and did my thesis on Mixed Race Identity Development.  I’ve been thinking about Mixed-Race issues all my life, secretly, shamefully.  Only a few years ago did I realize anyone else was thinking about it, too.  Strictly from a school standpoint, coming across research was extremely unnerving and comforting to me.  Unnerving because I thought I was the only one who was thinking so hard about race and belonging and what it takes to fit in and what it means when you just don’t.

In working through my thesis and presenting it to my committee, I got wonderful feedback and my professors asked me if this was my life’s work.  It is.  The world of scholarly research on our experience is growing, and I hope to be somewhat a part of that.  But my focus is therapy, healing, telling the story.  So that’s why I’ve started this blog.  Hopefully it will be helpful to people.

I grew up without my father, and therefore my family of color.  As far as how I look, most people think I’m Black.  When I was younger I got the what are  you chorus a lot, but many people often say, I knew you were mixed with something…  So though my phenotype is not as ambiguous as other Mixed-Race people, my family, my speech, my socialization definitely raised questions.  I’ve started this blog with my trip to Nigeria in 2006 to meet my father.   I was almost 30 when I traveled across the world alone to find that part of my history.

As it happens, he is in the U.S. right now – for the first time in 37 years.  Transferring my writings to this blog gives me a chance to revisit that trip and see all that has changed.  It’s interesting to see how I idolized him then, and how a series of disappointments and my own personal growth have knocked him off that pedestal.  What I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is that if you grow up without one parent and their enculturation, meeting them doesn’t necessarily fix anything at your core.  It’s not a magical solution.  It certainly felt like a magical solution for a while, but life happens.  It took 6 more years and nothing to do with him to really start the healing on my racial identity and stop making excuses and issuing apologies for who I am.

So I will continue to share that trip here.  It was an important piece of my experience, a starting point.  But certainly not the end!