Rejecting My Role Model

I became the best of my father, but I had to separate to protect myself.

by Anonymous


I was a daddy’s girl. In elementary school, whenever someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “I want to be like my dad.” He worked hard, and he was my role model. 

He didn’t tell me or my siblings about his childhood. Growing up, my aunt, my dad’s younger sister, told us the following stories. 

His mother abandoned him and his little sister when he was 13. His dad remarried, and his stepmother couldn’t tolerate my dad or my aunt. It was as if the whole world turned its back on the two of them. 

At age 13, he began working instead of enjoying childhood. When he got into his 20s, he started a business in the spice industry. It took off, and he earned enough money to provide for his sister, who later got married and had a family of her own. My dad still provides for their whole family. When he was 22, he married my mother and they had four kids. (I’m number three.) 

I think my dad saw himself in me. I look like him, and I adored him. I waited for him to come home, sometimes past midnight, to eat dinner with him. I would bring him water to his office and play with my toys there. 

I was like him, too. Even as a little kid, I cared about money and the cost of things. One day when I was 8, my dad took my younger brother and me out to buy desks for our rooms. My brother picked his favorite, while I looked for the cheapest one. 

But then I saw a desk that I really liked. My dad asked how much it was, and the worker told us a high price. I knew it was too much and immediately acted as if I did not like this desk. We only bought the desk for my brother, and I thought I had convinced my dad I didn’t need one. 

The next day, when I came home from school, the desk I loved was in my room, my dad standing next to it, smiling. He said, “Whatever my daughter likes, she gets.” I remember telling my dad to return the desk because I did not like it. 

He said, “You are the child here; do not worry about money. Let me be your dad and worry about money. I am a useless man if I cannot get my daughter anything she likes.” 

In this core memory, I had the best dad alive, who cared and loved me more than anything in the world.

This is one of my favorite memories of my dad, and it must be one of his favorites because he would tell this story whenever my name was mentioned. He’d end the story with, “And that’s when I knew she was just like me.” He would boast, “My daughter knows the value of money and knows how to work hard for everything. She works hard in school and doesn’t ask for anything.”

I thought of him as frugal because he knew what it was like to not have money and to starve. But my mother didn’t see him so generously; she called him “stingy” and said he gave our money to his sister’s family. In fact, it was their relationship that first forced me to see my father’s flaws. 

Not So Perfect

The truth was my perfect dad cheated on my mom and took his anger out on her body. Growing up, I felt scared of my dad when he hit my mom, but I didn’t know that was “abuse.” I thought it was normal for a dad to hit the mom when they fought. What usually set him off was my mom telling him he was a horrible husband and person. I loved him so much that I too was angry at her for criticizing him.

One day when I was in 5th grade, my parents were yelling at each other so loudly that I hid in the bathroom, terrified that my dad would kill my mother. I ran barefoot one floor down in our apartment building to get help from my mom’s sister. What happened next is a blur, but the next day my mom was going to jail to bail out my dad.

They stayed together, and he was still the person I wanted to be when I grew up. I admired that he gave up the comfortable life he had created in Bangladesh to move to America so his kids could have a better life. He left a career running his own business for a job working 80 hours a week for less than minimum wage, in a country where people viewed him as stupid for not knowing English. He gave up the comfort of his language, and he gave up his pride. 

When I was 7, a family member began sexually abusing me, and my parents found out four years later, when I was 11. My mom blamed me, but I hadn’t expected her to understand or sympathize with me. She’d been cold and critical of me my whole life. I did, however, expect my dad to protect me and tell me it was not my fault. Instead, he looked at me with disgust, as if I had asked for this to happen to me. That hurt more than my mother’s blame. 

I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without feeling his disgust toward me. I loved and identified with him so much that his contempt made me hate myself.

Like Nothing Had Happened

For three months, he didn’t talk to me or even look at me. Then he went to Bangladesh for five months. After he came back, he went back to talking to me like nothing had happened. Like he didn’t just stop being my father for eight months when I really needed him. Worst of all, my parents did not stop the abuse; it continued in various ways for five more years. 

My father acted like he forgot that he froze me out, but I cannot forget. Our relationship forever changed after this, and even now, at age 20, I can’t look at him, or us, like I did before I was 11. Before that, as long as I thought my dad didn’t know what was happening, I could still love him. 

I became distant and withdrawn. Being around my family hurt in ways I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t understand how my own father could hurt me so much. I became rude and challenged them; the sweet, quiet daughter was not there anymore. I locked myself in my room and took sleeping pills I stole from my mother. When I was sleeping, they couldn’t bother me and I didn’t have to feel my pain.

My dad was the first man in my life to break my heart and my trust, by making me feel like it was my fault that I was being sexually abused. Even my rapist did not hurt me as much as my dad did. He made me feel worthless by ignoring me for months after this horrible thing I experienced and not even stopping it. 

As long as I thought my dad didn’t know what was happening, I could still love him.

In retrospect, I guess it did make sense because he did not respect women. He was a wife beater. He blamed his own daughter rather than his daughter’s rapist.

But confusingly, he was also still the hero I had looked up to and wanted to be. I wanted to be hard-working like him. And I was angry at my mother for destroying any good memory I had of him. I was angry at her for being beaten by him and I was angry at her for telling him I was being sexually abused because if she hadn’t told him, our relationship would probably have been a lot better. I would only hate him for hitting her. But now I can’t forgive him for abandoning me when I needed him most. 

I wish I could say that something else happened that gave me my dad back, but it didn’t. My parents lost custody of me when I was 16. Children’s Protective Services (CPS) found out that I was sexually abused under the care of my parents, and that they did not stop this person from sexually, physically, emotionally, and verbally abusing me for years.  

Separating to Survive

I am 20 now, and for the last four years in foster care I have been avoiding my parents. Being around my parents made me feel like someone was stabbing my heart over and over again. 

I have blocked their number, and even though they have tried to reestablish a relationship with me, I want nothing to do with them. I do not want to know anything about them, and I do not want them to know anything about me. To me, both my parents are dead, and I am an orphan. (I have an OK but distant relationship with my siblings.) People in my life know that something bad happened in my family, and foster care workers know the details. I prefer not to talk about it in general. I have done therapy for two years and I have learned enough skills there to navigate my emotions, for now.

A complete separation from my parents helps me move forward from the pain of their betrayal.  As does keeping myself very busy. I did become my role model in the end. I finished my BA in two years with a 3.9 GPA and will start graduate school in February. People around me always say I am hardworking and have created a successful life on my own. Just like my dad had when he was my age in Bangladesh, except they do not know my dad or his story. I do not have a family, just like he did not at my age. I am alone, like he was. I too have achieved without having any family to celebrate the achievement. 

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