Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Boundaries

The Meeting with My Parents

Diane and Elouise standing by the Savannah River
20 Nov 1993, the day after meeting with my parents

On 19 November 1993 I met with my parents in Savannah, Georgia. A gift to myself on the eve of my 50th birthday.

It took 1 ½ years to prepare for the meeting. It wasn’t a declaration of war. It was an attempt to see whether my parents and I could begin talking about my childhood. Put another way, could I hold my own viewpoint without trying to change my parents’ viewpoints?

The biggest unknown was how my father would respond. His habit was to talk over and down at me.

Now I’m in Savannah. My father is sitting directly across the table from me, with my mother next to him. I’ve asked a pastor we all know to be present. He convenes the meeting and turns it over to me. David is on my left hand; my sister Diane is on my right—both instructed not to talk or try to argue on my behalf.

I read from a single-spaced, 1 ¼ page statement. Here’s the heart of what I said about the way my father punished me as a child and teenager.

The spankings were abusive. I was very small; you were very big. I had no power; you seemed to have all the power. The spankings happened regularly for most of my growing-up years. They were terrifyingly predictable. I dreaded nothing as much as I dreaded being spanked. Worst of all, the spankings were administered in a way that shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. . . .I have been lost for most of my adult years. Lost in a sea of shame, humiliation, and fear–fear of opening my mouth and saying directly to you what I need to say: I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, and silenced.

Though my parents were in this together, my mother wasn’t in the room when I was being punished. My question for her was simple: What was it like for you when I was being punished? Where were you? What was it like to hear us crying and pleading? She didn’t remember hearing anything.

From my father, I wanted one thing: an apology for the way he shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. I asked for an apology, which was immediately denied. Thankfully, getting an apology wasn’t my goal.

There was one unexpected disruption during the meeting. My father abruptly walked out of the meeting, left the building, and sat in his car. We could see him through the window. No one said anything. It was my meeting. I waited several minutes. Then I signaled to David to come with me for moral support. We stood on the sidewalk beside the car while I talked with him for a long time. Eventually he agreed to come back and finish the conversation. I was astonished and relieved.

After this meeting, D and I visited my parents (in Savannah) on several occasions. I always had a list of questions to ask. I learned a lot from these informal conversations, though my father was clearly set in his ways and unwilling to change. Still, these conversations were a gift I hadn’t anticipated. Not surprisingly, many of my father’s rough ways reflected my grandfather’s unpredictable, harsh beatings of my father. A sad legacy.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 November 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser on 20 November 1993; Diane (on the left) and I are at the Savannah River waterfront.

Without a script

Appalled
My eyes retrace the
Tortuous path from
There to here

No magic formula
No prewritten script
No sense of how this
Will play out

With every page
My eyes tear up
Full of anguish
And the pain of
Reality writ large

Planning notes plus
Letters of disbelief
And anger magnify
the stakes on all sides

Win-win is not guaranteed
In this upside-down world
In which eldest daughter
Persists to the bitter end
Not for money or a break-through
But for her own sanity
And adult identity

During the last several days I reviewed my 1993 planning file for a  once in a lifetime meeting with my parents. I chose the eve of my 50th birthday. At the time, I was a professor at the seminary, depressed, and unable to relate as an adult to my parents. My father was a pastor, my mother was a church musician, and we four daughters were the preachers’ kids. A high stakes family.

My depression had become unmanageable. I needed professional help. One of my pastors, a woman, recommended several psychotherapists. I was terrified when I made my first enquiry. In my family, we never sought out “worldly” help for anything that smelled like psychology. Church and the Bible were all we needed.

Still, I took deep breaths, made my first phone call, and began seeing a psychotherapist twice a week. At my intake interview I never mentioned my difficult relationship with my father. Nonetheless, the woman interviewing me suggested I consider a meeting with my father. I was horrified.

Working with my therapist, I began from scratch. Not immediately, but after my first few years of therapy. This would be my meeting, structured and led by me. It wasn’t about ensuring a successful end or pleasing my parents. I lived in Pennsylvania; my parents lived in Georgia. My job was to initiate, plan, and produce an agenda for a meeting in Georgia. No dress rehearsal or second chance.

But first I had to clarify my boundaries. This changed everything, even before I began working on a meeting in Georgia. More about boundaries in a later post.

Thanks for stopping by. Praying for clarity, wisdom and courage in these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2021
Photo found at unsplash.com

Haunted by unlived history, #3

Renich Reunion in Newton, Kansas. I’m in back, just left of center. My first cousins as of July 1958 (more on the way!)

I grew up thinking love would heal everything. I also grew up believing no man in his right mind would ever love me enough to marry me.

I wasn’t a flirt or a party girl. Though I didn’t feel ugly, I didn’t consider myself pretty. I was a quiet and diligent student, a budding musician, intelligent, pleasant, and deeply ashamed.

  • Ashamed of the way my father treated me
  • Ashamed that most people didn’t seem to want me as a close friend
  • Ashamed when teams were chosen and I wasn’t anyone’s first choice. I was better than the last choice, but not by much.

I was also ashamed of our family’s social status. Yes, my father was an ordained pastor. No, he wasn’t a regular, full-time pastor. No, he didn’t have a regular, full-time income.

I sometimes thought about becoming a single missionary like some of the women missionaries I knew. That way I wouldn’t have to bother about all that social stuff. Or men.

But then there were those few boys and men who seemed to like me. Sometimes whether I liked them or not. Maybe the love thing could work for me. Maybe I didn’t have to be single all my life. But aren’t there better choices out there?

This was the beginning of my up and down history of secretly falling in and out of love with men. In no way did I want to appear needy, or look like I was chasing after them.

In the early 1990s, as part of an assignment for survivors of sexual abuse, I made a list of 30 men and boys who made an impression on me from childhood.

Then I began studying the list, looking for patterns. Of the 30 men and boys,

  • 16 were romantically attractive to me
  • 15 were men or boys I wanted to impress in some way
  • 14 were artists, poets, musicians, and/or actors
  • 13 appreciated and loved to listen to my piano playing
  • 12 pursued me (I didn’t pursue them)
  • 12 affirmed me as an individual, not as an object of their self-interest
  • 10 were ordained ministers or leaders
  • 6 were employers/supervisors
  • 6 took advantage of me
  • 4 raised fear in me
  • 4 were pursued by me
  • 4 I disliked intensely
  • 4 were ‘soul mates’
  • 3 overtly punished or humiliated me

Thinking about my relationships with these men and boys helped me make large and small changes in my relationships with men. For example,

  • I changed some unwise habits in order to maintain healthy boundaries as a professional educator and a church member.
  • I learned to recognize and honor my intuition when things didn’t feel quite right.
  • I recognized that being an agreeable, good girl woman was getting me in trouble by feeding unhealthy patterns of overwork and exhaustion. Though I made progress on this one, it wasn’t resolved until I retired in 2011.

I’ve written earlier about not having dreams for myself. Big dreams. The kind that orient life in a clear, even exciting direction. Most of my life I’ve lived by lists. Checking off long to-do lists with no big dream at the end. Just more long lists.

I want something better for myself. Today I hear my history with men fairly screaming something I couldn’t hear back then.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2018
Photo taken in Newton, Kansas, July 1958 – Not yet all my first cousins on my father’s side.

Signs in the Heavens | Courtship and Engagement

FirstStarsFormation_398x314

Yesterday we had lunch with new-found friends who attended the Bible College at about the same time we did—in the 1960s. It’s always delicious to find BCers who ‘get it.’ Folks who understand the somewhat wacky, in-house culture of that institution in particular. Read the rest of this entry »

Is that You at the door? | Dear God

Dear God,
I ended my last letter with a question: “When I go to the door to open it to You (the stranger), how will I know it’s You?” I’ve been puzzling over my question all week. Read the rest of this entry »

My Mother, My Teacher | Part 2 of 2

I’ve never thought of Mother as my primary role model for relationships with men or with women.  Yet she was precisely that, in ways my father never was.

About gatekeepers and me
Gatekeepers:  The bosses. The men in charge.  In my lifetime they’ve all been men.

Their words and attitudes could make or break a woman’s reputation. Read the rest of this entry »

Working for the Lord

I gave this slightly tongue-in-cheek yet totally earnest devotional at a faculty meeting in April 2000. It’s about the way I want to work.  I wrote it because I was struggling with boundaries. Read the rest of this entry »

Birthing a Dream | Part 2 of 2

“No, I will not do that.”  Tough words, particularly when I’m not clear about what I will do.  Many times I’ve ended up making excuses or Read the rest of this entry »

Birthing a Dream | Part 1 of 2

God must be laughing right now.  Not at me, but with me.  It finally happened. Read the rest of this entry »

Safe, Not Sorry | Part 2 of 2

I’m feeling raw today.
Best to start with
A Reality Check Read the rest of this entry »

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