"Wipe that look off your face!"
Every time Dad said this to my child self, it struck my heart with fear, because I really and truly had no idea what he was talking about. I was scared shtless at those times. Today, I know he didn't like me looking at him like he was some kind of monster; he didn't like the fear in my eyes. Back then, though, I was completely bewildered.
And, of course, he blamed me for looking at him that way, when he could have easily put an end to it by ending his tirade, taking me in his arms, and apologizing. I loved him and would have forgiven him. Instead, I was left to search my mind for other faces to wear, finding none that fit. It was like running for cover in a hailstorm but finding none.
Other times that Dad was angry, I remember the look on his face; like he was incredibly frustrated with how inadequate I was. His scowl matched his words, "What the hell's the matter with you?!" Sometimes, I understood his complaint; what was wrong with me?
As I grew older, I carried these experiences in a heavy "suitcase" that I took everywhere with me. It was heavy, wheels were broken, and whenever I opened it, items spilled out. And what I learned about that was that although the suitcase was invisible to me, many other people could see it. (Thankfully, one of those people was a good therapist, who taught me how to unpack and decide which items fit me best and which could be discarded.)
While I have these memories and they are a part of who I am, I have never let them weigh me down. Instead, I've used them as something that lifted me up. I'm not sure when I knew it for sure, but I knew that it was not about me; it was his own personal demons that caused Dad to lash out so. Eventually, I stopped valuing Dad's opinion of me and instead adopted that of the many other people in my life who loved me. (Of course, I didn't learn this without some therapy and hard work years ago, and that therapy only came after lots of poor choices on my part, as well as some painful relationships.)
Today, the baggage I carry fits in one of those lightweight, drawstring bags and is barely noticeable to me or anyone else (I hope.) And I've even become a travel agent of sorts, helping others plan their own journeys.
Who knew that Dad was a career builder?! :)
These experiences are part of my foundation, and I really believe that without them, I would not be the parent I am today. I know the precious gifts that my children are and feel nothing but empathy for my dad.
He was a man with baggage of his own.