My Dad’s Brain

While I’m a writer and very right brain oriented, I also love science. Having facts can be so reassuring, can’t it?
My relationship with my father was strained from the time that I could recognize that he was emotionally handicapped, definitely by middle school, until I had my own child. I think my daughter has softened me in every way, physically and emotionally, but I also know that some research has helped me understand and sympathize with my father.

dad with mae

It’s amazing to see how these two can connect.

My father grew up with an alcoholic father. A father who abused him and his sister. As a boy, he would hide behind the couch when it came time for his father to return home and “wish that he might die” on the way home. Now this does not mean my father didn’t love my grandfather. Abuse and love can live in the same place. And he always felt guilty for these death wishes. Tension and stress were his main mental states for his childhood.

And when I learned what was happening to his brain as he crouched in fear behind his couch each night, I was finally able to forgive him. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken this knowledge, but that is what worked for me.

Cortisol. The long-term stress hormone would have carved a deep pathway through my father’s brain. Each time his pupils dilated and heart pounded, cortisol and adrenalin would twist through his brain down a familiar road, one that became easier and easier to take.

And if you are in a constant state of emergency, this means other parts of your brain can’t develop because your brain is preoccupied with survival. Specifically, your frontal lobe, which is where self-control can be found, doesn’t develop the same as in other children.

And so children who grow up in abusive households are twelve times more likely to attempt suicide and 32 times more likely to have behavior problems in school. And they develop a switch, a way to turn off emotions quickly.

And so as I began to learn about the brains of the abused, I was able to love my father again. I wish it had to do with a change in him, but it’s about an acceptance of him, and I was able to do that through hard numbers and data. Data that proved he wasn’t strange or alone, and neither was I. He was a product of abuse.

His mother actually drove up to his college when she heard he was going to see a therapist. She drove up and forbid it. This is the moment when maybe he wouldn’t have had to be defined by the abuse, although his brain was already developed. But maybe something could have shifted emotionally, but his mother stopped it.

I’ve accepted being the adult in our relationship because of this information I’ve found about the brain. My brain is that of a 33 year old, and my dad’s got stuck somewhere. Now he is a genius when it comes to chemistry, but he is five or six when it comes to emotions and stress, and I’ve accepted that. I’ll be the parent. He’s done his best by me, and I’ll try to do the same.


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