Amongst the curated Instagram stories and posts dedicated to fathers not to long ago, it’s easy to think that Father’s Day has become yet another competition for likes and social media validation, without actual gratitude.
But for some, Father’s Day still holds special meaning because of the deep-seated appreciation they have for their dads, arising from unusual circumstances. Rachel* is one such individual.
She comes from a family where depression runs in the genes, and outbursts from her mother aren’t uncommon. This doesn’t just mean suicide attempts, but also an entire barrage of physical abuse that her mother unleashes upon members of the household.
Rachel has become her mother’s go-to punching bag, taking on bouts of her rage since the age of seven.
After the outbursts, her mother would excuse her behaviour by guilt-tripping Rachel. These excuses were often emotionally manipulative, and her mother would say things like “go kill yourself, you are the cause of my depression“, and “Mummy is sad every day because of you. If you weren’t such a f*cked up kid, I wouldn’t have beaten you up.”
For most of us, it already isn’t a great feeling when our parents reprimand us, so imagine if it was to such a harsh (and uncalled-for) extent.
If your parents have ever fought in front of you, you may remember yourself crying or getting upset when their arguments escalated. A tiny part of you might even have thought that it was your fault. Most impressionable adolescents would take such cutting words and unconsciously internalise that self-deprecation.
At such a young age, I don’t doubt that most of us wouldn’t have been able to handle the kind of stress and blame that Rachel was exposed to. For Rachel, the outlet for her frustrations and trauma was, unfortunately, her younger brother.
As her mother’s depression led her to rain abuse on the rest of the household, Rachel’s way to cope with it was to inflict her own trauma on her younger brother through physical abuse.
“It made me feel terrible that I exposed my brother to physical abuse too. I tried so hard to protect him from it and yet I’ve become the culprit.”
Of course, all that guilt and trauma eventually piled up. Rachel, now 23, explained how her own depression developed from the abuse she had received. “When I started blaming myself and things got so tough at home, it just makes not waking up anymore feel like a great sense of relief.”
Out of the countless outbursts that her mother had gone through, there were two occasions which stood out the most, changing the way she saw her mother.
These were attempts to end Rachel’s life.
“She almost slashed me with a knife once, while I ran circles around the dining table. Although this might have sounded like just a threat, the intention of killing was real. Because just a week afterwards, she used a pillow to suffocate me while I was sleeping,” Rachel recollected.
Why her gratitude towards her father, then? To her, he’s her saving grace. Rachel’s father slogs away with an 80-hour work week, in order to make life just a little more comfortable for his children.
And during his downtime, he tries to lessen the impact that Rachel’s mother has on her children; from mitigating the abuse of her children, to being at the receiving end of a thrown chair.
You might think that someone in the same circumstances would have every reason for resentment and anger. But he stays on to handle his wife and her outbursts.
Her father’s resilience in handling every situation at home with grace and patience gave Rachel an insight of what love really is, which is to wholeheartedly take the marriage vow of “in sickness and in health” with sincerity.
“I really respect my dad. If I was in his position, I would have left my mum,” she confessed. Although like most Asian parents, he may not seem like an overtly loving figure, his affection still shines through in his thoughtful actions towards his loved ones.
Amidst the violence present in Rachel’s childhood, she remembers moments when her father would introduce songs from The Beatles and The Bee Gees to her, and read her stories too. Each precious moment felt like she was transported into an alternate and kinder reality.
“Although he never says anything affectionate, introducing me to I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles was enough for me. I guess that’s his way of showing his love for us.”
Despite the fleeting 10 to 15-minute sessions he spends at home, these moments are the ones that keep Rachel and her siblings sane. These moments of solace from the turmoil under their roof became an escape from reality.
To Rachel, believing in her father is like clinging on to a gossamer’s thread of hope. His presence is the speck of light that seeps into a jail cell.
This interview helped me to realise that every family is built differently, and it’s not fair to expect the same out of yours.
With ubiquitous social media posts dedicated to showcasing how much people are willing to spend to show their appreciation, we may lose track of what it means to truly show gratitude. We tend to compare the messier parts of our family life to carefully curated feeds of others, which no doubt show the picture-perfect side of things.
Such comparisons can’t help but push us to think of our less-than-perfect families as “dysfunctional”, and yearn for an unrealistic ideal family. At times like these, it’d help to realise that no family is perfect, and we’re all doing the best we can.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if your Father’s Day was a little too sombre, or just another day for your family. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t a day of the Instagram-perfect celebration. We should all keep this in mind: it’s really okay to not be okay all the time.
If you know anyone who’s struggling with depression or is facing any form of abuse, please let them know that help is available.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals