I have three fathers.
t h e b r e a k i n g
One father of my youth was on a mission to avoid the depths of parenting: he would lash out in his defense and left me—again and again he left me—with craters in my heart that were bruised at the edges—dare anyone attempt to fill them. His loving words dissonant in his deeds of harsh hands and standing just out of my reach while very much at the center of my mother’s world.
Or almost anyway.
The center of her world, her true north, who she placed directly at the center of my world, was the second one, the “True Father.” A cult leader with larger than life smiles and strong words on behavior that wound around my heart like Chinese foot binding, permanently misshaping it. Teachings wove around my eyes, my hips, my cloven sex, allowing one man—of his choice—to enter me when I was of age and to stay there. “Pure love” they called that. In a culture where women are assumed to be bad, I pushed so hard to prove them wrong through my “goodness.”
I will never know the woman I might have been. Then again, I would not have existed had my biological parents not fallen completely for this “True Father.”
True Father. True Love. Phrases that have me looking for a font with sandbags on the letters to demonstrate their weight. Where the word “true” has me tensing on autopilot, “truth” has me starving in this mind that can’t tell which way is up.
Then there is my third father. Physically, he is the same person as the first one, my “real dad,” my biological father. He changed is name, he left his faith, and his resonance changed. I do not recognize him as the man of my childhood. I do not understand this, nor do I trust it.
And so it was when my arranged marriage fell apart, I claimed that human to stand in the role of my father, and I wiped his slate clean. My silent warnings of “if you ever…” stand guarded and ready but are proving to be unnecessary as the second decade passes. He remains encouraging, present, and loving. I do not recognize him, which I say again because the pain of unrecognition leaves my mind screaming where were you?! Where was this version of you when I was small?!
I do not say these things out loud.
There is so much mess that is permanently part of me, and as much as I want these answers, I am also deeply afraid that this is all a mirage, and he will move his presence just out of my grasp again. So, I stay silent and continue to monitor behavior over words.
My second father, that “True Father,” is dead in the ground. With my mother’s passing, his voice and ongoing indoctrination in my life is all but silenced. My quest for “goodness” has with one habit at a time—one thought at a time—become a quest for wholeness. I will build this mind again—from scratch if I have to—building this heart over again completely unbound.
With blinders off my eyes, there’s this brightness that I have to adjust to. This becomes bearable when I recognize this same sensitivity in others and we share our journey, even for a little while. I hang on to words from Oprah, Brené, Liz, Glennon, and Cheryl, strengthened by every story I let in and hear.
Most carefully listening to my own tiny voice growing slowly out of my own ashes.
Limi Marie Bauer has an MSc from the University of Oxford, teaches English as a Foreign Language, and has a research focus on reducing anxiety in the classroom. She is a Mogul Influencer and her writing has otherwise been published in small publications. She lives in Austria with her three children, her husband, and their angel in disguise, Catness.