I never like what I see when I look in the mirror. But, rather weirdly, I find any excuse to look at my reflection. Mostly it’s to check I don’t have something strange going on with my hair, I’m paranoid I have something in my teeth or nose etc. I think it’s because I don’t like what I see physically that I constantly check to see that I am, at the very least, as put together as my looks will allow.
I have a problem with everything. My hair never sits the way I want it to. My eyes are ok but I wear lashings of mascara to make them stand out behind my glasses and really I wish they were more like my sister’s who got more of the Warrior’s Chinese genes. I wear glasses to hide the fact I have chubby cheeks. I wear bronzer to highlight the cheekbones I used to be able to see beneath said cheeks. Make up covers the blemishes. I don’t like how thin my eyebrows are. I feel silly when I wear earrings. My teeth are straight but I don’t like the little gaps only I can see. I don’t like my nose, which seems to be highlighted so much by my glasses. I don’t like my lips, which are two-toned and don’t really hold many lipstick colours well.
And don’t even get me started on the rest of my body.
My point is, that even though I have all of these issues, I very rarely think that I am a horrible person – that I have done something/said something unkind to someone. I don’t feel like I have mistreated anyone. I think there is a difference between being outspoken – telling it how it is – and being mean and hurtful.
I can’t say the same thing about my stepfather, whose behaviour over the past 11 years has deteriorated. You know that saying – “don’t judge a person by how they treat you, but by how they treat the waiter/waitress”? There is nothing that describes him better. Because there have been more instances of his total misbehaviour and rudeness whilst we have been out than not. It got to the point where, after a couple of years of doing this – of sitting awkwardly and in total embarrassment, I would become withdrawn and anxious immediately after we stepped out of the house. It caused some tension between the Warrior and I. What was wrong with me? Why did I always withdraw from everyone the minute we stepped out of the house?
You know that one guy you sometimes encounter who is totally rude and obnoxious to the waiting staff at a restaurant? Imagine having that person at your table. Every single time you go out to eat. He is insecure. That much is clear. But so am I. So are a lot of people but they don’t make themselves feel better by making others feel stupid. That’s what he does. And so of course I withdrew from the group whenever we ventured out. Who the hell wants to be associated with a person like that? Not me.
I didn’t realise it at the time but his last chance came earlier this year, when, after months of avoiding going out anywhere with him, we all sucked it up and agreed to go for dinner with him. It was 18 minutes from the minute we left our home to when he stormed off in anger and left us outside the restaurant. 18 minutes. I timed it.
And it was at this point that I gave up and realised there really are no redeeming qualities to this man. He is a bully. He is both overly-sensitive and insensitive and everything is always, always about him. One time he even folded his iPhone in half in front of a waiter whilst out for dinner with the Warrior. It was the last time she went anywhere with him on her own. She wasn’t allowed to be upset about this.
As a daughter, it breaks my heart to watch the Warrior tense up the second she hears his keys in the door. Her entire mood totally changes. She is mischievous and funny and chatty when he is not home. But when he is, you can see a dramatic change in her demeanour. Suddenly she is quiet and her headaches, her migraines, her aches and pains start to overwhelm her. I can’t help but feel that her resentment, all the things she is not allowed to say to him, because he either refuses to listen or mocks her, are manifesting themselves in her physical pain. She has been through enough in her life without this arsehole making her life just one big miserable excuse for an existence. She has been through too much for him to be adding to it with his pathetic, childish behaviour.
She is a kind soul. She isn’t without fault in the deterioration of this relationship but she can at least see her part in it. She is able to self-reflect. He cannot. Everything is her fault. I wish I could do something. I wish I could say something to him. But we all know, especially the Warrior, that if I do it will be bad. It will be mean. It will be cruel. And that is something she doesn’t want me to carry on my shoulders. Some days I don’t even care. I just want him gone. And if I have to be the one to be cruel about it then so be it.
I have never had a father. And the man many assumed, even me for a time, that could fill this fatherly role in my life has failed so spectacularly I can’t even tell you. It is hard to live with someone like this. Hard to walk around on eggshells for fear that he will throw a tantrum, start throwing things and breaking things because of something one of us has said that he didn’t like. It’s hard having to sit back and listen to him goad the Warrior into an argument or mock her or tell her that everything about her is wrong. It is hard to hear him blame her for everything and use this as a reason to not get help. It is so hard.
He contributes a measly sum of money – less than what the Warrior pays in rent a month. She pays all of the bills. All of them. Every last one. And yet, he never has any money. I didn’t work 7 months after leaving a terrible job last summer. It shamed me that it took me so long to find a job. I had saved up some money so that I wasn’t relying on the Warrior too much to support me. I took care of meals, groceries and ran the household myself. I enjoyed it. But I also knew that there was a big financial burden on her and to ease that I would skim significant amounts of money off the cost of running the house. It was hard on my bank account but I said nothing about the real cost of things and just sucked it up and paid what I thought was fair. I didn’t want the Warrior to shoulder everything on her own. I was fortunate that I got my job when I did. Because by the time my first wage came into my account I was almost completely out of money.
It never once occurred to my stepfather that the Warrior could have done with more financial help since I wasn’t working. Not once. He lived merrily without a care in the world. Because as long as there is food on the table, the wifi works and he can use the gas and electricity to frankly obscene levels, what does he care?
He has always been the one to pay for a takeaway on a Friday night. The Friday before I was to receive my first pay from my new job, he asked if we would be ordering food. I said yes. He asked if I could pay for it and if he could give me the money back in cash. I asked him for his debit card instead. He threw a tantrum and, in a voice so condescending I literally had to dig my nails into my palms to avoid unleashing my signature rage, he told me that the whole reason he asked about cash was because he wanted to stay away from his bank account. Then he took his debit card back from me and went upstairs and I heard him throw something.
The Warrior called and asked what we would be doing for dinner. I explained what had happened and she paused, said she would be home soon and that she would pay for Friday night dinner from now on and not to worry. We knew what his problem was. His mother was visiting in a couple of weeks and he was low, if not completely, out of cash in his account. It never occurred to him that I would have had the same problem. I didn’t even have enough money to pay for a takeaway. It never occurred to him to think of anyone but himself. I felt so embarrassed. I felt so ashamed because I could have avoided this entire thing if I had just had the money to pay for it. Of course, I should mention that in those 7 months I had been paying for the Friday night food and he would consistently forget to pay me back. At what point he had gone so long not paying me back that he owed me over £180.
This incident occurred in April. It’s now June. Every Friday he asks if we are ordering. And whether we do or not, I always tell him no. Either I pay, Li pays or the Warrior pays. And he still carries on, totally oblivious.
I didn’t wish him Happy Father’s Day yesterday. Why should I? He is unkind to the Warrior. He is selfish. And he is, at the end of the day, a total disappointment on every level – as a partner, as a father to his 5 children, as a grandfather to his 2 grandchildren (become one at 40), as a stepfather and as a man.
So, for all of my physical, emotional and mental faults, at the very least I know that I can look at myself in the mirror and not be disappointed by the person underneath. And that is more than I can say for him. He is the person who has disappointed and hurt my family so profoundly I can sometimes not see anything beyond the pain he continues to cause us.
I hope for all of our sakes that it ends soon.