The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 24-year-old woman who is a middle child. She talks about seeking attention growing up, and her strained relationship with her father.
What’s your earliest memory of your childhood?
I crashed my older sister’s birthday. I was in Primary One, and it was December. I told my parents that I wanted to celebrate my birthday the same day my sister was celebrating hers. I threw a tantrum until they got me my own cake and gifts on that day.
In January, which is my birth month, I wanted them to celebrate my birthday again. They ignored me.
Why did you do that, and wasn’t your sister angry?
I was being dramatic for attention. I thought my sisters were more awesome than I was. I love them and they’re my best friends in the world, but I felt I needed to stand out in some way.
My big sister was trying to be good, so she just accommodated me.
Does this mean you were constantly getting your way as a child?
I won’t say I was getting my way all the time. My parents realised that if I wanted something, I would throw a tantrum, so my mum started ignoring me. It was harder for my dad to do so because, unfortunately, I am his favourite.
Why is it unfortunate?
My dad and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things like feminism, charity work, mental health issues. All of those things are a big part of who I am and who I am becoming. Being his favourite child is like mixing two separate things together.
He’s on the African dad side of things. Like on mental health, he believes that if there is nothing physically wrong with you, then you are absolutely fine. There was a time he took me out on a drive. I don’t know how to drive, and when you put me behind the wheel, I get panic attacks. I kept trying to communicate with him that I couldn’t do it because of my anxiety, but he told me to stop speaking “big big English”. When my breathing became laboured, he said to “stop that nonsense” and just drive.
The moment he said that, I couldn’t breathe anymore. That was how I was till I got home.
Doesn’t this affect your relationship?
It does. I don’t feel like I can come to him when I am not mentally sound. I have had a lot of panic attacks recently, and I wanted to ask him to please pay for therapy for me, but he wouldn’t do that.
I think he notices the strain in our relationship, but he doesn’t know how to address it. Instead, he goes out and buys me my favourite snacks. It has been like that since I was a child. When I was sad, he would buy me food I liked. It was also his olive branch.
However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that things are different. Our relationship is getting to a point where it wouldn’t survive if I become financially independent. I don’t want it to be that way because since we lost our mum, he’s the only one my sisters and I have.
I am so sorry. Do you want to talk about that?
I understand. How did that affect your relationship with your dad?
While my mum was alive, she used to be the buffer between my dad and my sisters. She never allowed us to feel the full range of the emotions he carried and his behaviour.
When she died, we were exposed to all of those feelings, and it was hard. It still is.
Do you ever think your sisters were jealous of your relationship with your dad?
I won’t say they were jealous. They were just aware of the situation. I mean, I get away with a whole lot more than my older sister. Also, they were the ones that pointed out I was dad’s favourite before I even realised and accepted it.
My sisters and I are very close. They know everything about me, and I know everything about them. We back each other up. If I didn’t have other friends in the world, and it was just my sisters and I, I would be fine.
What do you think will make your relationship with your dad better?
I think moving away. If I move away and start to make a living, I can insulate myself enough to accept him the way he is without it affecting my life and well being. Therapy might also help as well.
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