I started playing pee-wee football when I was 7 years old. After a few weeks of practice we had our first scrimmage game. The coach put me on Defense and told me what area to cover. Playing in an organized game was much different than playing in the vacant lot of our neighborhood. To say I felt confused and unsure of myself would be an understatement.
After each play I would glance over at the sidelines and noticed my Dad had a very disappointed look. “He must be upset because I didn’t make the tackle” I thought one time. “I am not moving fast enough” etc.
I continued to struggle with each play feeling like I wasn’t doing something right. None of this came from the coach, all of it was based on seeing the look of disappointment on my Dads face. Seeing his disappointment crushed my spirit and filled me with shame. No matter how hard I tried, it would not be good enough for him. Nothing ever was.
At half time the coach gave us feedback and instructions for improving in the next half. I went back on the field with a renewed vigor that I would do better only to ultimately realize my Dad had left.
I was overcome with the feeling of not being good enough. A feeling that would dominate my life and cause many difficulties for me throughout my remaining childhood and teen years.
When my Mom and I arrived home my Dad commanded me to go into my room then he came in and gave me ten belt licks while yelling at me about his perception that I was not trying hard enough.
I sat in the room for about 30 minutes, crushed and depressed, when he walked by and decided to give me five more belt licks for moping.
I was terrified and felt like a total failure. I had tried my very best and that was obviously not good enough. Over the next few years there were other instances where Tillman Riewe unleashed his wrath when I failed to meet his expectations.
When I was 11 my Dad takes me to my 1st BMX race in Ft Worth. I went through 3 qualifiers, qualified for the semis then finished qualified for the main event. In the main I was in 3rd place when my pant leg became caught in the chain. I could no longer pedal and got passed by the other riders. My dad asked why I stopped pedaling and I told him what happened. Boy was he pissed, but he waited till we were in the car on the way home to start yelling at me. Yelling at me because my pant leg got caught, saying it was because I didn’t have a chain guard. That is ludicrous because you are not allowed to have chain guards on BMX bikes do to safety. The fact was, I didn’t have any tape to tape up the cuffs of my pants or good bmx pants like the other kids.
Despite the facts, he continued to yell the same idiotic stuff over and over again all the way home. I still cannot understand how he could have been so irrational and how anyone could justify his behavior and blame his actions on me.
I became increasingly rebellious and around the age of 15 my parents started sending me to a counselor.
Note: This counselor was well known by the Family and had provided counseling to my Mother when I was under 4 and also to my Father when he started experiencing difficulties dealing with others in his career, about the time I was 19.
During the course of counseling the counselor started inquiring about my interests. I knew he was looking for something that my dad and I could do together, something I wanted to avoid. I finally admitted my desire to race BMX but didn’t want to do that with my Dad. When he asked why I told him about what happened when I was 11 and he just went “Ahh…” and changed the subject.
A week later my dad comes home with a poster about a big race coming to town and is asking if I wanted to go. I showed no interest but inside was fantasizing about going and winning (without my Dad being there). I figured the councilor had something to do with this and asked him at my next appointment. He admitted he did, and told me to give him a chance.
Well we started going to races and my Dad behaved. I started dropping the chip from my shoulder and he learned to give advice on what he was seeing watching what my competitors were doing. We went racing weekly for about a year. Then one day he told me he wasn’t going to take me racing anymore because my older brother and sister said it was not fair. The reasoning my siblings gave was that He was now a grand father and should be spending time with their grandkids (none of which remember him).
Upon hearing this I felt so rejected. It felt like a part of me was dying as I listened to him throw me under the bus and confirm for me in words and actions that he didn’t care. I was a few months past my 16th birthday, Fall of my Junior year in high school. I spiraled into darkness and by the time I was 18 was wanting to disappear, go mobile, never see anyone in my family again.
My Dad died on July 4th, 1984 when I was 20. A couple weeks before he died, he called me into his room and shared a story relating to how patient his father was with him. Then he said, “I wish I had been more like my father with you”. I suppose that was an apology, however, it doesn’t carry much influence when your entire family wants to paint the narrative that this emotionally unbalanced and violent individual as a saint that did no wrong while being critical of the child for exhibiting bad behavior as a result of the abuse.
Moving forward life was a struggle of proving myself “good enough” for a Father who was no longer around. I started going back to the councilor a few months after my Dads death. I mentioned earlier this was the same Councilor that had counselled me as a teen, my Mom and also my Father. The Councilor told me he was going break client privilege with my deceased father by telling me some information that, had my Father lived and continued his counseling, would have shared with me on his own.
Why My Dad Had Counselling and His Insight
The councilor explained that my Dad started coming to counseling after he started a new position with Rone Engineering. In his new position he couldn’t push things through like he did in his former company and this created a lot of problems for him which led to him seeking the assistance of a councilor. The insight the counselor wanted to share with me was when my Dad said “I have always expected too much of myself and my Family”.
Why Bring This Up Now
I spent a lot of time trying to prove my worth. I had been taught that it was me who failed my father and owed him something. This false narrative is actually easier to digest than remembering and feeling all the pain and anger associated with those events. Then when I would find the courage to bring them up I would get responses from my family like “Others have been through worse and turned out fine” or “You shouldn’t talk about that, your Father is not here to defend himself”……
Not here to defend himself? Do you really think he would deny what actually happened? Would he also recant on his deathbed apology to me? Apparently some members of my Family have their value attached to maintaining a false image of My Dad.
I have a daily practice of remembering those I’ve known who are no longer living and blessing their memory. My dad is at the top of the list with my Grandfather and Elder (my Dads older brother). In 2008, while driving back from New Mexico, it hit me how much my Dad really loved me. In my head I knew that if my life was threatened he would defend me, putting himself at risk, but I never really knew that in my heart. During those moments of realization I heard him say he would take my suffering three-fold if it could remove mine.
… More to come