First let me acknowledge that I have no children, nor do I want children. Never have. So right about now you're asking yourself "why should I read what this guy has to say about parenting"? Because I'm the product of bad parenting. Really bad parenting. I am a warning sign to others. Heed my advise, else your children become me.
Allow me to backtrack just a bit and tell you I love my parents. I realize they were flawed human beings with issues and baggage all their own. They tried and did the best they could, but sometimes that just isn't enough. My mother was a stay at home alcoholic. Her drink of choice was vodka. A big 2 liter bottle stored just behind the coffee maker on the kitchen counter. My father was cold and distant. Always working.
I am the youngest of 4 and by the time I came around my parents were perpetually at war with one another. I can honestly say I can't remember any moment of affection between my parents. None. In fact the only time I saw them kiss was in a photo from their wedding day, which I saw after they both passed away.
My mother would insult my father's blue collar family and convinced us kids that making fun of these family members was high comedy and we should join in whenever possible. We were weapons of war without even knowing it.
My father believed child rearing was a woman's job. The problem with that was the only woman in the house was not up to the task. So, from a small age, I was taking care of myself. Making my own breakfast, having to climb up the kitchen cabinets to the get to the toaster. Making my own lunch for school, etc.
My siblings and I found solace in food. In particular chocolate. It was a substitute for the love and affection we were lacking. Cliché I know, but none the less true. In the summer our favorite treats were frozen fudge sickles. We were sitting around the kitchen enjoying our frozen treats and we wanted more. We begged and nagged and pleaded. Finally my mother relented by going to the freezer, getting the treats and then throwing them at our heads. Not tossing them playfully. Throwing them injuriously. Aiming for our heads and bodies. It was like chocolate shrapnel. Something we loved and took comfort in turned into something hurtful and ugly.
My father was the disciplinarian. We were expected to get good grades, do our chores and stay out of trouble. He had no issue with "knocking some sense into us" if we failed at these tasks. My eldest siblings go the brunt of that. Dad mellowed ever so slightly by the time I met with his belt. I still hear his words when I would bring home bad grades. You're stupid. Lazy. You'll be nothing but a garbage man. To my father being a garbage man was the lowest job on earth. I still struggle with my self worth to this day.
Sometimes it was as if my dad wanted little to do with me. He was a scout master for my older brother and coached/managed his pony league baseball team. He did come to one of my middle school track meets. Once. The meet was held at the high school, one block from the house.
Just a few years ago (after my mother had already passed away) my father told me that he didn't think I was actually his biological son. Could this explain his distance when I was a child? Could this explain his escalating war with my mother? I told him he was the only father I had ever known so he was my dad regardless.
I have a hundred such stories and I don't wish to belabor the point. I am not sharing this with you to garner sympathy. My life is my life and that is that. I share this with you as a cautionary tale. I was so thankful when at the age of 22 I found out I have a medical condition that makes me sterile. I took comfort in knowing I could never do to my unborn children what had been done to me.
Dr Gabor Mate believes, as described in In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, that early childhood development actually physically changes the brain itself. It alters neural pathways and synapses. It's these physical changes that affect behavior. So in my case my fear of intimacy and affection are literally hardwired into my brain because of how I was raised.
Let me state I am not a doctor, nor do I have any special training in psychology or psychiatry. That being said I will try and explain what I believed happened to my brain as a result of my upbringing.
As a child I may not have understood my dad's distance as his suspicion that I was not his son, but I felt something wasn't right. I couldn't understand the concept of alcoholism, but I knew my mother acted more cruel depending on how many times she reached behind that coffee maker.
So from my dad I learned men are distant and detached. The cliché "real men don't cry".
Mom taught me that affection and emotions came with strings. She loved us as long as we were weapons against my father. Countless times I heard. "I'm the one who took you to the doctor when you were sick. you owe me. Love me more."
When violence would erupt in my home I'd head for the bathroom and curl up in a little ball, suppressing my fear, anger, sadness. Desperately trying to flip that switch so I could be detached and therefore safe from the turmoil of my childhood. I finally learned how to do it with frightening accuracy. As I got older I realized this emotional disconnect allowed me to survive in childhood, which fortified those crossed wires.
Emotions so weakness. Affection is never given freely, it comes with strings, hidden costs. This is how my brain was wired. Feelings of love, affection of any kind, were dangerous and never what they seemed.
Bottom line: Love/Affection = Bad/Not to be trusted.
As a teen I had a favorite quote "Love is just a sociologically produced emotion for the sole purpose of procreation." Since I never intended to have children (another favorite quote: "my twisted gene pool ends with me"), love had no place in my life. I was wired differently. I was Spock from Star Trek and that was OK by me. At least this way I would not end up like my parents. Trapped in this never ending cycle of mortal combat and emotional battlefields.
Thankfully, Gabor also believes the brain can be "rewired" in adulthood. You can alter those neural pathways and change those synapses. This gives me hope.
In my late 20's I moved a 1000 miles away from my family. My last stop before heading out was to see my grandmother at the nursing home. I said goodbye, knowing I might not see her again. I cried like a baby walking out of that building. A shocking thing happened, or more accurately, didn't happen. The world didn't end. No one thought me less of a man. No one held that against me. Of course I was not self aware enough to realize this at the time. So once I regained my composure I just flipped the switch again.
Years later I would see that moment as a flashpoint. Slowly I started forming emotional attachments to people. Good friends. Pets. Some of those wires began to uncross, at least socially. I still have issues with romantic relationships. I still can't let anyone get "that" close. Those wires are still very much in tact.
My childhood made me the man I am today. I'm 47, single, gay and had one romantic relationship in my life. I've had countless sexual partners. I'm emotionally distant and uncomfortable with any displays of affection, but I'm working on that. I've spoken to my brother twice in 24 years. I moved a 1000 miles away from my sisters and see them once a year around Christmas. I didn't like to be touched unless it was sexual in nature, but I'm getting "better" about that. I still have issues with self confidence. I'm still working on uncrossing the rest of those wires. It may take a lifetime.
I'm gay and I'm sterile and I wouldn't have it any other way.