A testimony on psycho-social aspects of my father’s choices, my struggle and my emancipation
30 April 2022
When my father (T.S.) died from a sudden and quick illness in 2021, I was initially shocked, like everyone. It was so soon, just 1 month after the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, aged 73. At the cremation I spoke in general words, and I just did what was expected of me, as a daughter. I said kind things, without mentioning that I always had a complicated relation with my father. I did not say a word about how much he had hurt me.
Yet soon after that, while reflecting on my father’s role in my life, I faced myself in the mirror and I had to admit to myself that my father was not a kind person to me. This was not because of anything I had done, but it was rooted in his resentment over the divorce between him and my mother. For very long, I had thought he just did not like me for particular reasons, such as my lifestyle or choices in life. But when he passed away, and his last will document was pulled out, everything became clearer.
Seeing the last will of my father brought back a lot of memories. It also made me realize my own mistake of giving my father the benefit of the doubt on so many painful occasions, simply because I had forgotten who he really was. Seeing his last will dating from 1992, brought back a lot of memories.
Rejected, confused and institutionalized
My father already excluded me from his inheritance when I was age 14, when he was remarrying. I have always lived with my mother, but visited my father every other weekend. I remember how I disagreed with my father about his last will. I gave many arguments why he as a father has a responsibility towards his children, but he stated he was free to start a new life. This rejection made me feel very lonely and weird, with a low self-esteem.
Combined with other issues in my life, it contributed to a depression and eventually a suicide attempt at age 16. After which I was subjected to forced treatment in a closed youth institution which was done ‘to avoid self-harm and suicide attempts’. There, I faced a wide variety of coercive measures, including a regime of solitary confinement for nearly 2 years. In those years, under those circumstances, I was struggling with suicidal feelings daily.
The confinement forced me to forget about the life I had before. I was alone in a cell. I had no life anymore. My family and friends were far away, and were no longer part of my daily life. I still felt miserable. My daily struggles took up all my energy, and I had no time to think about the life I had before, and the reasons why I ended up in psychiatry. Hence, I had slowly forgotten about the last will declaration of my father.
Guardian without understanding
In the youth institution, at some point, a guardian was considered needed for me, and the institution pressured my father to take up that role, which was certainly not a voluntary action of his side, yet the institution claimed there could be consequences for him if he did not take up that role. To me the institution said I should see it as a positive move that my father eventually stopped resisting to take up that role, and they said that it was better to have him as a guardian rather than a complete stranger.
The contact with my father was often painful. I never felt like I was good enough. It was like he did not hear me or see me for who I really am. For example, my father never filed any complaint against the horrible treatments that were done by psychiatry, and he also never supported my attempts to access justice all throughout my life, even while my situation sparked internal debates in the institution itself, and led to the closure of a ward. His interpretation of guardianship was making a standard Sunday afternoon visit, which frankly resembled visiting grandpa in the nursing home. It makes me angry to realize that he could become my guardian, after he had demonstrated his unwillingness to support me several times.
Not part of his family
Later, when I became homeless at age 19, after these years of horrible institutionalization, he said “he did not want his family to be disturbed by someone who could not manage herself”, and he did not support me at all. In his words “family” did not include me. I had another big argument with my father, followed by a breach of contact for about 7 years, until an important family event made us meet again. My half-brother did not even know my name at that age. I had apparently been a taboo in that family.
A new start
Many years later, in 2007, a TV documentary was made, and the documentary makers approached my father, who agreed to visit me. I was willing to give it another try to get a normal contact. Since then we were seeing each other at birthdays or family events. I started to believe that things were finally normal. We drank coffee about twice a year, and usually also had a Christmas dinner with the family every year.
On many occasions I gave him the benefit of the doubt. E.g. when my laundry machine was broken and they were willing to do my laundry, yet it came back quite damaged. In a way, I wanted to believe they had good intentions. Even when it hurt when they said they were ashamed of me, e.g. because of my socio-economic situation, or expressing their lack of recognition for my work.
When my father died, it became clear that he had stayed with his will dating from 1992, in which he expressed his wish to exclude the children from his first marriage from inheriting. Initially, I was shocked to see this. I was also angry, and I felt rejected again. Then I suddenly realized how much this resembled the feelings which led to my admission in a closed institution. I thought we had made a new start.
I feel misled by my father. I thought we were finally having a somewhat normal contact, but apparently he never changed his mind since 1992, and he never really wanted to support me.
Questioning his intentions
Sometimes I wonder whether he wanted to see me fail, to justify his distance towards me.
I wonder which role he had in the mistreatment by mental health services, when he was my guardian. Perhaps it was convenient for him that I was placed there. In child care services parents are often considered as the main source of information on a child. I wonder whether my father contributed negatively in order to let me be trapped in the system, as to justify his position of abandonment, and his claim that my mother was incompetent, and keeping me out of his life.
He never made any complaint against the horrible practices in mental health care, nor supported my quest against forced treatments. The contact was shallow, and he did not support me to reach my life goals. He claimed that not giving support would make me stronger and more independent. He knew exactly what to say to justify his rejection.
Changing my views
For very long, I actually thought it had anything to do with who I am. And I was actually trying hard to please him, to win his parental love. But by seeing the date of my father’s will, 1992, I know it was based on his resentment. It had nothing to do with me actually. And while he knew he was dying, he did not take action to change his last will, but left it that way. He wanted to have the final say in his way, and he clung on to his resentment dating from 30 years ago, and rejected 3 out of 4 of his children.
Now I am an adult, which allows me to look at these things in a different way. When I was young, I felt often hurt by my father, and it made me feel very powerless and lost. But as I grew older, the question “what would I do if I were a parent” is more interesting. I actually love to see any kid being happy and supported to grow up. I would go the extra mile. I know I am nothing like my father.
The painful insights I gained through seeing his will confirmed my doubts towards my father’s intentions. Until then, I had actually been giving him the benefit of the doubt. But seeing his last will changed my view on my father. It feels like he stabbed me in the back, as the final action of his life.
Painful to remember
I had forgotten about his will and about the disagreement which I had with my father in 1992, prior to my institutionalization. Yet, now, a part of me feels like ‘how could I forget something that important?’. This will was a key issue that disturbed the relation with my father, yet, during the horrible time in the institution, it could not stay in the top of my head, and it eventually got out of my sight. I forgot about it. And by now I know I had forgotten something important. In many ways, this is a painful awareness.
Feelings of powerlessness
The fact that he became my guardian was not only detrimental to my discourse, but it also made him more dominant. When I was institutionalized, I could not stand up to him anymore, because he treated me like a ‘mental patient’ and my voice was not heard. Obedience was key to be ‘accepted’, but it made me feel very conflicted. Family contacts often caused an increase in psychosocial problems, especially because I was stuck in the confinement regime without hope. This psychosocial situation contributed to self-harming and suicidal feelings.
There are many unpleasant memories coming back, after seeing the last will of my father. It is like things fall in its place. I can see why I always had some mixed feelings in the contact, which now appear justified.
Even while I thought I had a somewhat normal contact with my father, I must conclude the relation was toxic, even in the end. He hurt me so many times, and I no longer believe it was all by accident.
If I were a parent, and I knew that my last will has already demonstrated to contribute to psychosocial problems and a traumatizing institutionalization of a child, I would not maintain that same will. I would have never excluded any child anyway, and certainly not underage children. I must conclude I am very different than my father.
His last will proves to me who he really was. He obviously did not care about me.
He obviously treasured his resentment.
By now, I can clearly see how he projected his resentment on me too. He categorically disagreed to anything related to my mother, and that includes me. For example, he could not stand it when I sounded like my mother, whom he ridiculed. Yet, as a daughter, I may sometimes sound like my mother, and it is not something to be sanctioned. The entire situation was toxic for me. There was no way to do the right thing. Sometimes even a resemblance to one of my parents was already a trigger for getting nasty remarks.
Since I now understand more of the character of my father, I can no longer take his views on me serious, which means I must shake off any of his criticisms on my lifestyle. He was just bringing me down by emphasizing what he did not like about me, e.g. my socio-economic status, my lifestyle, my volunteer work.
Requesting the legitimate share of the inheritance
Regarding the last will of my father, I simply do not agree to his world view. And since he was wealthy enough to leave something to his entire family, I have appealed to request my ‘legitimate share’ of the inheritance. Yet, this is not due. My choice did create some additional distance in relation to several family members. Yet to be honest, it always was a complicated relation. I wonder if this is what my father wanted, creating division. It says more about him than about me.
On the positive side, I know he did love me when I was born. They were happy with me. My parents were married for about 12 years, and they had their sugary moments. I was born out of love, even while that is hard to imagine after witnessing decades of arguments between the parents.
The divorce ended in resentment, mostly from my father’s side. And at some point he excluded us from his will in 1992, which shows less love, acting out of resentment and selfishness. He emotionally abandoned us and wanted a new life. We stayed in contact though, upon request of us the children.
My father would have never been my guardian without the interference of the psychiatric professionals. And when he became my guardian, he did not change his position on starting a new life without us. He accepted the role of guardian, but he did not want to support me. I was left under horrible conditions in the institution, and then I was left to the streets.
I still wonder what my father’s role was in the mistreatments I endured in mental health care, e.g. how could my behavior be so misunderstood? Did he plant misinformation? Did he sabotage my discourse? After having seen the last will, I cannot simply ignore the damage he has done in my life. I really wanted to believe in good intentions, but there are so many memories that keep on bringing doubts and evidence to the opposite. And the last will also shows no kindness to me.
So often I tried to understand my father’s flaws, and I tried to stay positive and reject the negative thoughts. I convinced myself so often that he must have had good intentions, and I could see an excuse for every failure. But after seeing his last will, I no longer believe he had good intentions towards me.
And in hindsight, all of this is not a fully new awareness. I always had a complicated relation with that part of the family. I have kept hoping that tensions would resolve. I suppose I did not want to see it for what it was.
When my father died, I had an emotionally turbulent time. I was expected to only speak well about the deceased, while I felt conflicted about his choice to exclude 3 of his children, and the way he treated me. I tried to keep those feelings under the carpet, yet, that resulted in inner struggles. One day, I faced myself in the mirror, and said out loud that my father simply was not a good father to me. It was truly liberating to admit this to myself. It was like it gave me fresh air to breathe. I noticed that all of a sudden the feeling of rejection faded to the background, and I started to feel proud to stand up for what I believe in. The feeling of pride reminded me of the other moments in my life when I stood up for myself. I was no longer compromising myself. It felt like reconnecting with my inner self, and standing up for what I believe is right, even if I am the only one. I held my head up high, ready to face the consequences of my point of view. I prefer my own view over the will of my father, and I know the toll.
I know I have to stay true to myself, similarly as to when I was solitary confined in mental health care, I could not adapt to their standards which I considered fundamentally wrong (confinement is not care). I simply could not ignore my feeling of what is right and what is wrong. And in my past I already learned that standing up for myself may not be easy, and that my freedom may come at a price, yet, I find it worth it. Standing up against wrongs makes me feel like I am taking up my share in the collective responsibility for a fair and kind world. It feels good to do the right thing, and not let myself be fooled. In the same vein, I have to admit that my father was not a good father to me. I know I will probably be criticized for my view. And I know I have always kept hoping the relation could improve. I feel quite deceived.
It has always been a challenge to express my views on family matters without risking to bring fuel to the existing resentments in the family. If I disagree with one parent, the other parent might jump on that. I tried to keep the peace. I learned to find my own way in dealing with family matters. When I was younger, taking distance has worked out well for me. And when I was a bit older, I thought we could have a mature relation. I suppose I was wrong on the latter.
That part of the family might say I was the toxic one, referring to my psychosocial struggles and problematic behavior such as self-harm and suicide attempts, to which they did not want to be exposed. The stigma of ‘psychiatric disorder’ dominated their interpretation of my actions, and it distracted everyone from recognizing the impact of their actions on my life. I was regarded as “the problem”, while they were claiming innocence. I do disagree to that view.
Of course, my father is legally allowed to do with his last will whatever he pleased. Yet nonetheless I find it repulsive. Considering the entire situation and circumstances, I blame him for abuse and bullying. In my opinion, he failed on me as a parent. In my vocabulary, a parent should not hurt their children, but protect them from harm and support their empowerment. My father did not support me. Maintaining his last will of 1992 actually shows how ignorant he was to my feelings, considering the fact that this contributed to my psychosocial problems at age 14-16. My father always claimed he had the right to do so. Maybe the legal system allows this, but I still find it repulsive to exclude 3 out of 4 of his children. I have no respect for that choice.
An inheritance is not a right, it is usually a well-intended gift. His choices say more about him than about me. He knew about my fragile socio-economic position, and despite his wealth, he decided to do it as he did, out of resentment dating from 30 years ago. I would say he was financially rich but morally poor.
In my vocabulary, a father should avoid hurting his children. In my view, this is a red line that cannot be crossed, and it feels good to stand up for that, and not allow watering down of moral standards in MY life. I have my own life, and I prefer to surround myself with circumstances that empower me. Sometimes it means leaving the circumstances that systematically make me feel bad. My life is too precious to be wasted on useless quarrels. I want to reach my full potential, and therefore I have to make choices that support my wellbeing, in order to make the best out of my life. I have to find my own path in life, just like anyone else.
I once again learned how important it is to stay true to one’s self. Ironically, in a way, my father also showed his true face with his last will, and even though it is painful, I am glad that it is clear to me now. It is painful that I was misled into believing that the complicated relation could be worked out. If I had not forgotten about the last will due to the disruption of my life by institutionalization, I might not have been so shocked about it. In my vocabulary, what he did is actually quite mean. Still it was valuable to see his true face through his last will.
My father made me feel like an outcast since 1992, since my 14th year of age. I still notice the negative feelings, caused by painful memories. In a family context, I always had to walk on egg shells. My father looked down on me, pinning derogatory stereotypes on me. For long, I tried to please him, to win his parental love. Now the last will made me realize it was a lost cause anyway. It is a painful awareness, yet, it is time to liberate myself. He rejected me for reasons other than myself. It had nothing to do with who I am. And the many rejections addressed to me, were probably rooted in his attempt to justify his own position of never ending resentment. It seems like he simply wanted to have the last say in the argument of 30 years ago, at any cost. And free up his hands for a new life, dropping his prior responsibilities at my mother’s address. I can only say, I fundamentally disagree to his choices. I accept that I cannot change who my father was. But I do have a choice in who I am.
Stop the pleasing
It matters to speak out against wrongs, to avoid that low moral standards become the norm. It feels good to claim the right to have my own view on these issues. I am allowed to exist, and to have my own opinion and perception. I am allowed to speak about how I see these things. It feels good to stand up for myself, and rise up from the margins. I cannot please the family any longer by avoiding controversial topics. I do not want to hide my true feelings again in order to avoid clashes.
Safe to be myself
I also do not want to feel the same rejection again. I simply feel like protecting myself from exposing myself to those toxic circumstances where I cannot be myself. I know my views would probably only cause unpleasant situations within the family. Yet I also do not want to pretend everything is okay. I actually just want to be myself.
No more elephant in the room
Yet, I am requested to sign my father’s will in collective presence with the family, to enforce the established appointments including the theoretical amounts of the legitimate shares of inheritance for any direct family member. It is a simple administrative task, yet the idea of having to meet that part of the family immediately fills me with stress, since I fear another painful situation with an elephant in the room. Basically all of them hold a different position. It makes me feel uncomfortable, which creates a need to plan this well, as to be prepared to balance my inner feelings well. A legal advice was given to sign the will to have the details of various shares documented. I might just follow that advice, although a part of me does not want to sign to enforce the will. It is just paperwork. Enforcing his will does not necessarily mean I would agree to his choices, but it can be seen as a formality of taking note of the character displayed in that will and enforcing that this gesture is illustrative for who he was, although outsiders may simply see it as a plain enforcement, but who cares. I still have mixed feelings on how to deal with these procedural steps that have to be taken. I may just see how it all evolves, and try to do what is best from my perspective at that very moment.
I owe it to myself to prioritize my own interests in this situation, and to think about what makes me happy, and how to create the best foundation for my future, to flourish and to be able to contribute positively to life and the wider community. Like anyone else, I deserve to be myself, with free speech, freedom of opinion, the right to make my own choices. I deserve fundamental human rights, including dignity and respect. I have the right to exist and stand on my ground, without being knocked over in whatever way. I have the right to walk tall, with my head up high, without being ridiculed. I do not deserve to be met with hatred because my voice may sound like my mother’s voice. My voice is my voice. I should not be regarded as a copy of either one of my parents. I am myself, with my own character and my own views, and I have my own ways of dealing with issues.
Eventually, the last will of my father has been an eye opener to me. It led to an inner struggle which ended with some form of inner liberation. Things have become much clearer to me. I gained a lot of awareness and insights, and I will happily dedicate my time to building a better world with high moral standards.
 Personal testimony: 16 years old, depressed and tortured in psychiatry (2014) https://tekeertegendeisoleer.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/16-years-old-depressed-and-tortured-in-psychiatry.pdf