One of the things that bugged me the most about my Dad was the silent treatment. I know this sounds weird, but as a child I prefered a spanking, because that would end and only affect me. The silent treatment was something my entire family would suffer from and you never knew when it would end.
The silent treatment would usually follow when Dad wasn’t worshipped enough as the Lord of the house. Say mom spontaneously drove to town when Dad was at work to shop for a new jacket for one of us kids without asking him at least 24 hours prior.
That was the rule: Everything had to be mentioned to Dad AT LEAST 24 hours prior to doing it. Better would be 48 hours. If it was bigger things, you had to tell him up to 7 days prior to doing it (friends visiting, for example). The biggest problem with this was that my Dad forgot a lot of stuff or simply didn’t listen to anybody well enough to actually understand what was being talked about. You had to mention it again and again to make sure he remembered. But this could cause problems too! You had to word it correctly. You couldn’t say (on Sunday) “Dad, don’t forget I told you Wednesday I want to go shopping for a dress on Monday.” That was insulting to him because we questioned his mental abilities. Asking something like this would result in a very loud lecture about how he is NOT stupid, NOT deaf, NOT retarded and that he is VERY disappointed and ANGRY that we speak to him like this. The only way to really get out of the remind-daddy-of-something game was to put all the blame on yourself: “Daddy, did I mention I wanted to shop for a dress on Monday? I’m not sure if I did…” Then he usually remembered we actually had mentioned it before and he would rather calmly say “Yes you did. Sometimes I’m worried that you forget so much.”
If you forgot to remind him of something and he felt it was inappropriately close to said event, he’d get really angry. Say I told him on Sunday evening for the first time that I wanted to shop on Monday, he’d freak. He’d yell stuff like “Who do you think I am? Why am I NEVER told ANYTHING you plan? I’m the head of the house and you treat me like a family dog!”. He’d go on and on and on about it, and then suddenly… silence. Silence that could last for days and was directed at everyone in the family, not only the offender. My mom as well as all us kids.
The silent treatment meant more than just silence. It meant a complete absence of all family life.
I’m not sure about regular lunch and dinner customs in normal American families, but we applied European customs. That meant that the food wasn’t put directly onto the plates by one single person. All of the pots, pans, bowls and so on were put on the dining table and the rule was to serve yourself. In this set of dining habits, it’s very impolite NOT to serve yourself. Of course, small kids are served but everyone above 10 is to do it themselves. Of course you can ask people “May I have some potatoes?” because they sit closer to the potatoes and then have them serve you. But, say, wordless handing of the plate awaiting to be served is so beyond rude… It’s about as bad as eating from another persons plate without asking them. Just so you get the point. Well, if the silent treatment was in effect, my Dad refused to serve himself. Not only that, he even denied holding the plate up for mom to serve him. I can’t word just how rude that is in our family. He sat there, hands folded on the table, staring into the air. Waiting. My mom usually tried to ignore it and served the small ones first, but usually my dad was really quick to grab food and so it was obvious we were getting the treatment again. My mom then proceeded to take his plate and fill it. She’d put it back in front of him and he would start eating, staring at nothing else but his food. When he was finished, he stood up without waiting on the others – something that would result in a spanking for us kids! He went to sit alone in his office room and read all night till bedtime. My mom was left alone with the kids. When everybody went to bed, my Dad left his office and went straight to bed without just looking at anyone.
The silent treatment also meant that, for example, if you knocked at the bathroom door and asked “Anybody in there?”, no answer would follow. We could tell Dad was in there because the door was locked. There was also no family time, not even bible study. He didn’t say goodbye in the morning, or hello when he came home. He didn’t ask for anything, just hold out things to the next best person to be served, like holding up an empty cup in order to get coffee.
This form of behaviour made me incredibly angry. I was angry at Dad mostly, but I was also upset with Mom. Why on earth would she put up with that? Why would she still serve him like a slave? Why would she talk to him, hoping to get an answer, only to end up not even being looked at???
It made me so angry, so frustrated, I usually hid somewhere away from my entire family. My favourite activity was locking myself away in the bathroom. I’d be in trouble if my parents found out I did that without a real reason – we couldn’t lock doors unless it was an emergency. I couldn’t say it was to shower, showering for an hour would be considered wasteful and would get me in trouble, plus, there was no water running. So every time someone knocked on the door to be let in, the conversation went like this: “Who’s in there?” – “It’s me, Lisa.” – “Lisa, you’ve been in there for ages! Get out! I want in!” “I can’t!” – “Why not?!?” – “Uhmmm… I have diarreah.”
Yes, that was my actual excuse and secured me the bathroom all to myself for at least an hour, sometimes two. While I was in there, all I really did was sitting on the bathroom floor with the small mirror in my hands. I stared at my own face, sometimes for minutes without a break. I waited until you get that feeling, you know, that you’re not looking at your own face anymore, but somebody else, and you can observe the whole situation from outside and feel really strange. I stared at the ends of my hair, cutting off split ends with a small pair of scissors. I cut my nails. I hummed melodies. I lay on the floor and dreamed about other place. Being on the beach in a bikini somewhere on a lonely island. Seeing historic European cities. Shopping like the girls on TV do in New York City. Sometimes, I played out entire scenarios in my mind. How I sit at a cafe with two girlfriends and we talk about our lives, or feelings, everything. Those two girls actually appeared very often, and they would always listen, always understand me, and they considered me their best friend. Once I cooled off in my bathroom (no worries, we had 2 bathrooms so everybody could still pee!) I went to my room or straight to bed.
I asked my mom a bunch of times why she let Dad treat her like that. Why she wouldn’t tell him that he acted like a spoiled little boy and not like the head of the house, she told me that women must ALWAYS be submissive. It was ok Dad did this, because she was his wife and she would be obedient no matter what. I feared to end up with a man like that. I hated my Dad so much for it. For showing us off like little circus monkeys, proving us that even without words, he can make us jump again and again.
I can’t tell you how many times my night-time prayer included stuff like “Please God, don’t let me marry a man who acts like this. Please send me a man who can at least fill his own plate, no matter what I did wrong. Please send me a man who can talk about his issues, and not ignore me for days.”