By Eleanor Cowan
A 1929 Depression-era humorist, Andrew Glasow, once wrote, “Improvement begins with I,” and this week, I noted an example of my progress.
On Tuesday, I filled out a feedback form about a costly senior health program I attended. I complained that our well-paid lecturers felt entitled to consume 96 minutes of our time to detail their personal histories of living overseas, the languages they’d learned so quickly, and the distinguished academic careers of their high-achieving children – none of which was on the agenda. Annoyed, I chose not to return to the afternoon segment. That evening, an attendee, Ted, called to say that only the last scrunchy 25 minutes of the workshop invited seniors to move around more, augment our protein intake, and check our calcium levels regularly. Ted was upset he’d wasted his day. In contrast, I’d had a lovely afternoon.
On Wednesday, an e-mail from the director, who didn’t attend the workshop, said that he’d heard no other complaint from those who’d respectfully stayed for the full day of health tips. I was not offended by his subtle reprimand. Instead, I quietly celebrated that it doesn’t matter who agrees with me or not.
I felt proud I’d disclosed my honest feedback and chosen to give myself a positive alternative — two behaviors I’d not have been capable of in the past.
A recent discussion with my now-adult daughter describes my very different history:
“That would have been a game-changer for me, Mom. That would have spelled ‘divorce,’” said my daughter, in no uncertain terms. “I can’t believe that you put up with that disrespect! I just can’t!”
The source of my daughter’s distress? I’d been sorting old files and found my original university degree. My diploma was a dream-come-true accomplishment that once meant the world to me, a personal triumph involving seven years of night school while I worked as a secretary during the day.
“What’s that lumpy white-out blotting your name, Mum?” Nell asked, holding it up. “It looks fake. In fact, it looks forged. No employer would ever believe it’s authentic.”
I explained that back in my thirties, I hadn’t noticed my husband’s transgression, his taking the liberty to touch a credential that wasn’t his and that meant so much to me.
The back story is that Stan disliked his father. Upon the birth of our first child, and to punish his dad for the flaws he never had the courage to discuss with him, Stan legally changed the spelling of our last name, removing two letters and adding one. It was the ultimate insult to his conservative father. “He’s my father, not yours!” blasted Stan in his anger at me for daring to question his authority about such drastic action.
Exhausted from waitressing nights and caring for our two toddlers during the day, I hadn’t noticed that my chronically unemployed husband had lifted my treasured degree from the hallway. While I was safely at work, he’d removed its glass cover and blanked out my second name. He’d done this by tinting white-out liquid with droplets of instant coffee, his attempt to match the diploma’s coloring. Then he crafted three new letters with a special pen he’d purchased for the job. When dry, Stan rehung my meddled-with diploma in the frame.
“But it wasn’t his to touch!” said Nell “Did he ask your permission first?”
“No,” I replied, “He said nothing. He simply did what he wanted. When I finally saw my glommed-over name and confronted him, Stan claimed to be the victim. ‘Horrible to walk down the hallways of my home every day and be reminded of a man I dislike so much. I simply forgot to let you know.’”
“And what was your reaction, Mom?” Nell queried, as my stomach clenched. “Did you tell him that you’d have dreaded his terrible backlash if you’d dared to do the same?”
“Sadly,” I replied. “I tolerated it. That’s who I was at the time, Nell. I shoved it under the rug, a carpet slowly swelling to a hill of horrors.”
My daughter said how proud she still is that I left her father all those years ago, thus rescuing her adolescence and teen years from her father’s predation. I’m so grateful to hear those words. I’m also thankful for the years of a support group, reading books and articles, and listening to excellent educational videos from which I continue to learn so much.
Today, as I walk along the Bow riverside in Calgary, I’m still stunned at Stan’s stealth. Just as he chose to conceal his tampering with my academic endorsement, he remained consistently covert about his sexual molestation of my treasured children in their little beds while I was at work.
A leopard doesn’t change its spots. From a tampered-with frame to a molested child, it’s about the terrible degrees of similarity.
Because I’d accommodated Stan’s duplicity, I needed to change. And I’m vigilant about maintaining those changes. It’s easy to slip back into foggy dissociation. Three decades after escaping Stan, I still exercise the muscle I’ve developed. I’m alert to small clues of abuse, such as Tuesday’s pricy “Healthy Tips” speakers.
Improvement does indeed begin with I.