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Confessions: I grew up with a controlling father, now I feel like a failure in everything I do

Readers Lounge - By Simon and Boke
My father was a perfectionist, very controlling and he still is (Photo: Shutterstock)

I am 32 years old and I have a budding career as an architect. One thing bothers me; I realise that I’ve never really got over the way my father treated me as a child. He was a perfectionist, very controlling. He still is! Whenever I speak to him on the phone or meet him, I feel like a failure in everything I do. I’m terribly self critical and I am forever worried that everyone is watching and judging me. I also can’t seem to get past my resentment of what my father did to me. Is there any way I can find peace? And perhaps get on better with him?


What the readers say:

Hello brother. It may be true that you got hurt from your father’s treatment. But I want to tell you that when we hold on to hurt, we remain emotionally and mentally disturbed. Forgiveness is a strong medicine for this. It is all about goodness and extending mercy to those who harmed us. It may be hard to forgive your father instantly but i urge you to start developing a forgiving heart towards him.

Rev Willis Atoyo

Many of us went through this, both at family and school level. In your case I would suggest you take stock of your achievements based on your own standards. Do not punish yourself further after what you went through. Learn to forgive your dad and appreciate him because probably it was his way of wanting the best for you despite the fact that psychologically he wrecked you. Your resentment won’t diminish unless you take a deliberate and purposeful step towards healing. If need be you can talk to him about how you feel of what happened and maybe see a professional counsellor for help because if you do not let this be part of your past, then it might continue ruining your bright future.

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Raymond, to me, your father is there to guide you as his son and in no way will he be ready to ruin your life. Respect your father’s wisdom and advice. Remember it is his obligation to see you live a comfortable life. It is written in the Holy Book that we should respect our parents and our years on earth shall be added. If he was strict to you it was for a purpose, if he beat you he was straightening you, if he scold you there was a reason for that and remember whatever a parent does for his children will be for a good reason. A parent will always be happy to see his children lead a decent life.

Onyango Outha

Raymond, that is your dad. Try to understand that in his eyes you are still his child and he is concerned that you could be making some decisions that you would regret later.Candidly tell your dad that you are now grown, responsible and well able to take care of yourself and make personal choices. Remind him that his current critique is not well with you. Let him know that should this continue then you will be forced to take some leave or even stay away from him for an undefined period so that you can do what you think is mature and right for you. This is not threatening but sometimes if a threat can solve anything, then it’s always the way.

Handle him this early because once you build a family for yourself it will be more complicated.

Ouma Ragumo-Sifuyo

You have to fight the low self esteem that was propagated by your father’s strict parenting style. Begin to see your achievements and this should make you feel confident. Know that the rules your dad had is one of the reasons you are where you are; accept that all that was meant for your good. Now, the best way to beat an adversary is to master its trick, get your father what he likes most and would please him; in the excitement, prob him slowly to know the justification for his treating you so. He will like your confidence, look back at you and smile. You will have won his approval and you will be friends henceforth. If you never knew he treats your timidity as a weakness which calls on him to protect you, being a responsible father.

Tasma Saka

Raymond, live according to your own values and goals instead of endlessly chasing your father’s approval. Remember that you are the one who has to live your life and not your father. Blaming or holding a grudge against your father not only keeps the wound alive, it also tells your subconscious mind that your father has power over you or your life and therefore disempowers you. Forgive him for a fruitful future.

Fred Jausenge

Boke says:

Dear Raymond,

There is just so much that makes an individual the kind of person they are. For example parenting, home environment, an individual’s personality among others. I would be interested to know if you are the only child in your family. If not, how have your siblings turned out?

Parenthood they say comes without a manual. Even if we had one, no manual can work for everyone. That is why children from the same parents turn out differently.

Do you think your dad’s toughness was motivated by love or hate? Now, parenting is such a complex and delicate task, that if we fully understood the weight that a parent carries. I believe your father did all he did out of love. He meant well, he had your interest at heart and in his mind he knew he was doing his best. When we understand this we become slow to accuse and less judgemental.

Assuming they did this intentionally, it is already too late and you cannot rewind time. On a positive note, There is so much one can gain from such a parent. An eye for detail, punctuality, orderliness and general self-discipline.

You do not need to beat up yourself. It will surprise how many people have to put up a brave face to pursue life. No one has a perfect background. We all wish we could edit and delete some things from our lives but that is not possible.

Your dad did his best. Blaming him will not help you. I recommend you read a number of self-help books as well as seek the services of a life-coach. By all means outgrow your childhood hurts.

Hilda Boke Mahare has a background in Counselling Psychology

Simon says:

You seem to be convinced that your father is a manipulative, impossible to please perfectionist that has bullied you all through your life. From your description of him, anyone would be inclined to see him as such and perhaps harbor some deep loathing for him. However, sometimes in life we have to learn to see things for what they are then see them for what they really are. For your own well-being, it will be essential for you to develop a high level skill of seeing things from the positive realm so as to set your mind on a path to being objective. What do I mean? Well, you see, perhaps were it not for his no-nonsense, discerning and perfectionist stand on your life especially with education and discipline, you may not have worked extremely hard through school to become the budding architect you are today. We must acknowledge that his character, pushy attitude and non-compromising spirit played a role in shaping and putting you on the path to pursuing one of the most prestigious careers in the present day.

Such kind of firm support and strong desire for perfection gets the other person working hard and striving to get better and thus in the end the results are somewhat appealing to everyone. Back in the days I went home one day being top of my class but with what would have been approximately 74 per cent of the possible score on my card. I showed the card to my father with a big smile on my face and with my ears getting longer by the second as I said, “dad, I was number one!”. The old man took one look at the report card and the only thing that came out of his mouth was, “you were only the most intelligent among a class of fools!”. This really stung but it put in me a desire to perform better and raise the mean grade albeit if only to get his approval. I may not approve of his methods and perceptions about life but I am indeed thankful that I am what I am today because of it.

When you start looking for the positive things to appreciate about someone, even your perceptions about them change. Expect less of appreciation and accolades from him and your frustrations with him will go down significantly. Rather than expect cheers and appreciation from others (especially from him), learn to cheer and appreciate yourself. You will be surprised at how far you will go with this.

Simon Anyona is a relationships counselor

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