It's not easy for me to recognize that I have a toxic parent. I love my father and I always will, but our relationship has been really confusing and, well, less-than-positive. So it honestly pains me to have to think about the things I want my children to know about my own toxic parent. As a parent I know we make mistakes, but we love our children with everything in our souls. Even though I rarely felt it, I have to trust that my father feels the same about me, too, and on some level. I just don't want my dearest children to feel what my father has made me feel.
My father and I are very different, but I am the only one who is willing to make all the accommodations in our relationship. In order to keep things nice and positive, as was his requirement, I had to remain silent about liking Madonna when I was 10 years old, or be quiet about being queer when I was 13 years old, or tell my child they can't be themselves in front of him when I was 36 years old. I was never OK with this silence; it felt disingenuous, like I was lacking integrity by pretending to be someone I wasn't. Still, I wanted to have a relationship with my father, and following his unspoken rules was the only way to make that happen.
It's taken me a long time — my whole life, really — to stop blaming myself for not having a more authentic relationship with my father. I came to realize, however, that it's not for lack of trying on my part. He doesn't want an authentic relationship with me because who I am authentically makes him really uncomfortable. Right now I can try to shield my kids from the more blatantly painful things he does (like misgendering my oldest) but some day my children will get to make their own decisions about their relationship with him. Before that happens, though, I want them to know the following things: