I’ve mentioned it elsewhere already: my father was an alcoholic. He was, by turns, physically violent and verbally abusive. I certainly didn’t have it as bad as some (see that? Apologizing in one fell swoop for a) having grown up in an abusive situation and b) not suffering as much as others may have, and dissembling. No, not the least bit textbook, that) but it was also no walk in the park. I was lucky enough to have some stability in my life in the form of my grandparents and, more on the periphery but not totally absent, my maternal aunt and her husband, my uncle. Now, I’m not stupid: I know that all relationships have problems, I know that neither my grandparents nor my aunt and uncle were free of ups and downs. Still, in my mind in my formative years their houses represented something that was not found at my own home: stability. A break from crisis mode.
Now, later in life, nearly 15 years after his passing, I wonder things. Things like: did he suffer from PTSD? He was a Veteran of the Korean War, and I know he saw some things. I don’t even know if he was an alcoholic before the war; he was young when he was enlisted. I know his first marriage broke up largely because of his drinking, but I don’t know when it started. I know his two sisters were also alcoholics. I have no idea about his parents, both of whom I knew, but both of whom had died before I was a teenager. I barely remember his mother. (The men in my family are extremely virile, so I also wonder things like, how many Korean half-siblings do I have? My father fathered eight children, between his first wife and my mother. Yes, these are things I wonder about).
My father and I were not close. Life with my father was something to weather and survive. Because of my father I do things like: constantly scan my surroundings for escape routes and possible defensive weapons; attempt to dress and behave, in public, in a way that does not draw attention; completely clam up when voices start to raise; respond badly to surprises; am hyper-alert to my surroundings; get extremely nervous around obviously intoxicated people. At a healthy level, some of these things are positive tools. I think it’s good practice to know your exits and weapons near to hand. Coupled with my mother’s deplorable sense of direction, I am able to become the Navigator Extraordinaire; Beth can regale you with tales about my mad navigational skills, finding our way to a cabin in the dark in a place I’d only walked through the once. I am a great GPS. Taken to extremes, however, being hyper-alert to your surroundings is exhausting. I’m not to the point where I see every separate thing constantly. It’s not on a super-conscious level, but it’s not completely sub-conscious, either, and it’s . . . well. Exhausting and soul-numbing.
Despite my father’s alcoholism, thanks to my maternal grandfather (technically, my maternal step-grandfather, but he’s the only one I’ve known) and to my uncle, I did have positive, steady male influence in my life growing up. I saw that both these men could drink and not become dangerous. This was a good thing, to have a counter-balance to the damage my father did.
Because of my father, I also have Odin in my life. Maybe it would have happened anyway, I don’t know. Shortly before he died, one of our last conversations was about (mostly) Thor and (a little bit) Odin and assorted Family. It was not a lucid conversation by any means: he’d been ill (off and on for years with complications from having emphysema, generally pneumonia) and we were visiting. He was time-hopping in his talking. My mother and a family friend and I went to visit. They went to get some coffee for everyone, and left me with him for a bit, and he went on and on and on about this rainbow that you could travel on, and Thor and Loki getting into some sort of trouble, and Odin, and this battle . . .
Now, at the time of this, I wasn’t exactly a baby pagan, but I was nowhere near the Northern gods. I was undecidedly a polytheist, but not entirely comfortable being so. Poseidon had only shown up three years previously, but I was still mostly getting through high school, dealing with a sick father who’d only been out of the house for a couple of years, and so we were all sort of learning how to breathe and interact without doing the dance around the raging alcoholic. Oh, right, and taking care of my brother. Oh, and working. So, you know. Kinda busy. I also had never ever ever talked religion or spirituality with my father. My interest in the occult was known by the reading material I brought home, but by the time I was reading that sort of stuff I doubt he was sober enough to know or see or comprehend. Years after his death I learned that my father was involved with the Masons, which suggests to me an interest in spiritually that went beyond simple Church-going, but I had no idea about that while he was alive, and even if I had been . . . Odin? Thor? Loki??? Yes, not an incomprehensible triad, but this was my father. My born-in-the-1920s-in-New England father. Can we say WASP? I knew we could.
The conversation really locked in a connection, in my mind, between Thor and my father. He spoke as if they’d been buddies, and Thor quickly became, “Uncle Thor,” in my mind. I obsessed with wanting to know if he’d had experiences with Thor, during his life, but in the end, it didn’t matter (and I’d never get ‘proof’ of it; how could I?) Whether it was real or imagined to him in a fit of delusion, Thor’s protection-claiming-interest-what-have-you in and of my father was very apparent to me. It was what it was, and it was there, so, so be it.
I did not go looking for Odin. I did not. Did. Not. I was already not entirely comfortable with Poseidon being Poseidon (he was supposed to be Llyr or, at least, Mananann; someone nice and respectable and Celtic). I was dealing with it, though, and, well. You know. Darkness. Death. Healing. My father brought Thor in; with Thor came Hella, and I figured, hey, goddess! Cool. Except, then she handed me off to Odin . . .
My relationship with Odin is very much a father-daughter relationship. It started out that way almost immediately. It was almost inevitable. Odin has a very strong, very masculine, very possessive feeling to him. People who are Odin’s speak of him tearing their lives apart, of breaking them, of sparing nothing. You’d think that, coming from a background of abuse, specifically being the daughter of a man who was abusive, that the thought of such a strong, masculine, over-bearing god taking up a paternal role in my life would be distasteful at best.
Odin entered my life exactly when he needed to, when I needed him to, and I more or less collapsed into the safety he provided. I’ve spoken of Poseidon being my safety, and he is – I am more myself, more secure in being me, with Poseidon, but for a time that wasn’t true, and for a time I felt I had to be strong, had to hold up a front with Poseidon, I was caught up with proving my worth (what the heck is that, anyway? Why do we do that? They wouldn’t stick their noses in if they didn’t see something that appealed to them). Odin arrived and pushed and pushed and then pushed, and I gave and gave and gave.
In the beginning my relationship with Odin was very much a young daughter to a wise, older father, a sort of ‘daddy’s princess’. Not, mind you, that I thought I was his specialest, favoritest, bestest little girl. But, it allowed me to experience something I hadn’t really experienced before: unconditional love from a father-figure who offered protection. Watch me try and fail miserably to convey the importance of this experience and how healing it was for me. It did coincide with Odin tearing my life apart (because, when I took my marriage vows, I had the caveat of ‘not breaking up my mortal relationship’; when I offered oaths to Odin, I did not extract a vow from him about not breaking up my mortal relationship, and he deemed my then-partner unworthy, so there that went. Oops) and his demanding obedience from me that was hard to live up to. I managed. My point is that, despite feeling utterly safe, despite feeling protected, things were not easy in the least.
We’ve progressed. I’m now the grown daughter, married with a family of my own, with another “man” in my life who is my immediate hearth and home. I still feel more than safe with Odin. I decided in the beginning I was going to trust him completely, even if that meant following him into insanity. I caught flack from that – people unnerved by trusting him so completely, other people who were even Odin’s folks, who warned that he destroyed, that he tore apart, that he sought to further his own ends. The sagas of our ancestors tell us as much – he kills his own as often as he kills their enemies. I understand people being . . . skittish . . . around Odin, but I’ll never understand his own not trusting him. With Odin, I learned the difference between hurt and harm, I learned what a father could be, I learned a little bit of letting go and allowing myself to become vulnerable.
I’m half my lifetime away from my childhood. There are days when it feels like yesterday and other days when it feels forever and ever ago. I have moments when I get caught up in memories that don’t let go and send me fleeing from the world, days when I’m lost in what-ifs and bone-deep regrets. I have moments when I doubt it happened to me, when it seems like a story I heard about. I do my own fair share of reflecting; I can point to my hypersensitivity, my anxiety and depression, my poor reaction to stress, and tell you how they relate to or stem from growing up with an alcoholic. I don’t really play the victim – I’m not interested in laying blame, exactly. I do like to know why things happen, and it’s been important to me in my life to understand my actions and reactions and predispositions. Knowing where we come from matters. Knowing what shapes us matters.
Would I have been open to Odin, if my father had never talked about him on that barely lucid day shortly before he died? Would I have been willing to give him my trust and love if I hadn’t been so starved for that protection and strength that felt so masculine and paternal? I can’t imagine life without him, now, and I’d gladly go through all of it all over again, just to have what I have now, but I can’t help wondering if it would have even been possible without all this . . . well, all this crap, these battle scars, without having come to the table broken already.
(read more D posts at Pagan Blog Project)