Over this past weekend, a friend from my childhood posted about the impact of many years of verbal abuse. Although this did not trigger a meltdown for me from remembering my similar circumstances, it has been in the back of my mind for the last couple of days, especially as our paths of emotional abuse are incredibly similar. I finally have been able to think of the right words to express my feelings.
Although I’m very happy with what I’m doing musically, and happy where I am with my emotional health, I gotta tell ya, being the son of an image-conscious music teacher really lead me deeper into the cycle of abuse. To be perfectly clear, it REALLY SUCKED. A lot of kids felt like their parents expected more of them. When you’re constantly compared to your peers in terms of your music ability, your grades, and a false sense of reputation, it’s debilitating.
As shared in a previous post, I was a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger. This one time occurrence caused me to lose focus of my self worth. My grades started to suffer because I tuned out in class, and I was considered “not working to the level of my ability” by my teachers, my principal, and worst of all, my dad. Music was my escape…..and because my dad was my junior high band director, it was more about meeting his expectations than enjoyment. And as my dad did not know about my sexual abuse, his insults were like pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.
I remember doing All-County Band and regional and state competition, and in hindsight, it was a dog and pony show….it was about which music teacher’s kid was better than the others, with my old man being like Kreese from Cobra Kai….not only was I berated for not being as good as others, but other music teachers could take cheap shots at my talent and ability, and my dad made no effort to support/defend me. The ultimate insult/emotional put down came from him when I got a score of 99 on my audition for All-State Choir, and because my “perceived high school rival” got a 100, I was considered a FAILURE (exact words used).
I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Dave Unland, my euphonium/tuba teacher my first year at Ithaca. I’ve always had a great relationship with Dave, and he was one of the most supportive teachers I had as an undergraduate. I was a square peg in a round hole as a euphonium major, as I was doing that because I didn’t have the courage to stand up for myself to do what I really wanted to do. During the summer after my first year at IC, I was asked to play at a member of my church’s “wedding concert” (don’t ask)…as I could’ve cared less, my heart and mind weren’t into my performance. It was by no means horrible, but I was just going through the motions, and it brought on a tidal wave of comments and put downs from my dad and other music teachers in attendance, including the insult of “this is what I’m paying for you to go to Ithaca to do? You’re an embarrassment!” (For my IC friends who couldn’t understand why I switched my major to Business Management for a short period of time, I hope you now understand.) Compared to the other music majors or children of music teacher’s kids who also performed that day, it was perceived that I was the worst performer…..again, a dog and pony show.
I hated being so competitive, but that was how I was conditioned to be….my brother and I had to be better than everyone else at anything and everything we did, and if we weren’t, we were considered failures. For all of my friends who thought our dad was the be-all, end-all best teacher in the world…..PLEASE LET THAT SINK IN. Sorry for bursting your bubble. (Actually, I’m not.)
Here’s how I know I haven’t spiraled….in the past, I’d just internalize how all of these past experiences made me feel, for fear of upsetting others, or being considered “weak”…it’s the cycle and pattern of abuse….feeling like someone has power over you in your entire existence. My ex-wife is exactly like my dad used to be….all expectations, with no ability to love unconditionally. NONE. I know that none of us are perfect, and God knows I’m flawed, but at no point have I ever or will I ever put expectations on my daughter the way they were put on me. She’s going to have her own issues to work out soon enough….she doesn’t need me or anyone else belittling her or unfairly comparing her to anyone else.
One of Hunter S. Thompson’s best quotes is this: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” This is so incredibly spot-on….I’m where I am musically right now for a good reason. I’d rather be a mediocre musician with a sense of self than the “best musician” (not that there is such a thing), focused on being better than everyone else, no matter what. I burned a lot of bridges when I felt like I needed to be that way…..not anymore.
To my friend who had the courage to share their story and how they’ve worked through their abuse, I cannot thank you enough. ❤️