A difficult but necessary conversation with my dad: Red Flag *Consent

03 Aug
A difficult but necessary conversation with my dad: Red Flag *Consent

As the first few weeks of living in Montana unfolded, I was seemingly teleported back in time to my childhood.  It really was as if grown up-me was in a dream  watching child-me go through the day-to-day of living with my father.  He and his wife are raising her granddaughter.  I really am sitting back and observing day-to-day, moment-to-moment foundational occurrences in this girls life, that were part of my childhood, and being fully aware of how it has impacted my life, specifically in my tendencies towards abusers.

I am, and will always be, grateful for the fact that my father has been a willing listener and participant in these conversations since I’ve been here.  He has listened to me bluntly, honestly open up about how I feel about  what I’m seeing.  Neither of us have been perfect at these conversations, but we are both giving our best effort to have them, and keep a positive relationship with each other.  If he weren’t being so amazing at taking in, thinking about, and accepting what we’re discussing, I would not be healing as quickly as I am.

A Conversation about CONSENT

We were in the kitchen, M and I.  He had walked by us three times, going back and forth to get something he needed.  Each time he walked by he touched her, touched her shoulder, poked her side, patted her butt.  It was routine.  It’s what he does.

He thinks he’s showing endearment; he doesn’t mean anything by it.  He doesn’t understand, I tell myself.

But I remember the same thing happening to me.  I remember being young and all the little pokes, the little rubs, the playful pats.  I remember the duality of not wanting to be poked all the time and missing the pokes when he was upset with me.  I remember feeling that it was an endearment; it was how he showed me he cared.  And he’s my dad, I want him to care.

Everything we learn about society is built up from what we learn at home first.  How we interact with the world outside the home is a version of what we’ve learned about how to interact at all.

I asked my dad, “If you had a magic lens and you could see into M’s day at school, and there was a teacher or another student that touched M every time he walked by her, innocently enough, nothing overtly sexual, would you be ok with that?”

He quickly sat up, offended, “No, that’s not ok.”

So I looked at him and I reminded him of how he did exactly that same thing to her, every day.  I could clearly see the confusion on his face.

Without realizing, he is teaching her/ taught me that men can touch her/me without her/my consent; that it is endearing to have someone touch without asking first.  We were taught to ignore or not pay direct attention to the fact that our body was not our own to decide what happened to it.  We, being children, were property, he being the patriarch was in charge.  And seemingly without intention, he put himself in charge of our bodies as well.  (We, being girls, would later also be socially inundated with objectification to tack on to the back of being raised as property.)

Our fathers are our first interactions with men.  That relationship helps us learn what to expect of ourselves and others in our future.

I learned not to pay attention to being touched by boys/ men.   And that lack of response is a test abusers use.  It’s a red flag test I blew through time after time.

As hormones hit and life becomes the erratic whirl of our teens, we all begin trying to figure out the differences and similarities between love, sex, and all the chaos in between.  What was endearment touches are now possible love touches by others.  And don’t we all know that, in our teens, each and every love is our eternal soulmate and each loss is devastating beyond measure.  Our need/ desire for physical contact is all mixed up with our need/ desire for the goal of our own partner.  Then add in all the unhealthy, abusive ways we are shown to expect from one another.  How are we supposed to come out of that and into adulthood with a healthy understanding of how to be in a relationship?

If we don’t know how to be asked consent, how to expect to be asked consent, how to ask for consent, how are we supposed to all of a sudden, in the midst of new mature physical bodies with hormones running amuck, start expecting and understanding consent?  Yes, this goes for boys too.

“So”, my dad asked, “then what do I do”?

You ask for consent to touch her.  Teach her how to listen for it.  Teach her to expect it.  Set the example for boys/ men to follow your lead.

“Hey, can I have a hug?”,  “Fist bump”, “Come here, I wanna tickle ya”

Anything, but something verbal that announces to her (him) that you want to engage in healthy, acceptable, endearing physical contact and gives her (him) the chance to disagree or agree.  It should become natural habit, not forced, example

“Awww, can I have a hug”, vs. “M, is it ok if I give you a hug?”

IMPORTANT * Accept the response.  If she says no, don’t coerce her, make her feel bad, do it anyway, or anything else except not do whatever it was you announced wanting to do.  Without any negativity, show her that her no is accepted.  Teach her see the response you want her to expect from others in her future.

Also, don’t withhold physical intimacy.  Children need that physical assurance of your love.  Just make sure it’s appropriate, healthy, and asked for.

Here is where my dad is starting to struggle.  But, that’s normal I think, for this new into an understanding.  He’s having to work through a lifetime of being “the boss” at home.  Letting someone else be in charge of their own bodies means he’s not in charge.  He’s staying “in charge” by not doing anything while he works through the massive change that knowing brings.

I think this is one of the Let Go and Let God type of understandings.  But no change is easy, comes right away, or perfectly.  It’s a process.

Consent for sexual touch has to begin with consent for any physical touch.  Each step along the way, from innocently holding hands, to knowingly going through a sexual act, consent needs to be asked for and given.  There is no point, in any relationship, that you should touch another person without their consent.

Certainly consent is given a kind of implied sense within a romantic relationship, but there should always still be the ability to show or say, “not right now” and have it be accepted, whether it’s a hug, touching the shoulder, or sex.

As I type this, and maybe as you read this, you’ll think, “That seems pretty obvious to me.”, but I’ve been talking through this with other people, and you’d be surprised how many looked at me with the same confusion my dad had and said, “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

We learn how to interact with the world in our families.  We build our understanding of what is acceptable or not, behaviors to look for or ignore, with those earliest moments.  Everything we do as parents affects long-term, especially if it is a pattern.  We are creatures of habit.  We like the comfortable and used-to things.  We migrate towards people that make us feel secure in our patterns.

We need to look at the patterns we teach our children about consent while they’re young, before we send them out into the world and expect them to just know.

I sent my kidittos out with mixed messages.  The more I learn about the patterns I didn’t see, the more I see how many patterns I passed on in ignorance.  But I also see the many ways I did better than I thought I had.  Parenting is rough business sometimes.  We don’t get a handbook.  I wasn’t being parented through my teens, and I was practically a parent through my pre-teens because I had to basically raise my siblings, so I was mostly able to parent my kidittos without preconceived ideas of how to do it.  That was good and bad.

What I taught them through my words to them, my actions to them, was good, but they were counter-balanced by what I taught them through my actions with their dad and to myself in that relationship and the others I had post divorce.  They saw my words for them and my actions for myself being juxtaposed and incongruent.

I learned what to do to get out of, but not what to do to not get into an abusive relationship.  That’s got to mess with their heads a little.  It messes with mine.

For me the good news is, that no matter what age, if we talk to our children about what we see from our past, we can help the future.  I talk to my kidditos about my relationships because I want them to be “informed consumers”.  That’s not the best term, but it gets the concept across.  As I have walked through life, so many of the relationship mistakes I’ve made have been because I didn’t know any better at the time.  Having more information will help them make better decisions in the relationships they have in the future, I hope.

Fighting through the fear of talking to my dad about these relationship issues has been difficult.  This was only one conversation, one red flag.  But I think it’s a big one.  Pushing through that fear and actually having the conversation was tremendously validating and healing.

What are your thoughts on this?


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11 responses to “A difficult but necessary conversation with my dad: Red Flag *Consent

  1. betternotbroken

    04/08/2015 at 15:07

    I think this is a topic we need to address more in blogging and that you have again inspired me. We need to teach others how to NOT get into abusive relationships. As for consent, consenting will not make it NOT abuse in spite of current campaigns. Often people consent to be abused because of fear or not recognizing the situation as abuse or in cases were small children “consent” to the demands of an adult. Good luck on pushing through the fear, once you get through that, it is smooth sailing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ms McKahsum

      05/08/2015 at 11:08

      There definitely needs to be more conversations about not getting into the abusive relationships! That’s the one area I am really really working on. Specifically right now, seeing the red flags, the signs the point out, “Hey this is an abuser, stear clear.”
      I think just like victims have a behavior pattern that can be picked out, abusers do too. We just haven’t learned to see them the way they have.
      Another reason that abuse is not just a man’s issue, not just a woman’s issue, but an issue for everyone. We all need to learn better ways to interact with each other.

      As always, thank you for your insight and comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Keith Wadley

    05/08/2015 at 10:43

    Holy Crap! You have no idea how important this was for me to read. On two fronts: as a parent who is exhibiting the same behavior; and as a person seeking mental health treatment who is trying to figure out the new normal that is safe, loving, and ‘normal’.

    I am glad that you are able to talk with your dad about these issues. That is huge! I come from a heavy chemical dependent family that tend to get offended when we call each other out for killing ourselves with alcohol, drugs, or abusive relationships.

    Thanks again. I will be posting some excerpts from this post to my post for today.




    • Ms McKahsum

      05/08/2015 at 10:46

      Keith, Thank you for your thoughts. This is a trying time and it is SO good to hear that it is benefitting others as well. So good. I am also trying to figure out what is normal and ok. I can’t ever know what things are ok in a non-abusive childhood, because I have never been in a non-abusive childhood. It’s so confusing as we have to unravel our minds and get rid of the garbage we hung up on the walls of our “home in our mind” so proudly. Keep working through it, I’ll do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Randstein

    08/08/2015 at 20:40

    An important and necessary conversation that brings us to understanding. Balance is key and I do believe that love and affection can be demonstrated in our deeds and example through attitudes, openness, and communication without the ambiguity of too much or unwanted physical contact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ms McKahsum

      09/08/2015 at 09:40

      I agree, balance and wholesome contact are vital and not difficult to accomplish.
      As parents we need to be careful in what we subliminally teach. I just read a great article, I’ll get back to you on what it’s called, about the transference of fears and insecurities. It noted how if something related to intimacy created a fear in a child, that child as a parent later would demonstrate fearful our avoidance tactics when relating to their children, who would then become parents…… It’s noticing the cycle that starts the stopping, that’s what I’m trying to do, notice. Hopefully I can be helpful to others along the way!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Randstein

        09/08/2015 at 13:34

        It really is very important. I want to be very mindful of this. We never know how our actions program responses in our children. Thank you for sharing your story in such an illuminating way.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. tracymartin

    17/08/2015 at 21:13

    Really great piece. As adults, sometimes we wonder why it “bugs” us when people touch us like they have a license to. They “mean no harm” by it, but still, it is annoying. Thanks for breaking it down for the “touchers” to understand what they are really doing and the “touched’ to begin to feel okay to feel annoyed by it and to say so…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ms McKahsum

      18/08/2015 at 06:38

      Thank you Tracy. I’m working hard on figuring out where it all starts so we can try and work at the root. Those of us who are groomed as children, rarely have it “bug” us, and even more don’t know that we should, our how to say, “stop”.
      Those that truly mean no harm, have no problem when asked to stop. Those that are testing for victim-ability, will start with the justifications and telling us it’s our fault for being too sensitive, etc.
      Once we understand the tests, we can start steering clear.


  5. tracymartin

    19/08/2015 at 19:45

    I agree 100%. It just sometimes takes a long time for some of us to learn the difference between a “test” and real affection and intimacy. Like you indicated in your article…



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