3 Things My Cruel Father Taught Me About Kindness. Number 2 May Surprise You.

daddy and daughterby Debbie Gruber

Full disclosure: that's not a photo of me and my dad. That's a photo of a daddy that loves his little girl. It's what I always wanted but never had.

I am a good person despite being raised by a cruel man. But, that doesn't really go deep enough. I am kind BECAUSE of him. His cruelty caused me to go in the opposite direction. 

My Childhood

Throughout my early years my dad emotionally abused me, while my mom stood by and allowed the cruelty to continue. Only once did my dad tell me he loved me, blurting it out in a fit of rage, “Debbie, I love you but you’re an animal. You’re disgusting.”

My father, Marvin, never complimented me. Nothing was ever good enough. When I got a 90 on a test, he'd ask me what happened to the other ten points. When I baked cookies, he commented that some of them were too well done and that I must have forgotten to "rotate the cookie sheet". In his eyes, I fell short, every single time, each and every day. In his eyes I was always a failure. 


Frankly, that was the least of it. Perhaps the biggest trauma was when he helped me with my homework. I'm using the word "helped" very loosely. It was more like an inquisition. I ended up in tears almost every time, and rarely did he impart any knowledge. Helping me meant he could exert control and use the opportunity to belittle me, to show me who's boss. Not wanting to show up at school with shoddy homework, I was at his mercy.  

One particular incident haunts me to this very day. I was in 4th grade, around nine years old. My math homework involved roman numerals and I was stumped. I totally didn't understand roman numerals. I couldn't answer any of the homework questions. Needing help, but dreading what was coming, I went to my dad.

math homework

Instead of explaining, he just made me feel like a fool, saying "You don't understand this? It's easy." He didn't explain anything. He just asked me questions about roman numerals, which confused me even more. I know in my heart he did it on purpose. He enjoyed watching me squirm. I believe it gave him a feeling of power. Needless to say, I walked away in tears.

In school the next day, my teacher, Mrs. Glixon, told us to take out our pencils for a pop quiz. A POP QUIZ ON ROMAN NUMERALS. As the quiz was distributed I felt a knot growing in my stomach. I stared down at the quiz, not knowing the answer to a single question, willing myself not to cry. 

sad girl

I couldn't control myself. Tears dripped down my face fast and furious. I wasn't just crying. I was sobbing. The teacher took me out of the room to calm me down. I don't remember anything else. Except feeling very embarrassed. Except feeling stupid. I remember hating my father.

I Was Unkind

Imitating what I experienced at home, my younger self was often unkind. I did and said things that I am ashamed of, stuff I’ll always regret. One day it dawned on me, I was becoming just like my father . . . cruel. I knew I needed to find another path.

Turning Things Around

I'm not a particularly religious person, but I promised God I'd change my ways. I promised to be a good person. I discovered that kindness, being good to people, helping people, having compassion for others, feels really good. Being cruel is the opposite. It feels lousy. And, when we are kind to each other, the world becomes a better place.

When I think about how I want to live my life, I realize I am driven toward one goal: to leave the world a little bit better by spreading kindness. My goal feels huge and intimidating, and often impossible. However, I can’t let that stop me.

Leaving The Past Behind

back of woman staring at sea

For my sanity, I needed to walk away from my past. That meant cutting off all contact with my parents. Regardless of the emotional cruelty that they inflicted, this was not easy. It is not natural to abandon one's parents. 

I did it to save myself. It was painful to be with them, as it always reminded me of my childhood. Seeing them left me feeling angry and riddled with anxiety. It took me days to recover.

Perhaps things would have been different if there had been an apology, some remorse, any form of acknowledgement. That was not the case. 

Up until the very end, my mother backed my father. Although she once uttered a slight bit of remorse, "I told your father he was too hard on you when he helped you with your homework". When I asked her, "Why didn't you step in?", she didn't answer.

How Things Are Now

After years of struggling with my past and the guilt of estrangement, I am in a good place.

I am proud of myself for fighting through the pain. I think I'm strong. I know I bear scars from my childhood. That's okay. I can live with that. I don't have to be perfect. 

The 3 Things My Cruel Dad Taught Me About Kindness

be kind

#1 - You can be kind despite being raised by unkind parents.

#2 - My dad was cruel because he was weak. He didn't deal with whatever it was that traumatized him, the things that caused him to be cruel. It takes great strength to deal with those things. His inability to deal with his trauma caused it to spill all over me. You may find it surprising that I say my dad was cruel because he was weak. Many think cruel people are strong. We think of bullies as being tough, but I do not find that to be true.

#3 - Many kind people have experienced terrible situations (abusive relationships, childhood trauma, bullying, etc).

Spreading Kindness

I want my company, Shoe Sprinkles, to spread kindness in any way we can. One of the most impactful things we do would not be possible without our awesome customers. With each purchase of our hand painted loafers, we provide 18 meals to families in need.

Also, Shoe Sprinkles spreads kindness through storytelling, inspirational messages, charitable and community projects, and in a small way, through our shoe designs.

How in the world do our hand painted loafers spread kindness? That's a two-part answer:

  • Our shoe designs are inspired by stunning places, gorgeous objects, and the magnificence of nature. We deliberately created them to evoke heartwarming memories and beautiful imagery. Our goal is to make you feel happy every time you slip them on your feet.
  • Here’s the best part: it's been scientifically proven that happy people are more likely to be kind, and kind people are more likely to be happy. It's a joyous spiral where happiness leads to kindness, which leads to more happiness, which leads to more kindness, and so on.

Your Turn . . . 

What did you think of my story? Can you understand why I stopped having all contact with my parents?

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  • Debbie Gruber on

    Lin, it sounds like you have such a wonderful life now. I am so happy for you!

  • Deborah Ann Gruber on

    Thank you Shelly!

  • Debbie Gruber on

    Lee, I am so sorry for what you’ve been through

  • Debbie Gruber on

    You are a strong women Kimberly. I admire you!

  • Kimberly Hall on

    Wow! I can identify with quite a few things in this article. I don’t speak with my dad, due to him being a jerk.

    My dad taught me to be independent, but ironically, he hates that I am that way. He doesn’t like that he can’t control me and that I don’t need him. He’s condescending, and blames me for the “way I am”. Whatever that means. He gets mad because I don’t call him, but when I used to, he’d belittle me.

    My brother always needs him. My dad loves that because then he can use, cheat, and verbally abuse my brother.

    I know I have a lot of my dad’s personality, but I acknowledge it and over the years, I’ve tried to take the negatives and turn them into it positives.

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