The Institution of Behaviors

Monkey see, monkey do is a pidgin-style saying that appeared in American culture in the early 1920s. The saying refers to the learning of a process without an understanding of why it works. This is exactly how my father raised us. Thus, instituting behaviors in his children that were not easily undone.

Abusers are bright, articulate and know how to control. They need you to like them. They’d prefer you to love them unconditionally because that’s really what they need. There wasn’t a time that my father abused me that he didn’t try to beckon my love for him. That’s what he wanted or, rather, that’s what his empty soul longed for.

Like the time he looked over at me while I was eating and told me that no daughter of his would eat with her right hand. He then held up his fork in his left hand in demonstration. I’m still left handed.

Monkey see, monkey do.

I had many learned behaviors by the time I married at 18 and my first husband had just taken ownership of a fully trained robot. I was at his full attention and primed to be controlled. He could do with me and my children what he wanted. Later, in our 50's, he was diagnosed with cancer and asked if he could see me and the kids. We had been divorced and estranged for almost 20 years by then. Hoping my children would receive some kind of reconciliation through apology, we agreed to a visit. He asked me to make him my spaghetti sauce and I complied. While we were eating dinner, he proclaimed to me and my children, “I could do anything to your mother.” I put my fork down and burst into tears.

Monkey see, monkey do. Our lives with him were atrocious and full of abuse.

I used to try to live a life doing everything right — or so I thought. I began to learn that I was playing out a life that was being dictated by my abusers. I had been taught I had “no rights, only privileges.”

Until I began to unlearn the behaviors I had been taught, I couldn’t even conceive of a life I might create. Then, when I did begin creating my own path, it was quite messy. Sometimes, I had no idea what I was doing — but I was free. I was the author now. I made all kinds of mistakes and took all kinds of wrong turns but I was now the builder of my own life and the architect of my own destiny.

In the end, every path that I created was the right path because it was my own creation.

Through the process of re-parenting myself, I learned to hand much of that re-parenting process over to a very loving Heavenly Father. He knows me. He knows my intentions and He sees my heart.

He has not failed me yet. I do not believe He ever will.

Originally published at on September 4, 2020.



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