Growing up with a Dominant Father

Growing up with an angry dad was very controlling.

Dominant Father

I grew up with an angry, dominant dad.

Looking back now as an adult, he wasn’t as bad as the image of the man you see in the picture above. But he did feel like that to me when I was small.

On his Throne

I love this image because it’s very much like how I saw my father when I was younger. My father would come home from work and I would cringe inside, (I’d feel it at the solar plexus area), when I would hear the car door slam shut.

In fact I remember in high school one of my English teachers asking all the students to write a paper on a topic about what scares us and to make it fictional. I didn’t realize that he was going to peer into our souls after reading them, but it was a good exercise for us all.

In my essay I talked about how a young teenage boy was afraid of the monster that is his father coming home. This boy could hear his father’s car when it was down the street, and even make out the specific hum that the engine made. He said that when the car pulled up into the driveway that it was like his father’s face was the entirety of the car.


And all of that fictional story was true in some sense. I remember truthfully being able to pick apart the sounds that my father’s car made when it was way down the road. It was kinda like of prey response you know, like a rabbit with their ears perked up listening for any signs of threat. And that yes when his car did finally come closer to the driveway it was like the vehicle was the embodiment of my father himself, who was this big, scary monster guy.

And it’s funny because my father did hit me and slap me around when I was younger, but it was never a severe type of beating. It was more the commonly practiced type of corporal punishment back in the 70s and 80s that many dads took part in.

Struggle against Anxiety

Angry Father

As I got a little older the hitting stopped and I realize that the physical punishment paled in comparison to the dread and fear I experienced that was his demeanor. He was an angry man who always seem to be intense with these big, dark eyes with dilated pupils, who yelled quite a bit. That harsh volatility scarred me more than anything else.

When he finally did walk in the door I remember my stomach turning to knots and my chest tightening, wondering if he was gonna get angry with me for whatever excuses his mind could come up with.

Sometimes it was me not cleaning up the kitchen or cleaning my room, or perhaps he was angry because I wasn’t outside – he just needed some type of excuse to vent his frustration. And because as a kid I was small and powerless, I was that lucky recipient.

Once he was home for the day, the atmosphere was all around more tense and I always knew where he was in the house. If I was in the basement I would know where he was going by the first few footsteps he took and I hoped he didn’t come down to where I was.

There were times of course were he was neutral, or even in a good mood, and when he was it felt like the sun was out, that’s how tense I was for such a long period of time. I was so used to living under this oppressive environment that when it was not as tense as usual, it was like I was out of prison.

Once he settled in, he would sit in his chair, again like the image above, and dominate from there. It was like a king on his throne who ruled the house and all those around him should beware.

Looking back now as an adult I can see that it takes an insecure person to have to rule this way, not a strong person, but at the time it seemed to me that he was a strong, all-powerful man.

Constant Tension

You know just writing this out and remembering it still amazes me. I’m amazed at how much tension my body was under for such a long period of time. It wasn’t that I had migraines or back issues or anything but it seemed to be more of a low-grade, consistent tension that just never really let up.

Fear of other People's Anger

Fear of Anger

My breathing was different. I never really sat down and was able to take nice, deep full breaths the way a person whose relaxed would. I always seemed to breathe from my chest, with a bit of a constricted sound, and I also started partially mouth breathing since that’s what you do I guess when you’re ready to take some kind of emergency action – the fight or flight response.

My body was always tight and I was one of the least flexible kids in school. I always thought that that was my genetics, I do think that my muscles are tight genetically, but I can see a big difference now in my muscle flexibility when I’m not stressed, or if I just finished meditating for example.

When I slept I usually had lots of nightmares or just dreams in general that were full of tension. One of the earliest streams I remember having was maybe when I was five or so, and I had dreamt that a police car was driving over on top of me and the underside of the police car was the material that you would find under a sofa, or couch and I couldn’t breathe properly.

Looking back now I can see that the police car represented authority, which in this case was obviously my father. And that I felt smothered by him. So even in sleep my body couldn’t get much of a break from the constant, and never-ending tension. It was exhausting.


By the time I got older and left the house, I took that pattern of relating with others with me out into the world. It was such an ingrained pattern that to me it was completely normal and so I started to act the way I was with my father, towards others. Especially other figures of authority like bosses, landlords and police officers. But also just other people in general as I saw almost everyone as a threat of some kind.

The way I interacted with my parents was the map of how I felt I was supposed to interact with the world. It’s only through therapy or talking with other people many years later that I realized that my upbringing was not normal. One therapist introduced me to the word reasonable and that’s when I started to look back on my upbringing and started to re-examine it through the lens of that new word.

I’ve come a long way but I’m still trying to undo this conditioned response. This fear and anxiety that still is inside me that came from growing up with a dominant dad.

Confronting Anxiety and Threat

Facing Fear

I’m still that rabbit with the big ears that are like radars, constantly on the lookout for threats and always carrying a slight bit of tension in case I need to flee.

It’s my work now, and I oftentimes resent having to do it but I’m also taking it on as a challenge to grow out of so I can become a normal person. And then I won’t stop there. I’ll keep going until I’m a calm and confident person, surpassing my original programming and burying it for good.


*** If you’re going through something similar then I hope this helped. If you are, I invite you to share it with me and everybody else who visits here by typing it up and emailing it over. I’ll post it on the blog which would benefit everyone; you for writing it up – which gets you in touch with your unconscious more and with this issue of yours specifically – and us for relating with it and perhaps seeing our own issue from a different angle.

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