A couple of days ago my younger sister interviewed me for her class project on "exceptional women". I learned more about myself through her insightful questions than I expected and best of all it felt good to speak about our shared experiences honestly and candidly. Whereas I can't add being an awesome older sister to my resume or CV I must say it's part of my DNA. It is possibly one of my most prestigious accomplishments. I am not perfect, and sometimes as my little sisters would say, I am indeed a "hater". If being a "hater" means I get to question some of their beliefs and challenge them to think critically and beyond the status quo, well then "odiadora" (hater in Spanish) it is.
But this blog is not about how great it felt to hear her speak of the qualities of an exceptional woman and how she came to choose me. It's not even about how important it is to connect with young women on the topics of success, beauty, drive and self-love. I am not even going to write about the joys of discovering feminism's newest recruits. Though hearing my once obnoxiously rebellious little sister proudly and accurately defining feminism and claiming it as her own made my heart tingle and my eyes water with joy.
This blog post is about silence. Well, actually, it's about breaking the silence. See, as you may know my father wasn't the most friendly and supportive of dads. At some point I might have even called him abusive. Now, I have evolved passed the victim identity and into my power and recognize his struggles with compassion and even love. I have also developed an amazing friendship with a man who is old enough to be my dad, and quite frankly is way more butch and masculine than most men, a manly man I guess. I realize now that through the development of that friendship I learned to trust and love men who earn my trust and love. I also learned that everyone has a story, and everyone including men who are abusive feel pain, heartache and loss.
I am not saying I am exonerating him (choice of word intentional) rather, I have found my own peace within my journey, my power beyond him and my experience of him and with him.
The reason this blog is about encouraging you to break the silence is that before my sister Stephanie interviewed me I declined to share any negative experiences of my father with her and my other siblings. I feared that by sharing too much I would "share my trauma" and taint their perception of my dad. After years of working with youth I know that young people, even the toughest of all thugs, are sensitive and fragile. As an awesome older sister I try to protect them from harm, when possible. However, now that she is 18 years old, old enough to make her own decisions and inquiries, I could tell during the interview she was eager to learn not just about how wonderful my life as a "successful woman" is, but also about the struggles. I admit at first I felt it was gossip-motivated (she is 18 and remember I am a "hater", i.e. critical thinker). But her compassionate line of questions, her mannerisms, her eye contact and deep listening demonstrated a thirst for a deeper connection with me, perhaps even a sincere desire for a shared understanding of the differences in our experiences with the man I call by first name and she calls dad.
The feelings that came up for me during the interview remind me of a famous quote by Audre Lorde that I think is quite relevant here: "Our silence will not protect us". I agree with Audre Lorde and also want to suggest that silence does not protect the survivor (me in this case) AND it also does not protect those we most want to protect (my siblings, mother). Instead it creates a schism of pain and resentment between the survivor and those who love her. This whole time I was healing alone, on my own, because I wanted to protect others from my trauma but I neglected to realize that I, by protecting them from my trauma, was also unintentionally robbing them of the joy, lesson and power of sharing my journey of transformation and healing. I thought, as I answered honestly for the first time, what if I am face to face with my path? sitting with my little sister, teaching her about overcoming struggle but also about learning and teaching others how to go beyond survival into the beautiful land of healing, love and fearless value-driven power. Note, power has to be fearless and fueled by positive values in order for it to be healing and expansive. Power alone is not enough and can in fact be dangerous.
So when Stephanie asked me about my hobbies, my five year plan, my thousand and one interests I honestly (and for the first time) uttered: I want to inspire and teach women to be happy. I could tell it wasn't what she was expecting, and I imagine her school's staff hammers in the message of higher education, being a doctor or a lawyer, I know that was certainly my intention when I entered Barnard. I am grateful for that message for it's certainly valuable and a nice balance to the more common message to "get married and have some babies right after high school".
And yet as I continued to exploit my soapbox as a rare moment of spiritual and emotional connection with my sister I shared with her that I wish so much more than traditional success for her and all young women. I wish for all women to also be happy, to be content, and to work hard because they want to contribute to the world by doing something they truly love and makes them happy, whatever that may be. I also wish for women to be safe, strong, feel beautiful, feel worthy and feel amazing. Those things may not make it into your resume, but trust me they show and make you radiant whether you are working at a big time corporate firm or bagging someone's groceries. As for me, I am ok uttering the right things even when my sisters don't want to hear them and being called a "hater" because every time I teach someone something that gets them closer to permanent happiness despite all the things that seem, feel, or go wrong I know I am fulfilling my mission to make the world a better, friendlier place for all women and the men who love us.
Yaromil Fong-Olivares is a life coach and personal power blogger residing in New York City. Contact her for coaching, training, writing, and speaking gigs at email@example.com. To purchase my ebook THE HOLY GRAIL OF LIFE COACHING, click here. To purchase my exercise video, The Sulaxmi Exercise Method, click here.