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Since my Mother’s Day Blog hit a chord for many readers,  it should not have been a surprise when I was queried, “What will you write for Father’s Day?”

Where do I begin? I thought. I had no clue.

And as often happens, just when inspiration fails, something that seems totally unrelated appears in my life. In this case, it was a friend recommending that I read “Father of the Rain.” I had NO idea what is was about, but I like her taste in books and so promptly sought it out in my library. Like a great meal, I devoured it. And then that meal, so rich in flavor and texture turned into heartburn as it kept me up long into the night forcing me to (once again) examine my own relationship with my father.

Now, it was clear what I would write for my Father’s Day Blog.

I was struck by how beautifully the author, Lily King, conveyed the tenacity with which the daughter pursues her quest to heal her relationship with her charming, complicated, volatile, alcoholic father. Struggling daughters often see their damaged fathers as all powerful yet incredibly fragile. The novel is a page turner even if you can’t relate to this dysfunctional dad. But if you are a woman who struggles with a lifetime of pain revolving around your relationship with your father, this one is for you.

Here’s a short excerpt. The first speaker is Daley Amory, an academic in her late 20’s. A phone call that her father‘s second wife has left him and he is devastated, pulls Daley back into the struggle. She delays her move to California (despite the warnings of concerned friends) and sets off East from Michigan to be with her father for what is supposed to be a short, comforting three day visit. The second speaker is Jonathan, her boyfriend . When Daley continues to postpone leaving her father to begin her own life (and putting everything she has worked for at peril), Jonathan shows up on their doorstep in her family’s New England home.

“I need to stay a little bit longer.”

“No, you don’t, come with me now.”

“I can’t be the next person who gives up on him.”

“You would not be giving up on him, Daley, you’re his grown daughter. He knows you need to live your life.”

“He’d feel abandoned. And he is already come so far. He likes AA. He likes those meetings.”

“Why are we talking about AA? What does AA have to do with our life, Daley?” He steps away and presses his lips between his teeth.

“He won’t go if I leave. I know he won’t.”

“Then he is really not doing it for himself, is he?”

“Not yet, not entirely. But he will when he is stronger. “

“How can he get stronger when you’re here letting him be weak? That’s not how people get stronger. He needs to do it on his own.”

“He needs something to lean on right now. I’m like a splint for his broken leg.”

At what cost, Daley? The splint eventually gets thrown in the trash. Has it occurred to you that your mother and your stepmother tried for years and years to be splints too?

“But they wanted more from him than I do.”

“Oh, Daley, you want so much more than they ever did. You want the daddy you never got. You want him to make your whole childhood okay.”

“You want the daddy you never got. You want him to make your whole childhood okay.” How often in your relationship with your father, do you find yourself feeling like the small, inadequate child and a second later morphing into his mother/caretaker/confidante? Feeling like the child may bring back all those dreaded feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, while the mother/caretaker/confidante role can feel empowering and important. Yet, these collapsing and unclear boundaries are a set up. You long to save him, have him love you and of course, when he fails, you feel miserable. He blames you and you blame you and so you try-harder and harder. You turn into a strange amalgam of a desperate approval seeking child and a resentful, obligated adult. You adore and abhor him with equal vigor.

It is no surprise that these relationships are often wildly unstable.  On one hand, your father may be intelligent, charismatic and charming but also alcoholic, abusive, narcissistic, or depressed.  This may be complicated by the façade he puts on for the world. Only we get to see the dark side, so we conclude, “It must be my fault”. We hope the dysfunctional, alcoholic or mentally ill father will get better because the belief that our father’s problems are our fault is always just under the surface. We have been lead to believe that it is our unworthiness that is responsible for our father’s problems: If we were just a better student, prettier, thinner, smarter or funnier, than dad would not have these problems.  Daughters   wind up taking the blame for their father’s failures and then carry that baggage into adulthood.

We need our fathers to teach us how to be loved by a man, to role model a healthy relationship, to affirm us and to reassure us that we are loveable and worthy- all this while keeping appropriate boundaries. So, when dad isn’t able to do any of that, we scramble around frenzied, trying to figure out a way to fix him. We may not be conscious of it, but just under the surface is the belief that if we can fix him then he can fix us.

So on Father’s Day, are we the approval seeking desperate child or the caretaker/mother/confidante? Where is the greeting card that reflects THAT ambivalent relationship?

Maybe it is time to reconsider and rewrite the script that keeps us locked in this unsavory and frustrating dynamic. When we accept we cannot fix someone else, then we can shift all that energy into healing our own pain and living a life that is not predefined by our history but is designed by our choices.

 ♦♦♦♦

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7 Comments

  1. Isabel on the 12. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    Great article. I’m sure a lot of women could relate to this…

  2. CJ Golden on the 12. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    After reading your blog, and thinking about my own very complicated relationship with my dad, well, it was natural to then take the leap and think about my granddaughters and their dad.
    I look at this man who is my son-in-law and recognize how fortunate my granddaughters are. They will grow up and marry someone like him – strong, steady, loving without conditions, fun and funny.
    There is no fixing needed.
    Good thing, because no matter how hard I tried, I would never have been able to fix my own father.

  3. Danna on the 12. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    All I can say is,”Wow!!
    Excellent insight!”

  4. Laurie on the 12. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    I love that last line “When we accept we cannot fix someone else, then we can shift all that energy into healing our own pain and living a life that is not predefined by our history but is designed by our choices.” It’s my motto!!

  5. Kelley on the 13. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    My only question is how to I help my daughters survive their alchohlic, abusive father. Divorce and trying to be a positive role model doesn’t seem to be enough. Are my daughters doomed to same cycle I went through with my father? Very thought provoking.

    • admin on the 13. Jun, 2011 remarked #

      Your awareness of the situation can be helpful in supporting your daughters on their journey and breaking the cycle. Also, educating your daughters about alcoholism can offer them insight, detachment and self-awareness.

  6. Angela on the 25. Jun, 2011 remarked #

    Hard to read but so true. It is true for all relationships, not just the all-powerful dad one; you can’t fix them so put your energy into nurturing yourself! Thanks so much Donna!

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