When I was 36, fathers came up in casual conversation. Someone asked how long my father had been dead. I did the math and said “25 years.”
In that very moment I thought… “wow… a quarter of a century… I’ve been an idiot for holding onto the pain I have about this relationship… it’s stupid. Who do I think I’m hurting? He has rotted in the ground and I’m walking around every day pissed at him? How freaking stupid is that?” So, I stopped. Right then and there. I put an immediate end to that foolishness.
And you know what, in a few months I started to appreciate that some of the things I like about myself – like my sense of humor and the fact that I’m very sociable – are traits my father had. I started to appreciate the fact that he had a multi-racial crew at his sawmill in the 50s when, as one of the men who worked for him told me just a few months ago, “Jack Terrell was the only white man in the county then who’d hire a black man and pay him a decent wage.”
Yeah, you know what, he was a crappy father in many ways. He had some issues and problems and loads of stuff I’m not going to go into in this public forum. But, hey, he was human. And he was funny and witty and when he died people missed him. The funeral home was overflowing with flowers – some from people my family didn’t even know.
I’m convinced parents do the best they can every day with who they are at the time. They may not love us the way we want to be loved, but they love us the best way they know now. I can accept the good and let go of the bad or I can continue to carry around the weight of what he “did to me.” He didn’t do anything to me. He was just going through life being the broken person he was, like we all are. “Give it a rest” and “Let it Lie” was some of the best advice I’ve ever given myself.
I see people who want to define themselves as victims and survivors and from dysfunctional families and dozens of other labels. We’re all bigger than any of those things – if we let ourselves be.
There’s the old joke about wanting to get a support group of people from dysfunctional families together and the answer is – there already is one – it’s the people on the freeway in the morning. Who didn’t grow up in a dysfunctional family? I don’t know a single person. Yes, some is more severe than others, but moving every few years, or having a father who was homebound from a car accident, or a mother who was running rum when it was illegal, or a father who was an alcoholic, or a dozen other things I can count among my friends, is all dysfunction. As I’m so fond of telling people, “ain’t nobody living in a Norman Rockwell painting.”
I’m not sure why we want to carry this pain around, but it seems to be something we get a benefit from. I certainly carried it around for years. I’m fundamentally different because I moved beyond that limiting view.
Is it all tidied up with a neat bow tied around it? Hell no. I’m 44 and I’ve never been married. Do the math on that one. Commitment is difficult for me. Life seems very temporary. Think maybe my father’s absence and early death has anything to do with that? Probably. But I’m an adult and I have to take responsibility for my own life. I’ve had long term relationships and I’ve loved fully – with abandon – and I will again. Do I have issues with men? Hell yes. Does every other woman I know? Pretty much.
Men and women are different creatures and to consider that the bad relationship you had with your father is the only reason you’re not completely in sync with a man is insane. I’m not saying it helps anything – but hey, we can’t all live Jessica Simpson’s perfect life with her daddy giving her a ring to be the man in her life until she got married with her virginity in tact. Oh, wait, her life with men isn’t perfect either – she’s getting divorced – and she lost the ring daddy gave her. I mean, really, it’s great that her father was that kind of man. I’m just saying it’s rare. And, in the end, it doesn’t seem to equal happiness in relationships.
I’m not a parent, but really think most of them are just doing the best the can. It may not be what we hope for, but it’s what we have, and we just have to work with it.