Feeling Fatherless

Ugh, Father’s Day. One of those days I prefer to avoid Facebook. Lots of statuses with endearments for dads by friends who have or had great relationships with their fathers. I want to be glad for them, really I do. It’s just difficult when your own experience has been less than satisfying.

It’s not that my dad is a horrible man. He never beat us or molested us. Although he didn’t deal well with family drama and during our high school years, he drank frequently to escape. He could be mean when he’d had too much. Once when I was about sixteen, we were at the dinner table and he’d had an extended cocktail hour before we sat down. I don’t remember what he said but it was despicable. I was so angry, I was shaking. Shoving my chair back, I leaned over the table at him. “You’re drunk and I don’t have to put up with it!” I only remember two times I ever had the guts to speak my mind to him and that was one of them.

Dad worked for the same company his entire career. He provided well. He had lots of hobbies and interests when I was growing up. Diving. Painting. Gardening. Photography. My favorite portrait of all time is a black and white photo, almost sepia, that he took of me when I was about 2 years old. He developed it himself on this stiff, old-fashioned photo board that looks like something out of the early 1900’s. It’s the only photo I have of me as a baby.

My father could build or fix anything. Once, through an electronics correspondence course, he built a TV from the circuit board up . Every month, he’d get a bunch of wires, resistors, transistors, and electronic do-dads along with an orange three-ring binder of instructions in the mail and he’d disappear down into the basement with his soldering iron. The thing actually worked! Then he built a cabinet for it which was so blasted heavy, he couldn’t get it upstairs and the TV found a permanent place in the basement gameroom.

Dad was in my life, he just wasn’t engaged. He didn’t get too close. If he had something to say to me, which wasn’t very often, he usually did it through Mom. “Your father wanted me to tell you . . .” It was a weird dynamic, kind of like Ralphie’s family in “A Christmas Story.” For my part, I watched him from a distance. I knew him through Mom, as if she was some sort of interpreter for fathers who don’t speak “daughter.”

I have wondered if his total lack of participation in our childhood was a means of getting even with her. Mom once told me (and no kid EVER needs to know this kind of information) that Dad didn’t want children and she’d lied to him about birth control in order to get pregnant. Was Dad’s seeming apathy a passive/aggressive way of saying, “You wanted kids, well now you got ’em. They’re all yours”?

Many people have told me it’s just my dad’s generation. That’s the way it was back then. Mothers raised the kids. Fathers brought home the income. But I don’t buy it. I have plenty of friends my age whose fathers were and still are actively involved in their lives.

One thing I do know. I needed him. Jerri and I would both be healthier adults if he’d been less absent. Girls, in particular, have a strong need to be cherished by their fathers. It gives them a model of what to look for in relationships with men. It gives them a sense of value and self-worth. Without this foundation, there’s a void. I think that’s why so many of us spend our lives only feeling valued when a man shows us attention. Even if that attention is negative, abusive, or purely sexual.

I’d like to have a relationship with my dad now but that seems hopelessly impossible. Mom and I are at an impasse and I’ve chosen to disassociate. You can only have a relationship with Mom if you are willing to do so on her terms. Her terms require me to be someone I’m not. They require me to lose myself, to be this imaginary perfect daughter who never disagrees, never has an opinion, always puts everyone else’s needs above her own, always does what Mom wants when she wants.

I feel like I’m in some sort of battle to preserve the very essence of who I am. That I’m surrounded by people who refuse to see me, refuse to embrace me, will only have me if I prostitute myself and become who they want me to be. To deny the essence of who you are in order to please someone else seems to me an egregious sin against God. Who made me this way to begin with. Am I the only one who feels that way?

My dad doesn’t see it. He still interprets me only through my mother, a notorious revisionist. He listens to tall tales about why I’ve disassociated (mental illness, selfishness) and he choses to do the same even though what’s going on between me and Mom has nothing to do with him. It’s not that hard for him to cut ties. We lived in the same house for 18 years and he almost seems like a stranger. Like someone I’ve heard about but only actually met once or twice. I tell myself he is making this choice in order to maintain peace with Mom. She has a way of making life a living hell when she doesn’t get her way. But I will probably never know why Dad does what he does. He is in his late 70’s and we are running out of time.

There was one post today on Facebook that I did actually find helpful:

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. [Psa 68:5-6a]


This Week Brought to You by the Letter “R”

On Tuesday, I sent my boss an email that read, “I’m taking off the rest of the week to rebuild resiliency.” This is code for “If I have to come into work even one more day, I can’t be held accountable for my own actions.” Which is code for “Coworkers are driving me crazy and I may have to kill them.”

I knew I’d reached that point where it’s just better for everyone concerned if I stopped showing up when I melted down over the new multi-function copier device a.k.a. copier on steroids. It requires a graduate degree to operate. I’m not kidding. After about 15 minutes in an infinite loop where it would not let me copy and it would not let me exit copy and go to scan, I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs, “Really? Can we not go one freakin’ day at this company without drastically changing something?”

This, of course, was after I discovered my trashcan was missing and was informed that housekeeping was no longer emptying the trash in our offices so all in-office trashcans had been confiscated. You can’t make this stuff up. Instead, I was given a shoebox-sized plastic basket and instructed to empty it in the closest public trashcan as needed. There is nothing more disgusting than an apple core and a boogery kleenex sitting in a plastic basket on your desk waiting to be emptied.

Note that “resiliency” starts with an “R”. Just a little help for those of you who never watched Sesame Street and are still puzzled by the title of this post.

I’ve also completely lost my ability to filter what comes out of my mouth. So like when somebody asks me, “How’s your day going?” I actually tell them and that’s never a good thing. Most of my conversations end with, “and that’s why I’m spending the rest of the afternoon working on my resume.” Resume, another word that begins with “R”.

So Tuesday night, we packed up our three dogs and headed to North Topsail Beach. Three dogs? Yes, that’s correct. On Sunday, we rescued a corgi from a broken home. He was being used as a weapon in a divorce. I mean, metaphorically. It’s not like they were hitting each other over the head with him.

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Tucker was the wife’s dog. He’d been purchased without the husband’s consent and then abandoned when the wife moved out. The wife said, “Well if you get the house, you get the damn dog too.” Really? Because I would have been, “You can have the damn house but I get the dog.” Sort of speaks to the character of a person, don’t you think? Anyway, rescue is another R-word, and is probably not something one should do when their resiliency needs rebuilding.

On Wednesday, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island released 14 recovered turtles back into the ocean and we were there for both the opening ceremony and the actual release. Jean Beasley, who heads up the organization, gave a stirring Scarlett O’Hara as-God-as-my-witness-I’ll-never-go-hungry-again speech about how nothing, not turtle hospital overcrowding, not delays in building the new hospital, not lazy-good-for-nothing-contractors-that-promise-they’ll-see-you-tomorrow-and-don’t-show-up-again-for-two-weeks could keep them from fulfilling their promise to these turtles to send them back home.

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And this made me think of Jerri and her recovery. I haven’t seen much of her since she confided she’d used cocaine, yet again, and due to low resiliency, I just haven’t had the energy to engage. Jean’s speech reminded me of the promise I gave Jerri when she moved here. I promised I would not abandon her the way our parents had. And here I am, not abandoning really, but certainly distancing. Hmmm.

Bear, one of the turtles that was released, had been with the hospital since 2009. They really didn’t know what was wrong with her, possibly something viral. Again, this reminds me of Jerri because I’ve never been truly convinced that we have the right diagnosis. But Bear did recover. I like to think this is God’s way of telling me there is hope.

It also reminded me of a story in the current issue (28, Summer 2012) of the NAMI Voice, called Loving a Sibling with a Chronic Illness by Trudelle Thomas. In it, she talks about changing the way she related to her brother with schizophrenia. She encountered a concept called “unconditional positive regard“–the idea that all people need and deserve unconditional acceptance. She realized she’d been treating her brother as a problem not a person deserving unconditional acceptance. So she stopped acting like a second mother and started becoming a friend. She didn’t give advice unless he asked for it. She stopped focusing on his illness and instead began sharing more about her own life with him and even asking for his advice on occasion. Trudelle also shared wisdom from The Dance of Anger, a book by Harriet Goldhor Lerner which I’ve also read and recommend. Harriet writes that a person who is an over-functioner (who, me?) can cause others to remain under-functioners and actually block them from becoming more capable. In a sense, you need to release the under-functioner to live their own life.

So I’m ending this week with reflection on resiliency, rescuing, releasing, recovery and relationships. And also an apology for the seemingly random nature of this post. It’s totally “R’s” fault.