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I haven’t seen my father in over ten years. Our relationship is best described as being broken. I miss him terribly and I’m equally responsible for this sad state we’ve come to. After years of back and forth, I think we’ve both decided that ours is not a father/daughter bond-to-be.
Last June, a story I wrote about my father was published in a national magazine. This did not bode well with my father. It was a risk – putting my feelings out there for the world (and my father) to read – but it was my story – my experience – my feelings. There are always two sides to a story; I chose to share my side as a means to make peace with our past. The process was painful yet proved to be cathartic as I managed to get out decades of disappointment and revealed within my heart, a sense of clarity of where I stand with him, especially now that I myself am a parent.
I have wonderful memories of my father. Growing up, he modeled for me what it means to be a creative genius. His passion and commitment to the environment was steadfast long before it became cool to be “green.” He followed his heart, which would oftentimes be broken, as he (like me) is a sensitive soul. His open mindedness towards others would allow me in my adult years to not judge but embrace people who were different. But there was a flip side to his sensitivity and it scared me. The hurt he suffered as a child and young adult were unbearable, and this bottled up pain would sometimes take form in the most terrifying tirades. His past was painful and I know he had worked hard to move forward and far away from those that hurt him so. I miss his big bear hugs, and wish desperately that my two girls could experience his warmth and enthusiasm for all things “nature.” But this is likely to never happen.
In my story, I openly called out my fears and frustrations with what I believe to be is my father’s struggle with mental illness – and his unwillingness to address and accept what has been a major road block in his life, and in our building a healthy, sustainable relationship. I’m not a doctor, nor a saint, but I’m a daughter who has lived thru one too many irrational outbursts. At a young age, I was often a witness to my father’s tantrums, and they left a lasting impression. I struggled to make sense of my father’s pain but came to the conclusion that it may be best to keep my distance. To quote the famous Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Instead of walking away, I wish I had made more of an effort to see things from my father’s perspective, and embraced him as he had embraced me so many times during my times of need. But I was a teenager, young and self-involved, too caught up in the drama of my own life. If I could go back in time I would. But I can’t. And this is what brings me down every Father’s Day.
Thankfully, there is a bright side to this broken bond. After years of struggling to find happiness, I made a rather adult decision – and began a relationship with a solid man – a man who, like me, had a similarly bumpy relationship with his father. We know what it’s like to not have our fathers in our lives – for different reasons – and there’s an understanding between us. Many people have said, “Well at least you didn’t marry your father.” And they are so very wrong. This may appear to be true to an outside observer, but my husband is very much like my father – the father who supported my wanderlust; the father who understood that his teenage daughter didn’t eat, not because she wanted to be skinny but because she was sad and lonely; the father who spent endless hours on the phone counseling me when I suffered yet another broken heart, and the father who helped me decide which path to take when I was accepted into two different graduate schools. This is the father I chose to remember now.
Like my father, my husband has stood by my side; years ago, he walked me to work daily when I suffered debilitating panic attacks after being bullied by an unsupportive staff (I quickly put in my resignation); he factors in my thoughts and feelings when applying for future posting positions overseas; he supports my dream and ambition to be a writer, and most importantly he is a hands on deck kind of guy when it comes to taking care of our two girls. He loves big and rarely judges others; he is a sensitive, kind soul, very much like my father. But unlike my father, he is solid and true in his commitment to our relationship. He is most definitely the yin to my yang.
Father’s Day is bittersweet as it often stirs up my yearnings for a big bear hug from my father and to hear a story about his adventures in the Amazon Rainforest. But now it’s simply all about the memories – and that has to be enough. When my girls grow up and ask about their grandfather I’m not quite sure what I will say. I have some wonderful photographs and funny stories to share with them. In the meantime, the focus this Father’s Day will be on the solid, funny tall guy they enthusiastically call “dada”, and that is more than enough to create wonderful memories for all of us.
Photo courtesy of elephantjournal.com.