Who needs a father when there are so many good men in the world doing their best to relate to women (and men) in kind and meaningful ways…?
It was father’s day here in the UK very recently and as always it makes me feel slightly torn. I enjoy the posts I see on Facebook where friends share their love and appreciation for their fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers and any other kind of father one could think of. I loved the look on my partners face when he came to tell me his sons had brought him chocolate because of father’s day. I just generally feel joyful when people show each other that they care.
But another part of me gets annoyed with father’s day and I catch myself having inner dialogues about “how superficial and commercial it all is”.
When I take a closer look at my annoyance I find that it is just self-protective palaver designed to keep certain feelings at bay. Feelings of sadness and confusion – a deep grief that never really eases or shifts.
When new people come into my life – or when I do training and talk about my life – at one point people will ask about my family and my parents. And I will often just talk about my mother and my siblings. Some people will continue to talk about my parents in plural or they will ask about my father and this is when I say “I don’t have a father”. And I really, really mean that; I grew up without a father – or even a stepfather – and I still don’t have a father. Because the man who contributed to the creation of me has never taken an interest in me.
My mother decided to raise me on her own and she also decided not to get into a relationship again, which meant that there were no male role models close to me as a grew up.
Even though my mother’s feelings towards my father must have been complex, she never said a bad word about him to me; when I was young she would tell me very simple stories about him when I asked. Stories about how he looked and how he worked on ships.
My mother also seemed very aware of her own limitations raising me as a single mother. She made sure I spent time with my great aunt and uncle as well as families of friends so that I could experience different kinds of family lives and learn social skills that she couldn’t teach me.
As I got older life got more complicated for me and I began to wish that I had a father – someone who would love and support my mother but also someone who could help with the conflicts between my mother and I. I started to wonder why my mother was on her own and why my father wasn’t interested in me and in my powerlessness to change the situation I started believing that I was cursed. That there was something evil about me and that this evil had put a curse on my mother and I so that neither of us would ever be loved.
This belief was in some ways easier to cope with than the anger I felt towards my mother – the anger just caused me more pain and shame while the belief that I was cursed gave me something to work with.
If I could just be “a good girl” and keep the evil under control, then things could change.
The irony is that knowing my mother as I know her now, I am pretty sure she never wanted me to be “a good girl”. My mother has always supported my self-expression, autonomy and uniqueness and I know she noticed it when I began to struggle as a kid.
She did what she could to support me but I imagine it was difficult as I began to withdraw emotionally and refused to talk about what was going on. Looking back, I also think it was near impossible for me to express all the thoughts and feelings I had as I was only 8-9 years old and didn’t have a language for it.
I have a very clear memory of deciding not to talk about the things I was struggling with because I didn’t think anybody would understand (I barely understood myself) but also I was worried about contaminating others with all the horrible things I felt inside.
Keeping the belief that I was unlovable alive, wasn’t difficult – it’s pretty easy to make sure you love people who can’t or won’t love you back and there it is: proof that you are unlovable. I’ve done that a lot. Also I used to avoid building friendships that I wanted to last because I couldn’t cope with the pain of separating from people.
But I didn’t get to control everything in my life – luckily! So somehow people started coming into my life who just seemed to like me and care about me without me doing anything to deserve it…
As the years passed I slowly got more comfortable around men who were nice to me – though I still get pangs of paranoia and think to myself that they are only kind to me because they want something from me. But I kept finding the courage to trust and little by little my experience of having meaningful friendships with men helped me create a new belief system within me. Belief in my own worth and my own strength; that I could trust my own judgement about what I needed, about my boundaries, that I had the skills to look after myself in a gentle way and that I had something valuable to bring to the world.
Most importantly I began to receive the love that was offered to me.
I don’t know what my life would have been like had I had a father – somethings might have been easier and somethings might have been harder.
I do know that I deeply treasure my relationship with my mother and had I had a father it would not have been what it is today – simply because the dynamics between us would have been different.
I also know that I really like how I am (well, most of the time anyway); I like the values I have, my outlook on life and the way I experience the world. And I would be a different person had anything in the past 35 years turned out differently than it did.
Part of being who I am, is living with this grief in the pit of my stomach; it is not quite loss, not quite longing, not quite abandonment or rejection. It is more like an emptiness or nothingness, a not knowing but at the same time it has density and a certain heaviness to it and its dark, dark blue…
This blog is written to celebrate all those men in my life – past and present – who have related to me in ways that made me feel loved and valuable.
Men who were able to meet my needs for safety, joy, choice, nurturing, respect, mutuality, acceptance, consistency, integrity, openness and growth.
The black-blue pain may never dissolve but your presence in my life has made it easier to carry.
The list of men who have helped me on my journey is actually surprisingly long. I have begun to write it out in more details and with stories but it suddenly felt too personal and exposing so maybe that list is for another post on a later occasion…
Elisabeth, thank you soooo much for sharing..your message is both touching and moving. I had a dad who loved me in a very confusing manner…sexually abused me from the early age of 2.5, created for me the following relationships that still affect my life: Love equals Pain and Play equals Danger (today to a lesser degree).
My dad passed last September 6 and was buried on September 9 and when the crypt was being sealed it thundered so loudly that the earth almost shook, I heard the voice of God saying, “IT IS FINISHED” – Jesus’ last 3 words on the cross…a deep sense of peace came over me. Since then I have opened up myself to an array of feelings…Anger, Grief, Love, Joy with true appreciation and gratitude for everything in my life. I am exercising greater self love and care and value myself as a whole person. I used to say “I am happily single” because I found myself in abusive, unloving relationships that I had decided better off alone than to expose myself to the degradation I experienced all of my life prior to my father’s passing. I am now joyfully accepting loving, safe relationships into my life by loving myself and exercising greater self care, setting boundaries. I too am a highly sensitive person and have found ways to navigate my world.
I celebrate you and your journey, Elisabeth…life is like the tight bud blossoming into a sweet and beautiful flower.
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