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June 20, 2021

How a Difficult Relationship with my Father helped me Choose the Best Father for my Children.

Father (fah-th-er) noun: 

one who loves, encourages, supports, and guides, maker of the biggest laughs, and who has the kindest heart 

As Father’s Day approaches, I feel inspired to share.

I will not tell you all of my sad stories, but rather encourage you to celebrate your happy ones. 

I saw my dad once, since my college graduation in 1984, by his choice. At the time, I was 21. I am now 58.

I tried to reconcile with him when my son Dylan wanted a grandpa. When I reached out from one of many hiatuses, he provided me with a long list of conditions, in writing, that would have to be met before he would even consider a meeting. He had me jumping through hoops and taking ownership for situations that had nothing to do with me. He was masterful that way. It was soul crushing; so painful in fact that I let it go.

It was Dylan’s observation that gave me permission to do it. That sweet little boy said to me, ”Trying to get your dad back is making you sick. I don’t want a grandpa that bad.” He has always been wise beyond his years. He was born that way.

My dad provided for me financially and was always there in a crisis; that was his love language. I’m not sure if a clause in the divorce settlement required that, but whatever he did give, he took back in other ways.

It is difficult to grow up with constant ultimatums, his way or the highway. All good deeds done were used as leverage to get compliance. The mere idea of unconditional love had conditions.

The relationship between a father and his daughter has enormous ramifications. Its lifelong impact is profound. At 58, I look back and am reminded of the gaping wound that the relationship I had with my father has always been. For most of my adult life, it was something I locked away in the basement of my soul, hidden and buried, hoping it would never be unpacked—if only.

I am always searching for the silver lining in any life event that causes pain. Ironically, my dad taught me what qualities I did not want in the father of my children, just by being who he was.

There was no other way to figure that out but to live it out. The only way to the other side was through.

As a child, I wasn’t aware that my dad was constantly pulling the rug out from under me, which made standing on my own two feet more challenging for me than my peers.

Home for me was a difficult place, and for most of my friends, it was their safe place. Many women who have had this kind of turbulent relationship with a man repeat it because they know the rules; it’s familiar. If this sounds familiar please read Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood.

My husband, Alan, is the father I always hoped my children would have. He is as funny as my dad was, or funnier, without the sharp edges. He lifts our children up. He has a genuine friendship with them and takes an active role in the things that matter to them. He is generous in all ways and keeps them in check when they step outside of the lines or look like they might be veering off course.

We’ve always had each other’s back in the parenting department. We speak the same language and our values line up effortlessly. He definitely played good cop to my bad cop, as is often the case. I asked them if their homework was done, and he asked them what movie they wanted to see. I prefer to think he was the yang to my yin; tomato, tomato, potato, potato.

If you have a sweet, tender relationship with your father or father figure, you are blessed.

Tend to it as you would a garden. The grass is always greener where we water it. Celebrate it on Father’s Day and every day. Celebrate your father, your uncle, your big brother, your bonus dad, or anyone else who made your heart grow three sizes. Forget the classic gifts, the slippers, and the Old Spice, and instead, shower them with appreciation. Put your heart on paper.

There are moments when the little girl in me feels quietly envious of my daughter Eliza’s relationship with her father. I often stand back in the shadow of how big their relationship is. She adores him in a way I could never even begin to imagine with my father. I am comfortable enough in my grown-up skin to allow them to be exactly who they are and to celebrate it because I know who I am. There was a learning curve.

“When I’m at my best, I am my father’s daughter.”

I watched him be an example to my son Dylan: achieving success, living with integrity, doing things the right way—not the easy way—and being a loving husband and father.

It was also incredibly powerful to watch him care for his mom when she was dying. There are some things in life that can only be learned by watching with your own eyes. My son saw how loyal and tender Alan was with his mom. It is not lost on me that Dylan is coming of age. He is engaged to be married and I see in him the qualities I most love in his father.

“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice.” 

In our 34 years together, my husband has softened in our relationship, but he is absolute butter in the palm of my daughter’s hand, and she in his. I think about them dancing at her wedding and all of the times in her life he believed in her; all of the times I didn’t have that and had to find a way to believe in myself. If you believe in karma, I may have picked my dad to learn the hard lessons. It is a big piece of who I have become, and Eliza has a knack for letting things fall in her lap effortlessly. Good on her.

My dad chose not to be at my wedding or to meet my children. It has been my life’s work to accept that, without taking it personally.

It is absolutely easier said than done. Trust me. The deep ache of my non-relationship with my dad was ultimately dulled by the reality of what an amazing gift it was for my children to have their father. Every so often, the lens with which I see the relationship I had with my father gets blurry, as it would if you tried on the wrong pair of glasses. The corners of confusion creep up on me, and I have to take a step back and breathe. Father’s Day is one of those days that can trigger the jagged pieces of my heart, and they can cut like glass. It happens and sometimes I just celebrate the relationships that healed the wounds.

We sometimes get caught up in life’s drama and lose sight of the big picture.

But as I said, I’m a silver linings girl. So if the word father conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzies, say cheese and call yourself lucky. And if that relationship provided you an abundance of personal growth opportunities, be thankful for them. I would not have chosen the way things played out in my childhood, but what resulted was the life I’m living. And for that, I tell that little girl, “Bravo,” over and over.

I like to think of this Hallmark holiday as an excuse to express your affection and admiration to any and all of the men in your life who have made a difference. It is important for you to share the gift that is gratitude, and equally important for them to receive it.

We can’t choose our circumstances, but we get to decide how we hold them and how we use them to take life to the next level. I choose to be grateful for what blossomed out of the weeds.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our soul blossom.” ~ Marcel Proust

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