Making Peace With Dad
Celebration took a macabre twist for me last year when my father died on my 41st birthday. Poor me my friends said, “your birthday will be forever spoiled by this sad occasion.” True, in a way. From now on, my ego can play this card for sympathy. However, since gifts are exchanged on birthdays I am asked myself a question about the gift this circumstance has given me.
What I have identified in this first year is a new freedom and energy from no longer g to living the role of daughter to someone as father. As I write that, a part of me judges it and thinks I am a callous person for saying that because I loved my father- no question- but certain aspects of our relationship never felt good. There was a piece of me that felt perpetually unseen and unable to express itself within the confines of that relationship. Even though I achieved a level of understanding and healing around our relationship while he was alive, there were still aspects that triggered me and not having to show up and experience them anymore is the silver lining to my grey cloud of loss.
For most of my life, I was deeply hurt by my dad not “getting me” or not “seeing me” in such a way that I felt really supported. He tended to focus on my flaws and miss the other things that people seemed to like about me and totally gloss over my creativity. One day my therapist gaveme a powerful insight when she told me that it wasn’t my father’s job to give me that stuff. “His concern” she explained “was simply that I am able to take care of myself after he is gone.” As soon as she said it, a lightbulb went on and I was able to see him differently. I understood that we had different criteria for what our relationship was meant to be. I as child wanted to be loved unconditionally and praised constantly and criticized constructively. From his point of view his job was to quide me into, a secure job which would led to a secure future. By suggesting that I work for an insurance company or become a hospital administrator, he was not willfully denying my creativity or desire to do something unique in the world. He was loving me and looking out for my well-being in a way that made sense as a parent. I began to reframe his suggestions as acts of love and not as insults to my soul’s calling. It never felt good, but at least I could understand it and was able to cease being defensive when these conversations would arise.
Four years ago my father got sick. At that point I made a conscious decision to spend as much time with him as I could. I wanted to be a loving and supportive daughter during the course of his terminal illness. It was during this time that I had my second insight about our relationship. I recognized that I loved my dad but didn’t necessarily like him. At first I felt guilty for feeling this way but after a while it just gave me a detached freedom as I recognized that his actions were not a reflection of me. I could acknowledge that we had very different senses of humor, and most of the time I found his to be quite crass and overbearing. In my opinion, he talked more than he listened, he was always right and he told dirty jokes in mixed company, and by mixed I mean man, woman and child. Things that interested me he considered weird, so we bonded over the things that interested him: Crossword puzzles, which I did enjoy, playing craps in Vegas, Texas hold’em at the Hustler casino, and going to see loud, violent movies. We spent lots of time together and that was the point. I relaxed into accepting him and knowing he loved me.
Today, a year after his passing, I am grateful that I chose to spend that time with him. The act of doing so became for me a celebration of what he had done right. He raised a daughter who knew she was loved and was capable of loving back. It was my way of saying thank you. I celebrate us both by embracing my own creativity and using the yearning I felt in our relationship as a reminder that it’s nobody else’s responsibility to “get me.” It’s my job to get and express myself. In doing so, everyday can be a celebration of self-acceptance and an act of creation as I engage with a larger, eternal parent called Life.