FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS
PIECES OF THE PUZZLE
What type of man was your father when you were growing up? According to therapeutic folklore, every choice we make as women, every man we choose to love, stems from our relationship with our father. Whoa boy, if that’s true, then I’m in trouble! How about you? To all the daughters who had caring, nurturing and supportive fathers—congratulations!
To the other 95.9 % of my readers, keep reading.
Don’t get me wrong–I love my dad. I’m not quite sure why, but I think it’s probably quite simple–he’s my dad and I have been able to wring some sweetness from the most bitter of childhood memories even though Dad was a self-centered, angry, paranoid, schizophrenic, insane alcoholic.
He began going to A.A. when I was eleven but he continued to drink. I was twenty-six and had been recovering from my own alcoholism for about three years when I ran into him at an A.A. meeting and we went out after the meeting for coffee.
Fighting for my own life, I asked him, “Dad, why did you always go back to drinking, after you knew how to stop? Why didn’t you stay sober?”
I’m sure he didn’t think before he answered, “I never thought any of you were worth it.”
His words stunned me. Over the next few weeks, his kindness to my two young daughters removed the sting caused by his uncaring answer. When I watched him play with his granddaughters, I knew he cared, even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself.
When I was pregnant with my third child, I was in the middle of a painful divorce and still learning to face life with all of its stark reality. My dad had been sober a few months and he was sleeping in his truck. He had a job earning just forty-five dollars a week, but he refused my offer to move in with my kids and me and he would only come in my house to shower and shave.
One day, soon after my son was born, Dad left a note with his weekly gift in my mailbox.
I have saved and treasured that scrap of paper for over thirty years.
In spite of the pain and the scars, I’m glad I can still wring some goodness from my dad’s parenting. I’m grateful to my dad for introducing me to A.A. at a very young age. I respect the attempts he made to stay sober because I know from my own early struggles that there were days when staying sober resembled holding a mountain over my head with one hand tied behind my back. I’m thankful for the few months he was sober with me because he talked to me and he was kind. I loved the portrait he painted of my oldest daughter and I loved sitting at A.A. meetings with him by my side, sober and smiling.
His sobriety only lasted for a few months, but I will always treasure that time. Sadly, I’ve often wondered what would have become of my dad if Prozac had been on the market forty years ago. He suffered from severe mental illness and treatment in the 60’s and 70’s consisted of Librium and Valium to control his mood swings and possibly calm his rages. (They didn’t.) Being an alcoholic, he became addicted to the drugs. When his craziness overwhelmed him, as it often did, even when he was sober, he would drink.
We know that a father teaches his young daughter how to win the love of a man and if we can’t reach our own dad, much of our adult energy will be drained, trying to rewrite the script and wasting time craving a happy ever after with the men in our lives.
Seeking to earn the love of a man who is psychologically crippled or emotionally unavailable, maybe even abusive, will feel comfortable, familiar. It’s also a dead-end street, a highway to heartbreak, an exercise in futility, etc.
Sadly enough, love doesn’t change people who don’t want to change and as I have learned the hard way, even people who want to change have a fierce struggle with changing.
Sometimes the opposite is true and we enable unacceptable behavior by accepting it and by loving too much. No man or woman is all good or all bad, but as women who grew up with abusive dads, we are so often blinded by our need for love and our longing for approval that we allow the men in our lives to hurt us, emotionally and/or physically.