Happy (?) Father’s Day, loves. I tend to be a bit “feely” and reflective on Father’s Day, since my relationship with my dad has always been “complicated.” You see, I haven’t really had a relationship with my dad for close to 20 years. My parents divorced when I was two and a half and I spent my childhood going in between two VERY different worlds.
My intuition and empathetic ways served me very well when I would go to my dad’s house so that I could tune in and morph myself into the version of daughter I thought he wanted me to be – I’d keep my mouth shut about certain things, I’d leave my “weird clothes” at my mom’s house, and would try to navigate the visits in such a way that I’d feel like I succeeded at “earning love.” I created a LOT of rules for myself and It. Was. Exhausting! I was an anxious mess cloaked in the well-worn costume of “I’m fine-ness.”
For nearly 18 years I kept the inconvenient parts of my true self hidden from him as much as I could. . . until I hit that beautiful and messy phase of life called adulthood. Something within me woke up! I still remember the day it shifted. I was on the phone with my dad before leaving for college, he was saying something that felt hurtful, and I stood up to him. . . FOR THE FIRST TIME!! At 18 years old!! THIS threw the whole dynamic off! Stepping out of the painfully uncomfortabe “relationship safety zone” was both incredibly liberating AND terrifying for me. It was in that moment that I came home to myself instead of trying to hustle for love and approval with him. My whole body trembled with this new voice and sense of personal power (almost as if I was shaking the old way right off!). Something deep had finally decided to emerge and there was NO WAY I could stuff myself back into that tiny box of perceived expectations and “shoulds.” I outgrew it the moment I claimed my truth with him, the most important man in my life.
When I tell people that I don’t have a relationship with my dad I often get a look of “Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s so sad.” And while I certainly have navigated more layers of grief and disappointment than I can tally, I usually respond with, “He’s probably been my biggest teacher. I’m actually grateful. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the challenges of that relationship.” Whaaaaaaaat??? Yes, it is BECAUSE of that painful dynamic and the various other relationships (largely with men) that I’ve attracted that mirror it over the years, that I’ve learned the following:
I’ve learned to choose my own truth over the (perceived or real) expectations of others.
It took a lot of time to even begin to wear the resistance to this one down, but when I stopped choosing to feed relationships that were rooted in some pattern of self-betrayal, EVERYTHING changed. EVERYTHING.
I’ve learned to release and grieve relationships that aren’t healthy or open to positive change – and how to respectfully give up on my own agenda to get someone to WANT to change if they aren’t interested.
Sometimes the highest form of love is acceptance (which is NOT the same as agreement) and there came a point where I truly chose to accept my dad for who he was – and to grieve the attachment to who I thought he SHOULD be. It was much harder to grieve that attachment to the idea of having the dad I wanted than it was to grieve his actual presence in my life. After years of wrestling with this stuff, that shift to acceptance was what allowed peace instead of conflict to stand between us – at least from my end, and that’s all I can control.
I’ve learned to love people IN SPITE OF differences AND to be brave enough to set the necessary boundaries to honor myself.
We are SO different and some of those differences caused legitimate pain, which required me to set boundaries about not spending time with him. I tried for years to shift the dynamic to something that felt healthy and it simply didn’t budge. I finally saw the (spoken and unspoken) conflict between us as a source of pain for BOTH of us and I don’t wish that sort of relationship prison on anyone.
You see, I still LOVE my dad even though we don’t spend time together in relationship. Really, I do (that’s not some fluffy b.s. statement). By taking responsibility for MY experience and emotions over the years, and by choosing to focus on the profound growth opportunities instead of my perceived “victimhood,” I was able to turn those years of pressurized pain into diamonds. I’m stronger and more “me” because I HAD TO learn to claim it – those are gifts that are earned more often than inherited. I truly believe that he did his best to love me as he knew how, but unfortunately it wasn’t love that felt safe or comfortable to me – I had a different definition of love – and I decided at some point that life is too short to pretend, play nice, or suffer silently in my relationships. THAT’S not love.
My peace came from years and years of that very magical and gritty practice they talk about often in recovery groups, called “detaching with love.” I now very much believe you don’t have to be in relationship with someone to love them. And as for my dad (and several other relationship “teachers” that have been challenging for me along my path), I can now say the following . .
I can love them more when I accept them for who they are instead of focusing on who I think they should be.
I can love them more with boundaries.
I can love them more when we aren’t hurting each other (intentionally or unintentionally).
I can love them more when I surround myself with healthy relationships.
I can love them more when I appreciate the wisdom that could ONLY emerge through the challenges or disappointments that were part of our relationship.
I can love them more when I resist self-betrayal and choose truth.
If today is a hard day for you like it often has been for me, or if you are navigating the “feels” of some other challenging or “lost” relationship, I send these words in hopes that they create more peace. Relationship is hard, but it’s also the most powerful catalyst I know of to grow our asses up and find more real deal truth and peace. . . we simply have to be brave enough to accept the invitations they offer to grow and change.
If you’re feeling some form of “relationship pain,” honor it (because ignoring it just makes it stronger, and it’ll bite you in the ass at some point), but I also invite you to look for the gifts within the pain – think “pain in one hand, curiosity in the other.” The wisdom and healing is in there, you just have to be willing to stand curiously in the stinky pile of ick long enough to find them.