Have you heard the saying “A Father is a son’s first Hero and a daughter’s first Love?” No matter whether we are boys or girls, our first male role models teach us—just like our first mother figures—what love is. Through them we experience what it feels like to be safe, comforted and loved, or if they are unable to provide that for us, we learn to comfort ourselves and not to expect this from others. They also teach us courage and integrity, or lack thereof; they become our first heroes—if we are lucky.
How many of us have actually had a father, step-father or father figure who understood himself and his own wounds well enough to parent consciously and not repeat the same family patterns that are often being passed down from generation to generation?
In every love relationship, our childhood issues and family patterns are being revived. We watch our parental figures struggle to solve their old issues with each other. In the relationship with us, our parents also mostly respond and act from their conditioning. A father—or a mother for that matter—cannot love much differently from what they themselves have experienced when they were children.
Working with clients, I have over the years heard different family patterns repeat. Sometimes it’s patterns of addiction; other times fears and traumas are resurfacing from generation to generation. In some cases, the patterns don’t affect us negatively, for example a pattern to leave one’s hometown and move abroad, other times they cause a lot of pain. One pattern, I am sharing with the permission of the client, is the loss of a parent at an early age.
This father, let’s call him Dave, left his first wife to remarry when his son was four. Unfortunately, the ex-wife was so bitter that she estranged his son from him. Dave felt helpless and allowed her to continue doing this until he didn’t see his son at all anymore. The little boy essentially lost one parent due to the mother’s manipulation and due to Dave’s inactivity to counteract her words and actions.
Looking back at his own childhood, Dave realized that history had repeated itself. Dave himself lost his mother when his parents divorced when he was four. His father was the one who decided to take him away and remarry a step-mother Dave hated. But that’s not where it started. We can go back another generation to notice how Dave’s father Adam was unconsciously repeating the pattern of his own childhood. At the age of four, Adam’s own mother died and his father William remarried, presenting Adam with a step-mother.
The pattern of losing one parent and having an unwanted step-mother or substitute mother most likely goes back even further. Unfortunately, most of us do not know enough about our family history to notice and break those patterns. So we, for example, end up estranged from one parent.
I wasted many years of my own life grieving for the father I wished I had and believed I didn’t. For several decades, I chose to focus on what he was not, instead of accepting and loving all that he was and is. I used to look at him and see the man who did not stand up for me. I thought he was weak. I believed I didn’t matter enough to him to fight for a relationship with me. I felt I had an emotionally absent father. I listened to my mom’s story born out of her own wounds. Her story was having a husband who disappointed her and never stood up for her. She probably didn’t realize until he lovingly cared for her when she had cancer, that he was always there for her in the way he knew how. For many years, I allowed her to make her story my story as well. It wasn’t that she was doing this on purpose or that she was lying. She shared her perspective and experience unconscious of how that would affect me. This was HER story, it didn’t need to be mine.
My father grew up during WWII and for many years, my grandfather was not around as a male role model. When my grandfather returned after the war was over, he was emotionally exhausted and quietly took a place in the background of the family, not making much of an effort to connect with his oldest son. My father was only acting in the same way his own father had acted. He was absent. When I recognized the family pattern, I was able to let go of the story and heal the relationship with my dad.
Today, I see clients of all ages and the stories are similar. “My dad left…”, “My father didn’t care…”, “His new wife was more important to him…”, “My father was irresponsible…”, “My father had anger issues…” and it goes on and on. There are of course circumstances like severe addictions or sexual abuse where the only healthy interaction is no interaction. However, in all the other cases, I invite you to re-examine your stories.
Let’s use Byron Katie’s four questions:
- Is my story about my father true?
- Can I absolutely know my side of the story is the only truth? Or might there be other sides to this?
- How do I react or feel when I believe my story?
- Who would I be if I let go of the story that my dad does not care about me? What if I let go my expectations of what he should be saying or doing if he truly loved me? What if I worked on healing my old wounds and allowed myself to interact with him in whichever way is possible?
As children, we don’t really have much of a choice what happens to us, the adults in our life make the decisions. However, once we are young adults, we can examine our stories and change them. We can choose to continue with the narratives of hurt, disappointment and resentment or we can get to know the person our father or mother, step-father or step-mother really is. Life is not like baseball, three strikes and you are out. It is possible to extend another chance and to start over.
In order to do that, we have to stop wishing or hoping our parent figure was different from what he or she is. We have to stop waiting for them to change and finally do or say what we always wanted them to. They didn’t get the same “script” to this play called “Life” that we got and they have no idea what we are waiting for.
A Father’s Day just passed and if you did not send a card and did not pick up the phone, you might have missed an opportunity to live a real relationship with your father, beyond all disillusionment.
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