So many posts I want to write! So many…posts about hope, change, fear, moving forward; coping, anxiety, depression; stress, food, exercise; and on and on…
But right now, while it’s fresh, I want to talk about something I’ve never delved very far into: “The Father Wound.” The unhealthy patterns created in one’s life by a dysfunctional (or downright damaging) relationship with one’s father.
I’ve talked before about the money issue I have because my dad plays with finances. He’s a risk-taker. A businessman. A Gemini. He’s lost entire fortunes several times over. Being raised as a child with unlimited funds – and the expectation of that safety net in perpetuity – only to discover those things don’t exist anymore right as one reaches adulthood…it’s messy. I have a craptastic relationship with money – especially relying on it and creating a livelihood (and life) for myself. It’s a monster-sized block to my self-reliance and sense of safety.
That’s always as far as I thought it went. I mean, my dad wasn’t very present in my childhood. He was a success small business owner (successful enough he retired at 39, when I was 16). But success like that requires a lot of commitment, effort, and time. We had weekends…sort of. He introduced me to video games, fantasy novels, prehistory, and Star Trek, which are still some of my favorite things. Family road trips in our motorhome are some of my best memories. Dad at the helm, me as “Tea Girl,” who kept his cup filled so he could keep on driving. But time? One-on-one Daddy-daughter time? …I don’t remember actually ever having that.
I never thought that was a big deal. Don’t all dads work a lot? Don’t they all only show up on weekends? Doesn’t everybody take month-long vacations in the summer without him?
I was listening to a webinar from Shade Asani on the subject. She starts by saying that if you don’t have a serious issue with your father, it wasn’t the webinar for you. But I still listened. Because they say that a woman’s patterns with men begin with her father, and my first significant relationship was with a man who was older than my dad. So…maybe there’s something in me I hadn’t ever noticed?
I love my father. He’s a good man. An amazing provider. He always made sure we had what we needed. That’s what I thought going in, and suddenly I realized — those are my mother’s words. She would complain to me, confide in me, divulge way more about their relationship to me as a kid (and still) than I ever should have been privy to. And then she would follow it up with those words. “Your father is a good man. He provides everything we need, and then some. We should respect him and love him. (Even if he spent more time in the arcade with his buddy than he did at home with you two when you were little.)”
So, no, I thought. I don’t have an issue with my father. Exactly as I always assumed. I’ve just been too exposed to my mother’s issues with my father. She talked to me about things she should have been working out with him, because he wouldn’t listen. I have one enormous Mother Wound, and that’s something I’ve always known.
And then a little thought popped into my head.
“I filled in for my father. He should have been taking care of my mom’s emotional needs, her issues. I took up the slack in their relationship.”
Okay, yeah. I did. Just like I picked up the slack in my mother’s mothering. There were five of us, and she’s been clinically depressed my whole life. Somebody had to play with the kids. Somebody had to babysit so she could run errands. Somebody had to be there for them when she was too existentially tired to show up emotionally.
That should have been my dad.
Okay. So there’s that. He wasn’t emotionally present for her, or for us when she couldn’t be, so I had to be more mature. But that’s, like, a subnote in the general pattern with my mom, so that can’t be that big of a deal for my patterns. I just need to shift a little explanation to him instead of heaping it on my mom. Okie dokie.
Plus, that totally explains why I’m drawn to projects. Why I like men who need to be saved from their own ineptitude in relationships. I can teach them how to be better partners, how to become the men they need to be to have the relationships they want. To save them from the pain of waking up one day from a regular life to a wife who hates everything. Because it’s in the little things. And yeah, I tried to do that with my dad, and he never listened. So…okay. Need to work on that. Good to have an explanation.
And then Shade said something that made me blink. It went something like, “Women who feel worthless get that feeling from their fathers.”
I mean, that is the relationship pattern I repeat with men. I do feel worthless. Devalued. Like I have to earn their love. But that’s just the example I was set by my mom, right? That’s exactly what she does, too. AND she picks projects, though she wants to save them right down to the soul, and I just want to turn them into the best version of themselves, like a life coach. That’s all it is, right?
“Yeah…” said the voice. “But no. Try again.”
And then I realized – this story I have told myself about my life, my pattern with men; the one that starts with my “boyfriend” in second grade and continues straight through to my marriage; what if it started with my dad?
What if my entire sense of self exists as it does because I needed to become someone my dad would pay attention to?
Because that is my dysfunction. The one that makes me miserable in every relationship with every guy. They don’t pay attention to me, so I freak out. I make myself more “worthy” in order to prove I’m worth their time and interest. And then I go way overboard, make sweeping emotional declarations, and scare them away. Because most men have no idea how to handle that, they disappear…thus fulfilling my fear that all men ditch me.
But my dad didn’t ditch me, my stubborn conscious brain argued.
Except…he did. Emotionally. Because I wasn’t a boy.
The men in my family had a yearly tradition – they went hunting. Men being men, in the mountains, camping, hiking, shooting stuff and bringing it home to gut and eat. I wanted to go so badly. I was an outdoorsy girl. I loved the mountains more than anything. I wanted to learn how to camp. But mostly, I wanted to be included. To have something special, too. My dad promised me that he’d take me one year. He never did.
Because I was a girl.
He invested time and energy in my brother, who wasn’t “boy” enough (he’s a nerdy, science-y guy). I’m sure my grandparents pressured him into making my brother the sort of boy who would grow into a proper man. Certainly, my mom impressed upon me the need to let my brother have time with his dad. All I knew was that I wasn’t allowed to be part of the special tradition because I was female.
Was I a tomboy to try to prove to my dad that even if my brother wasn’t, I was boy enough? Did I play soccer, run fast, shoot hoops, ski, dream of being a veterinarian, and on and on…all because I wanted to prove to him that I was strong and rugged enough to pay attention to?
Did I reject my femaleness not, as I always thought, because I was surrounded by boys, but because I wanted to prove my worth to my dad? Did recognizing the glass ceiling at the age of 8 crush me because it categorically meant I could never be “good enough”? Is that why puberty hit me so hard? Not only because I lost all my male friends and was thereafter alone, but because deep down, I was never, ever, ever going to be worth his time?
Yes. Abso-freaking-lutely, yes.
I never wanted to be a boy. I liked being a girl. I liked dresses. I love to dance and sing. I used to love performing, and being the center of attention. I am, with pride, a mother at heart.
But I also hate being female. I hate what being female means. I hate the way we’re treated, and sizzle with rage when the lack of gender equality arises in conversation.
I’m female, and that means I will never be good enough to earn my dad’s attention.
That isn’t true today. Not in reality. I know this. He loves me as he loves all of us, with deep emotions he hides well. He’s told me he’s proud of me, of my books. He bonded with my son instantly.
He bonded with my son instantly… And that is something I just listed as proof of my worth to him. Because I made him a grandpa.
So now I have to figure out how to heal that. It’s good, knowing. It really is.
I destroyed a core part of myself – my femininity, and the strength, acceptance, and camaraderie I should have found with it – in order to be of value to my father…
And I destroyed most of the rest of what made me me in order to be good enough for my husband.
Really, it doesn’t change much by way of the work I have to do. I already knew that was the pattern in my relationships – that I get desperate to earn men’s interest by any means necessary, and never feel safe in their affection or accepted for who I am. I already knew that I have issues with my femininity that I needed to work on.
Honestly, this makes it easier to deal with. Root problems are good to dig up, and I’ve struggled with figuring this one out for two decades.
But I feel bereft. I’ve been living a half life, trying to be something I’m not for someone who wouldn’t have noticed even if I’d managed it. I will never earn my dad’s attention the way I want it – he’s just not that kind of guy.
And what do I do with my current relationships? My male friends, with whom I play this pattern with? Can I salvage them? Should I not try, because they are people I’ve chosen thanks to the familiarity of being ignored?
I should probably not worry about it until I’ve done the work on me, which is pretty much where all my worries end up right now. But I also hate that answer.
I guess I focus on continuing to re-integrate my feminine side with love. On doing those things that make me feel self-value. On learning to trust and believe in myself, my abilities, and my future. (Because that’s something I get from my dad, too – his great expectation of me was to marry someone with enough money he wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore…and I failed even in that.)
Bah. This Whole-Being thing can be a real pain in the neck, you know that?
But forward I go, with gratitude for the realizations and further self-understanding. And a little excitement, actually. What will I be able to do with my life if I don’t have to hold back on being the whole me?