By Guest Writer Lane Faulkner
Father’s Day has become such an empty day for me. Melanoma took my dad six years ago, and the past two years, the father of my children has since become my ex-husband. I honestly have no father figure in my life anymore, so the day itself has turned into any ordinary Sunday – a major shift from the importance it used to hold.
My dad was an extraordinarily complicated man, and as a natural-born pleaser, it made the trajectory of our relationship more like a jagged rock than a straight line. My early years are marked as being “Daddy’s girl” knowing he had a soft spot for me. It was the stuff of nostalgic dreams – chasing down the ice-cream truck through the neighborhood for me, teaching me how to ride a bike, and carrying me to the breakfast table in my pajamas. But as I reached puberty, it all changed. He didn’t quite know what to do with this hormonal hybrid of his little girl and preteen, and I – like most my age – was embarrassed to be seen with my dad. Looking back on it, my withdrawal cut him deeply, but instead of holding fast, he pulled away even more.
Weeks and months would pass in which we would not speak to one another in the same house, let alone touch in the form of a hug or kiss. I yearned for the same closeness of my youth, but I was too prideful and immature to articulate or even acknowledge those needs. The further we grew, I sought affirmation and intimacy in the comfort of boys all the while knowing I was trying to fill a void that could only be satisfied temporarily.
Our relationship reached its breaking point in college; we were entangled in a battle between my newfound independence and his need to exercise control. He threw up his hands and screamed at me: “What do you want from me?” and I screamed back, “I want you to love me! I want you to hug me and kiss me when I tell you goodnight. I want to feel like your daughter.” I’ll never forget seeing that taciturn, obstinate man drop to his knees, bury his face in his hands, and sob. I fell next to him and comforted him, and from that moment until his dying day, he made it a point to hug and kiss me every time we said hello and goodbye.
It’s been 20 years since that day and six since his death, but the scars and patterns that remain from those tumultuous years still haunt the inner recesses of my psyche. My divorce has caused me to examine all of my relationships, my role in them, and my patterns of behavior; I realize that I still fall prey to the same way of thinking as I did when I was fifteen. When I feel the men in my life pull away from me, I run away harder and faster out of self-preservation. I equate my worth in relationships to their levels of responsiveness. My inner narrative suggests that if they aren’t emotionally plugged in, seem busy, or don’t give me the attention or affection I want, it must mean they don’t love or want me. I have an invisible emotional bucket that has a hole in the bottom and never feels truly full.
Out of the Practices of Stillness and Honesty these realizations have occurred, and now I face the task of reconciling and healing them. I am angry that they – and he – still have power over my conscious and unconscious decision-making after all these years. I cognitively know better, but I honestly don’t know how to do better. These paths of thinking are so well-worn that I struggle to find and use the tools to forge a new path to redemption and change.
It is at this point that I am ready to Begin the Practice of Forgiveness. I don’t want to carry this around anymore because I’ve seen what it has done to my self-esteem, my identity, and my relationships. I understand fully how the hole in my bucket got there, and I want to do the soul work necessary to repairing it, which begins with Forgiveness.
It’s hard to forgive someone who is dead. I can’t call Dad up for coffee, look in his eyes, and feel the sense of reconciliation because he is gone. What’s worse is that I can’t apologize to him – apologize for the years of silence, anger, and hurtful words. I want to apologize for the years that I made him feel unloved and like he wasn’t good enough, not at all unlike how I felt during those years as well. It takes a great deal of bravery to look someone in the eye and acknowledge our faults in our mess and an equal amount to be willing to hear their responses. I don’t have that chance now.
But I do have Faith – faith that my dad sees me, that any brokenness he harbored during his earthly life is now healed and that he knows my heart. The hard part now is Forgiving myself, not just for my part in the fracturing of our relationship but for allowing it to hold so much power over me all these years – allowing the scars to contribute to the death of my marriage and many other relationships, and allowing it to reverberate in my innermost being that I am not worthy of love. I have to Forgive myself because I want to be free. My dad didn’t have that choice; death freed him. But I do have a choice to either reconcile myself to these near-primal wounds or risk repeating my choices over and over for the rest of my life.
This Father’s Day, if you are holding onto pain from whatever scars exist in your relationship with your father, I encourage you to begin the Practice of Forgiveness. I am not my past, and neither are you. Each day, we awake with the choice to begin anew or fall back into the same patterns and self-talk that, if we’re being honest, haven’t really served us well. It’s time, friend. Begin the Practices of Honesty and Forgiveness to allow that small child within the chance to heal and start your journey today to living a life of Hope and joy.
This is Living Hope.