Sunday, June 18, 2017

Giving Up Making Good, or, The Father Wound on Father's Day

When I was young and I would tell my father "I love you," he would reply "Thank you." As human communication continued to devolve, if I wrote it in a text, his reply was the smiling emoji wearing sunglasses. Seriously.

My father would be quick to point out all the terrible things he *didn't* do, as if one should be rewarded for not doing things that you shouldn't be doing anyway. No, sir, you do not get a medal for *not* beating your wife and children. Physical assault is illegal. Your prize for avoiding it is not going to jail. Nice try, though.

349 days ago it became abundantly clear to me what an unsafe man my father is to have in my life and I cut him off. No longer would he be allowed to mishandle my tenderness, tearing my wounding open again and again. This is the beauty of adulthood. We get to thoughtfully filter who and what we let in. We get to erect firm boundaries for self love and preservation. It is our most powerful responsibility to ourselves; to choose wisely, lovingly, firmly.

This is my first father's day as a fatherless daughter. In the weeks before today, the ads for socks and grills picked up speed and every one made me cringe a bit. I've been stewing in a growing mix of mourning and guilt. I've heard whispers that he's lonely and sad. An ill informed family member reached out to me suggesting that I make peace; "He IS your father, after all." It is my desire that all beings be free from suffering, and I hate the idea of anyone feeling desperately alone, but what of my own suffering? What of the lifetime that I spent carrying the yoke of trying to make good, only to realize that I never had control over him? That his happiness was never my responsibility?

The oddest sensation is of missing him. But it is not him. It is the *idea* of Father; a steady, sensible, abundantly loving, available, thoughtful man who would be there when I needed him. A kind, present parent who wouldn't always get it right but who would keep showing up with care, no matter what. This was not my experience but I miss it, somehow. This thing I never had but always desperately wanted. I have called upon and embodied my own masculine to father myself into some semblance of healing and completion. I am my own father now. But on days like today, I wish I didn't have to be.

If you have someone in your life who does more harm than good, hear me clearly: this is your permission to walk away. You are allowed to give up trying to make good. Because other people are in charge of their own joy, not us. Because you are a grown up and you have to be your own best parent now; the sort of parent that you maybe never had but longed for. And a good parent says No when no is needed. A good parent protects the tender parts of their baby. A good parent knows what Cheryl Strayed expressed in a Dear Sugar column years ago; "Limits are not punishments, but rather lucid and respectful expressions of our needs and desires and capabilities."

They may be family but you don't owe them anything.
Do no harm but take no shit.

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