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Almost exactly four years ago, I was preparing to marry the love of my life.  There were final dress fittings and cake tastings, followed by boot camp workouts and lots of check writing.  Liberally sprinkled into the excitement were feelings of nervousness and even dread.  My relationship with my dad was near its worst and I was worried he was going to ruin the wedding.  In an effort to be true to the reality of my relationship with my father, I had decided to walk down the aisle toward Mr. Wonderful alone.  It broke his heart when I told him that Saturday at a Denny’s in the Valley.  He felt robbed of his right as a father.  I felt robbed of a magical movie style father daughter relationship.

Growing up as oldest of three girls, I saw and heard more about my dad than a child should have.  I was a sensitive and intuitive child, so I naturally picked up on the context of hushed conversations between my mom and her friends.  When the policemen came to the door looking for him, I was afraid that my dad would go to jail.  My dad let our family down by failing to provide for us.  He let me down by failing to be my protector.  He knew I knew too much, that I could see him as he was: miserable and failing. As a result, he chose to give up on me when I was ten, pouring all of his fatherly energy into my youngest sister instead, the one he hoped would really love him.

For the past twenty years, our relationship has been strained at best.  I answered his calls every other week or so and would have a surfacy ten minute conversation with him that would leave me feeling unsettled and angry.  Somehow though, our relationship began to change this year.  Without trying, I began to release him.  Not so much total forgiveness but more like a release of his past (and present) failings and acceptance of who he is.

I am daily aware of the freedom that releasing my dad has brought me.  He’s been in the hospital for four weeks now, suffering from the consequences of years of neglecting his body and denial of his mental health issues.  When my dad first went to the hospital he was in really bad shape and I went into crisis mode.  I ran errands and called him everyday.  I visited him and brought him things he might need.  My boundaries have been tested but have held firm.  Something is happening though.  I dont really mind my visits anymore.  I’m starting to let him in. I tell him about my life instead of shutting down in protection mode when it gets personal.  When I walk into his hospital room and see him laying there, a shrunken and wrinkled version of his once larger than life self, I feel compassion for him.  Sometimes when I arrive at his bedside my dad is sleeping soundly and I stare at him, in his supreme vulnerability and wonder how much I really know my own father.  Eventually I spend five minutes trying to wake him, then we sit and talk (well, more like I listen to his health related monologue style update of his progress) and I feel like I am starting to know him a little more.  It’s like meeting him for the very first time, without the stronghold of unmet expectations and broken promises looming over our heads.  With the perspective of an adult and the delight of a little girl, I can honestly say its been nice to meet him.

4 Responses to “Discovering Daughterhood”

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