I get emotionally sidelined when I talk about my father. Deep sigh.
I have two versions I carry around. The first, is where I give part of the story and do so in a bulleted fashion. Afterwards, I usually change the subject or deflect questions back to the person asking about my life. The second, is the story a few people know … I’m not even sure how many people I’ve told the complete story.
“To tell things as exactly as they happened, you have to be ready on many levels. You have to be able to handle the truth yourself before sharing it completely with another person. You need to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with the details and emotions. You never know how the other person will be affected by what you reveal or, moreover, how you will feel after divulging it.”
I have not handled the truth well for many years. It’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to think about my father or talk about him so the details are a bit fuzzy.
My father worked for a road construction company and his work brought him to different parts of the country. I believe my father was a foreman. He and my mother traveled together in a travel trailer and were living in North Carolina. My father was operating or moving a crane. He drove the machine off the side of the road or ran over something and the crane tipped over and rolled. At that time, safety (roll) cages were not built into heavy machines. He died at the age of 26 years old. I had just turned one. Due to my age, I do not have any memories of him. I know a few stories about him and I have a few pictures.
There is another part of my story, he is not the only father I lost.
My step-father entered my life when I was 2-3 years old. He and my mom married when I was about 7-8 years old and divorced when I was 12-13 years old. I do not remember much about my step-father before the divorce. My memories of that time are of us spending time with his family and his sons from a previous marriage. They are some of my happiest memories. My step-father died at the age of 62 due to poor health. I was 28.
I found myself crying for no apparent reason one Saturday afternoon, since this feeling wasn’t new to me, I had an idea of why. Not wanting to burden family members or to stir up the past, I turned to google to find some answers. Today was the realized this day anniversary of my father’s death.
Feeling a bit annoyed that I was having this reaction about someone I had never met, yet again, I consulted my therapist, google, and searched: “loss of a parent as a child.” I read result after result … a majority of them were unhelpful and generic. I did come across this article and this one, that were helpful and it lead to an Amazon search.
I found the book The Fatherless Daughter Project. After reading a few of the reviews, I decided to purchase the kindle version. 10 pages into the book and my 35 years of life suddenly made a little more sense. I’m not depressed! I’m not bipolar! I’m not crazy! I’m not f*ked up! Or any of the other things I’ve been told. I am grieving. This is grief! This is grief?!?
“Losing that piece of ourselves can leave us feeling abandoned, alone, and unsure of our place in the world. We miss them because we love them. Whether we miss what we had or we miss what we wish we would have had, we experience life while carrying around an immense sense of loss.”
We miss what we wish we would have had.
Those around me, as well as myself, did not fully understand the impact my father’s death would have on my life. My mother did what she thought was best for our future and did her best to fill in the gaps. I think that started with meeting my step-father. I think he also tried to fill that role in my life. But I still felt lost and out of place.
From a young age I was aware I had a father that died and because I was too young to fully understand what that meant, I imagined he was still alive. I imagined he was coming back and a thousand other scenarios. I could not face the truth at that age. Whenever my step-father did something I did not like; punishment, used his loud voice, etc. I imagined my father would do the exact opposite. I’m pretty sure I acted like a brat for a long time and did not make it easy on him or my mother.
They just could not be my dad. I wanted to know my dad and know that part of my history.
“People are not generally comfortable with another person’s grief. There is a tendency to want to lessen it, fix it, or push the person past it … While their suggestions are well intentioned and often noted in not wanting you to hurt anymore, they are not realistic.
Having emotions invalidated or being scolded for feeling a certain way only makes a person want to retreat inward or fight outward.”
When seeking answers or sharing my story, I would get emotional. It would make people uncomfortable. They couldn’t understand how I could be sad over someone I never knew. I had no idea how to explain it either. So I learned to hide and convince those around me I was fine.
“As research has begun to uncover, the divorce causes emotional stress in a child’s life, by introducing instability, creating a high-conflict atmosphere, and distressing the child, especially if she is forced to choose sides.”
When my mom and step-father divorced. I wasn’t forced to choose sides. I choose my mom. I remember being relieved, angry, sad, and confused about a life without my step-father.
Over time, the divorce brought out the worst in him … or I began to view him in a different way. There were the broken promises, lies, and manipulation in private. In public he would be good-natured, charming, charismatic, and every body loved him.
When my step-father was around, it would most often turned into a high-conflict atmosphere. His presence often brought a sense of dread and preparing for “impact.”
Getting my driver’s license, a car, a job, was a way for me to escape and gain some kind of control. It was a false sense of control. It was self-sabotage. I spent what I made, I drank, and I found ways to not be at home. In college, I continued to avoid being at home and distanced myself from my family.
“The voice (or absence of the voice) of the father is extremely loud in a girl’s life. It can either build her up and encourage her or diminish her by communicating that she is not worthy of love or commitment.”
The absence of my step-father’s voice was loud. I didn’t understand this until now. I diminished how important my step-father’s presence was in my life. Seeing him at his worst caused me to question if I was really important to him.
As a teen and into adulthood I found myself cutting off all contact and then wanting him back in my life. I would let him back in and he would start asking for money or wanted to stay at my apartment for an extended period of time, etc. When I would attempt to set boundaries and he would get mad and try to manipulate me and I would cut-off contact and start the cycle again.
“Fatherless daughters may become masters of acting confident and bold; they might also have moments of acting irrationally when their fears get the best of them and their fortress temporarily topples over. It is possible that anger and/or fear are at the roots of your actions. Experiences that stir up anger or make you feel scared can trigger a spiral of emotions. You might get lost in the cycle and not be aware of your irrational, repeating pattern: feel → think → believe → react → feel, and so on.
Anger and fear are often rooted in loss. You lost a confidant. You lost a protector. You may have lost part of your childhood. You were traumatized. Losing him was huge. And with his loss came grief, which can often be expressed through anger. During the grief process, anger tends to be the piece that we hang on to the longest. Although it is not satisfying, anger empowers us and feels more secure than the emotion of sadness.”
Whelp, awesome. That explains my thirty-five years of life. I have been unaware of this cycle for way too long. I lost someone unexpectedly and it changed the trajectory of my life. I had the irrational belief that I was cheated out of a “better” life.The sadness turned into anger and it was directed at my step-father.
Empowerment comes from awareness.
I’m now aware of what grief looks like. I’m learnjng that grieving is a cyclical process. As I go through life, how I relate to my father’s loss will change. I never grieved my step-father’s loss. My grandpa died a few months before my step-father. A month later, we welcomed our second child … a few years later we welcomed two more children close in age. I’ve been distracted for too long to grieve.
I have confused independence with isolation. I now realize I do not let people get close. I have a deep rooted fear of abandonment through rejection or growing out of touch.
I’ve ignored my feelings for so long that I’ve created a belief that my feelings, wants, and needs are not worthy of attention.
Sharing this part of my life in this format has helped lift the burden. I finally how these experience made me strong … I’m resilient, resourceful, stubborn, driven, etc. I have also discovered a few resources to help me move forward and different therapy modalities.
If you have lost your father, have a strained relationship, or never had a father in your life, The Fatherless Daughter Project is a great place to start helping you get unstuck.
***I am disabling the comments for this post … for now. I needed to share my story, but I need a bit of distance from it now as I’m still a little raw. Thank you for your understanding.