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 too — I’ve carried it alone for decades.
“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.” -The Fatherless Daughter Project
I have not handled the truth of being fatherless well. My father died when I was 13 months old. I do not have any memories of him and I have a few pictures of him. It feels SO silly to grieve for someone I don’t know so when I do feel sad or emotional about it that I end up scolding myself. His death was unexpected and sudden. I know family members have a hard time talking about him — this was also the time where people didn’t talk about this stuff openly. He died at 26 and had a new baby and lived away from family, so there wasn’t people around to witness us together and there wasn’t enough time together to create stories.
It’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to think about my father or talk about him and 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. I realized this day was the 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.” -The Fatherless Daughter Project
Those around me, as well as myself, did not fully understand the impact my father’s death would have on my life. The research wasn’t there. My mother was suddenly single and did what she thought was best for our future and moved forward. She moved back to Wisconsin, a few years later she enrolled in school, and met my step-father.
My step-father entered my life when I was 2-3 years old and they got married when I was about 8-9 years old. My step-father came from a large family and they treated me as one of their own — but I still felt different. I had the last name, but not the biology. I have a few memories of him and I — most of 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.
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. It really wasn’t addressed because I was so young when it happened. 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.
My Mom and step-father just could not be my dad. I wanted to know my Dad and know that part of my history. But I also knew that when I brought it up, my questions and feeling were met with irritation. I would keep quiet about it until I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
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.” -The Fatherless Daughter Project
To add to feeling conflicted about sharing or not sharing or asking or not asking, I did not know how to introduce him to my friends. My step-brothers were close in age to me and they all had dark hair like my step-father, I had white-blonde hair. People could tell we were not related. Those I told struggled to understand how I could be sad over someone I never knew — especially when I had instant siblings and someone to fill his role. I had no idea how to explain it either. So I learned to stay quiet, hide and convince those around me I was fine.
My mom and step-father divorced when I was around 12-13 years old. My mom was now a single mother of three and we ended up moving to Green Bay soon after. I remember being relieved, angry, sad, and confused about a life without my step-father. When my step-father would come to visit, I told myself it was because of my younger brothers — not for me. Over time, the divorce brought out the worst in him … or I began to notice his behavior. In public, he was fun to be around. He was good-natured, charming charismatic and every body loved him. In private, 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. I also went through cycles of trying to have a relationship with my step-father and distancing myself from him. Seeing him at his worst caused me to question if I was really important to him.
“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 Fatherless Daughter Project
The absence of my father’s voice was loud — I saw everything I was “robbed” of or would never get to experience. 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. He was there since I was two years old. We did a lot of family things together. He would listen, he knew what to say to make me feel better. I could talk to him when I couldn’t talk to my Mom. My step-fathered died at the age of 64, I was 28 and had two children of my own (baby and a toddler).
“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.” – The Fatherless Daughter Project
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 — I don’t know what kind of father/person he would have been. I don’t know that he would have been better than what I had.
Empowerment comes from awareness.
I’m now aware of what grief looks like. I’m learning that grieving is a cyclical process. As I go through life, how I relate to my father’s loss will change. I never really grieved my step-father’s loss — My grandpa (another influential male) died in May 2010, I had our second child in June 2010 and in September 2010 my step-father died — the new baby and toddler kept me busy.
I have learned that I’ve 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. Those early reactions to sharing my story taught me to ignore my feelings and 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 see 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.