Friday, September 28, 2012

Tangled Yarn

Over the last year, I’ve been doing a great deal of work around relationships of all kind: friendships, co-worker, family. More recently, I’ve been doing some deeper healing work around my relationship with my father, and out of this process has come the even deeper work around my intimate relationships with men. I’m finding this process much like untangling wadded yarn; and interestingly, the yarn represents the “story” I’ve lived and spun for myself over many years about my relationships with men. They say the relationship we daughters have with our fathers reflects the kinds of relationships we have with men in our dating lives. I’ve come to realize how in many ways, many of my dating relationships have been influenced by the relationship I’ve historically had with my father. Yikes!

In a studious look back at past relationships, I found some disconcerting trends. Most of my intimate relationships developed out of sense of neediness. I’ve also recognized patterns of insecurity in which I’ve had a great need for validation, reassurance and attention in order to trust the situation at hand. Much of this insecurity I’m realizing stems from my relationship with my father who was not emotionally or verbally expressive whatsoever with his feelings towards me as his daughter. I didn’t experience the father-daughter affection I watched many of my girlfriends enjoy with their fathers. My father also worked a full time job and additional “jobs” in order to provide for our family and college educations for my brother and me. As a result, we didn’t see a lot of my dad because of his swing shift schedule and/or tending to his various farming projects. My father didn’t take an interest in my life or things I liked; and we never had father/daughter time in which we spent quality time together doing things I enjoyed or that we could enjoy together. Dad was supportive of my involvement in band, especially in the last two years of high school taking on the Eagle One equipment bus project in which he renovated a school bus and drove it to band contests. While this interest I appreciate, it didn’t fulfill that one-on-one quality time spent together, since I shared him with over a hundred other people during those times. Dad did what he knew how to do best: provide for his family, and in this he was a great success.

I came to realize I held an unconscious belief that because my father didn’t take time to spend time with me, freely show me affection or express his feelings for me (his responses to my “I love you” were typically grunts and I had to coerce hugs out of him), I felt unworthy of his love; and through the years in our relationship, as well as those with men I’ve dated, I have felt the need to “earn” his love and affection. As a rebellious teen, I got his attention by fighting with him, yelling matches which unfortunately were how he and I invested our time into our relationship. I learned from my dad my feelings didn’t count, and therefore, unhealthy ways to angrily express them, even then they weren’t honest. I have spent most of my life trying to win my father’s love and approval; and only within the last year have I decided I don’t need it to be the wonderful and loving person I am.

Through this reflection, I realized I carried that baggage with my dad into most of my dating relationships, and needless to say, that has yet to serve me or the relationships well. I also attracted and dated men like my father: emotionally unavailable and/or unable to communicate or express their feelings (though most of this gender isn’t the best at these things). I managed these relationships much like I managed my relationship with my father, with anger as the persecutor or by emotionally shutting down as the victim. I accepted verbal and emotional abuse was the norm within a male/female relationship. My father often criticized me throughout childhood, and even still today; however, now I no longer take it personally (though little girl inside me still feels the sting as the past flares up) or place great value on his words. Today, I express how I feel in a respectful but honest manner and I don’t back down. This last year living with my father has been no doubt purposeful to rediscovering my personal power. I’ve learned to stand up to my father in a respectful and healthier way and to speak my truth around what I want or need from him, or how I’m feeling without fear or shame. I’m learning self-validation, rather than look to him (or anyone else) for validation of worthiness in this life. And I’m recognizing and appreciating his own ways of expressing love for me; at times it feels like an archaeological dig to find them but they are there.

This time with my father prepares me for a healthier way of managing and showing up in a dating relationship. I recognize how this baggage with my father has bled over into my dating life and how to better manage the dating process, and myself within it. I’ve given over so much of myself and my personal power to these past dating connections in the hope of being accepted and loved, all in an effort to fill the void left unfulfilled by my father-daughter relationship. What a horrific burden to place on another human being! In many ways, I feel like a teenager all over again figuring out how to date, what to do and not do, what to expect and not to expect. I’ll muddle through it as I’ve muddled through so many other new enlightened experiences before. These revelations offer me an incredible opportunity to grow and develop a healthier and loving relationship with a man who unconditionally accepts and loves me for who I am. Part of this process also involves my believing that I am worthy of unconditional love and acceptance, and finding within myself the willingness to accept nothing less than that from another.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dear Mom

Today marks three years since my mother's passing. In many ways, it doesn't seem like it has been that long, yet so much life has happened in the three years she left us that it feels like it's been forever ago.

Every day, Monday through Friday, the last few years of her life I would talk to my mom after work during my drive home. So much life has happened, and many many times I've wanted to pick up the phone and tell her what all was going on, only to remember I can't really do that. I suppose she knows the scoop anyway; I just miss hearing what she thinks about it, her advice and insights, her pleasure and excitement around it, and her support.

She use to threaten to come back and haunt me if I didn't come visit her at the cemetery. She got her wish. I've often gone to the cemetery and sat by her grave overlooking the lake at the Hines Center to talk to her. She picked that spot for her and Dad because of the view. I remembered thinking her silly, but now, I'm not wondering if her plan, even an unconscious one, included the view for me to enjoy during our“visits.” Many, many times I've visited her when my heart ached or felt troubled over matters around my dad, friendships, relationships, work, or life in general. The setting, that view she would show off to family members before she passed, has been very peaceful, healing and meditative to me these last three years.

When I lived in Colorado, I wrote mom lots of letters or notes in cards. I realized today I haven't done that in three years, and decided to do just that. Honestly, I'm betting it's probably old news to her since I'm confident she knows what's going on already. So really, I suppose this letter is for me, just like her gravesite.

Dear Mom,

I know you're good; how could you not be reunited with all those in Heaven you loved dearly that passed before you, especially your dad? I find comfort knowing you are taking good care of Casey and Belle too. We who loved you here miss you. And I know you're around when I energetically “ring” you up in my heart and thoughts. Thank you for still taking my calls.

Dad's doing well, you'd be very proud of him. Remember how you fretted he couldn't take care of himself? Well, he's doing a pretty good job of it. He's not too keen about my helping him unless it is doing the dishes and tending to the kitchen. He's better at asking for help but still a proud and stubborn man. Remember how you use to vent about him being unappreciative? Well, I may have over-defended him a bit. After living with the man this last year, I see your point. LOL. I've done a lot of healing work in and around my relationship with him and I think you'd be pleased with how he and I better relate now. As for him, I anticipate some changes in his living situation and life in the next year. If you can just “talk” to him in his dreams, in his thoughts and convince him to be more open to my and Steve's help more through this process, I sure would appreciate it.

I love my work at Wendell Foster's Campus and enjoy the people we serve. It's been one of the highlights in my life since returning to the Owensboro area. I get to do what I and my heart enjoys – writing, teaching, advocacy and education. Life is joyous again since you're passing – it took a couple of years to get over you leaving us. I grasped at a lot of straws to stay afloat in the grief. I still feel the ache of loss now and again but it no longer consumes me like it once did. And it's a little more intense today on the anniversary of your passing but I take comfort in knowing it will pass.
I've settled into living in Owensboro again. I've enjoyed reconnecting with many past classmates and friends. We even had a 30 year class reunion! Can you believe it? I miss all my friends in Colorado and living there but it's nice to be closer to family again too. I'm happy to be here for dad too. He misses you and while he'd never admit it, I think he enjoys having someone else in the house since your absence.

Living with Dad has been an experience but a positive one. Aside from rebuilding and restoring our relationship, I've had the opportunity to enjoy the setting in which I grew up. We've tried to keep your flower beds in good shape but both my and Dad's thumbs are not nearly as green as yours. This summer's drought took its toll on everything, everywhere. But I know Mother Nature will tend to it all come Spring. I will miss this place when Dad does finally sell it, but it has become too much for Dad. I know he'll miss it as well. I only hope whoever buys it appreciates it as much as you and Dad have, and as much as I do.

I miss talking to you daily, feeling your hugs, seeing your smile. I miss you laughing at my corny jokes, getting excited about the good stuff happening in my life, and our conversations. I just miss you.

Love you,