Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

I don't trust my father.

These five words have come to define my entire relationship with men.

Sitting as I am these days among complete families - dysfunctional sometimes - I see so many young women who adore their fathers. I see so many fathers who are irritating, embarrassing, even downright silly - but undoubtedly deeply loving of their children. And in the midst of all that, I see in their relationships the confidence that regardless of what life throws at them, fundamentally nothing really can go wrong.

It's likely that I'm crediting healthy, normal father-daughter relationships with too much value. For anyone who has been in a family where the only communication between dads and moms has been screaming and anger, the biggest wish has always been that the parents will separate. I want to clarify here that this post isn't about mom and dad relationships but about parent-child ones.

The other day, I celebrated my father's birthday. It's rare that I get to see him that day, and my brother and I decided to take him and his wife out to dinner. I walked into the restaurant, late as always, and he gets up off his chair, happy to see me. He takes me in his arms, and we dance a bit of a mixed up waltz together to some honkey-tonk music.

It was one of those perfect movie moments that show a deep and real relationship between a father and his daughter.

And all that time, I couldn't look at him. It was such an alien feeling to have my dad hold me. And when he pulled me into a dip, I let his shoulder go, to hold on to a nearby bar stool for support, making him kind of superfluous in the situation. I trusted a piece of furniture to hold me up better than my father. I could just as well have been dancing alone.

Which is what I think I end up doing anyway.

My dad told me a long time ago that I should stop being this cliched "child of broken family" and hanging all my issues on his shoulder. The thing is, I don't care about the fact that mommy and daddy couldn't stand each other. The real betrayal, I want to remind him, was the 5 years of emotional and mental trauma through disappointment-filled letters and phone calls exchanged between the two of us - a 45 year old man and a 15 year old girl. Each painful exchange chipped away at the fundamental belief that nothing could possibly go wrong so long as daddy was around.

Maybe I've been singing this song for too long already. But I can't help but think that if perhaps I'd gotten used to my father dancing with me over the years, that if I'd seen up close and personal that despite the mistakes one makes while learning to dance, one still sticks around to finish it, that dancing is about learning the steps and not everyone is a perfect dancer to begin with but they do become better with practice - it may have been easier for me to accept a real-life imperfect partner.

Instead today, I don't go dancing unless I have a handy bar stool nearby. Often, I just sit on it and watch and wonder at the ability of the people around me to trust another human being to not drop them. And usually, even in a crowd, I dance alone.

Oh man.


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and sad at the same time. There are so many thoughts going through my head right now, I think it would be better to write you an email.
I had my challenges with my father while growing up and spent most of my time in therapy talking about him..because most of my relationship problems always seemed to end up and start with the dynamics i had with my father.

But i worked through it and let go. My issues and challenges with relationships still exist to a certain extent, but i now rarely look at my father issues for the answers.

My father died two weeks ago after a long battle with Alzheimer's. He was85. I decided a year ago to return halfway across the world to live close to my parents in order to help take care of him (along with my brothers) and now that he is gone, I am so thankful to myself for having made this decision. In an indirect way, I realized that i forgave my father for all his imperfections and i was finally able to love him and show the affection i had never been able to show as a little girl. I was there when he died and I have a warm feeling about my relationship with him.

I wish for you to work on it in whichever way you can. It is worth it and will free you in the end.

Roy said...

I was just thinking too bad we don't have one day set apart each year to sit and think of this kind of stuff, the emotional baggage of childhood, the unfairness and the abuse of all kinds. That way, you ruin only one day a year, with the added advantage that each year, when you return to the memories you understand just a little bit more, they are easier to get your mind around, and they are a little less important. But it takes so damn long. In the end, I'm not sure these things need to be figured out so much as they need to be thrown out.

Searcher said...

Mikkelina: Thanks for stopping by. There's nothing I can say except that I'm sorry for your loss. Really.

Roy: Fortunately, most of it is in fact thrown out. But every now and then there's the "ah ha" moment that inserts itself into real life. I don't even want that day. I just keep hoping to feel... something.... for this man who's responsible for half my genetic code.

Internally Disharmonious said...

The metaphor of dancing is powerful and almost sends chills along my spine as the father of a daughter.

I think the personalities in ANY relationship are something that can certainly affect the very roots of the relationship. I also think it is imperative for every parent to be a parent at all times, regardless of how imperfect it is. I'm beginning to relize this, sometimes I think it is too late, but I relaize there have been major mistakes I've made in my own relationship with my kids. And I've allowed my relationship with my wife to dictate my actions towards my children. In reality, they are two different types of relationships and have to be handled in different respects. I for one have an EXTREMELY difficult time seeing how much my daughter is like my wife - in which I have a highly strained relationship - and I find myself often reminding myself that my daughter IS different than my wife.

I might stop here...
I think I can probably go on for hours about this very topic...lol

Searcher said...

ID: All i can say is that my father assumed I was my mom and lost ME in the process. I don't think he realises that yet. Today, i saw my uncle wake up at 6 am to make lunch sandwiches for his two daughters. He sliced open the bread, commented that it was fresh, diced a lettuce and sliced a tomato, put some low-cal cheese in, added bits of turkey and wrapped it in aluminium foil, all the time talking about how he knows his daughters don't eat enough but his sandwiches are low cal and nutritious. He does this every morning. Then he made me a similar sandwich for breakfast.... I think i may have cried a bit.

Anne R. Allen said...

What a moving piece. I hope you'll incorporate it in a novel or poem. The metaphor is so powerful for that universal experience of realizing our parents are flawed and nobody can take care of us but ourselves.

Either we get over the wounds of our childhood or we let them continue to poison us. I dealt with some of the horrors I went through as a small child after I read the wonderful book by Jungian philosopher James Hillman, called the Soul's Code. He hypothesizes that we go through the pain of our youth in order to prepare to become the adults we are supposed to be. Whether you accept it on a spiritual level, or merely as metaphor, it helps.

Thanks for your lovely comment on my good news on my blog!

A-Girl said...

very nice piece searcher.very moving.

I am very curious to know what actually went wrong? Why did your parents separate? In fact did they separate, or did one leave the other? What happened in those 5 years: did you ask your father to come back in those letters and he constantly refused? How did your mom reconcile with all this- how is she OK with you meeting your dad and his wife?

Agirl said...

...and by the way now we even have a song for your life story


Searcher said...

A Girl: Thanks for the song - it's hit closer to home than I'd have thought :) As for your other questions... you know, I wrote this really long response detailing the under-lying issues and finally realised one simple thing - My parents' relationship doesn't bother me much anymore. It was their marriage to do with as they pleased. I just wish my relationship with Dad was linked to having got past our history than having avoided it.

A-girl said...

yeah it was pretty uncanny how I came across that song the very same day I commented on your post while searching for another song on youtube, and thought of you.

hmm, excuse my language , but your dad sounds like selfish prick. That's all there was to it. You can let him know that people on your blog were calling him that name. By stroke of bad luck, you were born into a family where the dad would be a highly self centered, insensitive man.

i wish you had just posted that long response anyway!!

A-girl said...

PS: good job with changing the background. Now all that is needed is your original white on black font to make it look the 'right amount of somber' yet different from the look u've had for years.

BTW Did your parents relationship also effect your brother the same way? The person I wonder about in all of this is your mom. You never write about her.