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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Making Peace With A Good Enough Father



When I was a little girl this is who I wanted to be my dad. Atticus Finch. He represented all that was good and loving in a father as far as I was concerned. Instead I had a father who wasn't present. He left when I was seven, and I rarely saw him after that. When he died almost four years ago I had not seen him in thirty years.

Lest you think this is going to be a whiny walk down the all-I-didn't-get road, it is not. It took me a long time to get here, but I know that everyone does the best they can. Unless someone is a sociopath I don't believe anyone sets out to be a bad parent, they go into it with the best of intentions. Some just do better than others.

I didn't know my father well. He was bright, articulate, well-educated and talking to him was like playing tennis with McEnroe. I was expected to be smart and articulate. I was scolded if I couldn't keep up on the phone. The repartee was fast and at times scathing. He suffered no fools, even if you were his daughter.

As time went on I tired of conversations that exhausted me if I didn't have the rapid, knowledgeable comeback he was looking for. It was stressful.

But then something happened. As I got older. I let go. I finally came to terms with the fact that Atticus Finch would never be my father. When I let go of any expectations I forgave him and was no longer mired in an inner dialogue of wishing for what would never be.

I realize that without his very specific DNA I would not be who I am. Without the hard knocks and losses I also wouldn't be who I am. Compared to many, my childhood was idyllic. I am very lucky in many, many ways.

One of the most egregious (my dad would be so proud of that word)problems I see in our culture is the adult-child-of, syndrome. Like somehow the fact that my dad was an alcoholic who left excuses my behavior for the rest of my life. No, it does not. I am responsible for my lot in life, no one else is. Of course there are wounds, we all have them, but it's our job to get help if we choose, and to heal them and then move forward.

Now I can say that I am glad I had the father I did. Sure Atticus Finch might have been nice, but I know who I am today is because of who my parents were. Even as a writer, the presence is felt. I had a note that I have sadly since lost, that my dad wrote to me a couple of years before he died. I was astounded that he wrote in a very similar voice to my own writing style. That's no accident.

It's nice to be able to say, on this Father's Day weekend, that while yes, there is and always will be some sadness for what I didn't have, I am very grateful for what I did.

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