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Monday, July 22, 2013

On Being a Fatherless Daughter

Last night I watched "Oprah's Lifeclass" on Daddyless Daughters. As I watched and listened to these women talk about what it was like for them to grow up without a father I realized I have never had a friend who had the same experience I did. I've had friends whose dad's died when they were kids, but it's different when your dad leaves and has little to nothing to do with you for your entire life.

My father left when I was in second grade. No one said anything, he was just gone. My mother, brother and I moved, she went back to teaching and no one talked about it. I thought he was on a long business trip until one day I heard the word "divorce" when my mom was talking on the phone.

For a while he came to visit, but after a while it stopped. In high school I began to visit him once in a while, but it was never good. He'd drink too much. and he was so critical it was hardly satisfying. My father, in his brief forays into my life was obsessed with what I looked like. As long as I was thin and pretty I was lovable.
When daughters don't have a father they don't have a man who has set the standard for how they should be treated and what to expect from a man. We don't have a yardstick and inner confidence to know what we deserve so we don't always make good choices.

Girls like me who grew up without a father often either build walls and not let anyone in, or so desperate to be loved we settle for much less than we deserve. I have done both.

I married very young because I desperately wanted to create the safety of the family I never had. I worried my husband would leave and held on so tight he had no choice but to leave. And that was when I began to grow up and heal.

When the worst thing you think could happen to you - again - happens and you survive, it is empowering. When I was married I suffered from a debilitating panic disorder, when my marriage ended I got better. I think I thought if I was helpless he wouldn't leave, but he did. I let go of that because I no longer needed it.

I can't say I've been stellar in all my choices in relationships since my divorce. I am a natural born fixer, and a pleaser. It's easy for women like me to tolerate behaviors we shouldn't because it's hard to ask for what we need, because if you're not perfect they will leave. That's hard to say. So I will say it again. I have spent my life worrying that if I'm not perfect I will be left.

But the great thing is, you can heal, you can change, and you can make better choices. After years of not speaking up, of being treated in ways that were not worthy of just how wonderful I am, I made a conscious decision to choose differently. And when I redefined what I wanted and needed, I changed, and I chose differently.

When my father died almost six years ago I had not seen him in 30 years. We exchanged some letters and phone calls in his later years, and I was able to forgive him. That said, I didn't want to see him, and I am at peace with my choice.

I debated long and hard about whether to post this, almost deleted it, but in the end decided that it's important for woman, especially mid-lifers like me, who maybe grew up feeling like alone in this to know, you're not alone. And just because you didn't have a dad doesn't mean you're not lovable or worthy. As soon as you can really get that, and love yourself you will be able to let a man (or woman) get close to you and really love you and not build walls or worry all the time that they're going to leave too, because you will know that you are whole and wonderful. No matter who comes or goes, you are perfectly perfect, just as you are.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stop Trying To Be A Manic Pixie Dream Girl And Be Your Own Muse

So I am more than a bit past the age of being a manic pixie dream girl. Those girls who are unfailingly cute and whimsical. But I cop to being a girly girl who sometimes trades in the currency of  being pleasing and adorable. Not easy to admit.

This morning I read this piece by Laurie Penny about having been a MPDG and had to admit to many of the traits myself. Mostly what stopped me in my tracks was this:

Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else's.

I had to admit to this.This is me. I came of age during the onset of the women's movement, but somehow I still find myself playing small.

See, the thing is, I have a super power. Want to know what it is? I see the potential in people and their dreams. I can see the company they want to start being hugely successful, the book they want to write being a best seller, and the cookies they make - the next Mrs. Field's! This has its upside, I am a great friend and cheerleader. I will back you one-hundred and fifty-percent. My weakness however has been when I do this with men. The more I champion their potential, the less I embrace my own.

This trope has led me to thinking if I loved a man enough he could become everything he is meant to be, he will be successful, be healthy, stop his self-destructive habits and, I had to face this reality - take care of me so i don't have to think about my own potential.

I have spent many years trying to fix men who I thought needed me. Whether it was to become more emotionally available, more open, more loving, to stop using alcohol and drugs to escape their pain...if I was doing my job well, they would be healed.  And we would be happy.

But the thing was, like so many women (and men too I am sure) I used them as a distraction from embracing my own power, always a little too afraid to really go after what I wanted and playing way too small for myself, but never for them. They would have the big career, the best-selling books, the muti-million dollar company, not me. It has always been too scary to go after what I want, it was safer to focus on them and their dreams instead of my own.

Now however, I am starting to think, why not me?

My only value isn't in being adorable and loving and working hard to please someone else. My value is far deeper and richer than my face and pleasing nature. At mid-life I feel like I am finally willing to stand up for myself and declare - I want more for myself, and I deserve it. I have worked very hard and it's time for me to take a deep breath and step into the light.

Maybe I will make more than the guy I am with, and that's okay. And maybe I will not let what I want take a back seat to his dreams, and maybe I will finally begin to see my own potential, just like I've always seen everyone elses. 

I am learning. I have now picked a guy who doesn't need to be fixed, and encourages me to swing for the fences. He never diminishes my dreams, and I am not making his my own. We are each others cheerleaders and champions, not an excuse to not do what we need to do for ourselves.

Perhaps I am finally ready to step into being the leading lady of my life rather than a supporting character in everyone elses . In some ways it feels a little late and I am angry at myself for it taking so long to stop being scared and giving all my best cheerleading away to others rather than encouraging myself.  But better late than never. It could be that the best relationship I could ever dream of is with myself, that person with all the potential I just happened to have forgotten about.