Father’s Day, for many too many women I know, is a day of ambivalence, sadness, anger and grief, a day when they observe other women who have the love and support of their fathers and wish they’d had it as well. As I write this on Father’s Day, I am thinking about the ambivalent relationship I’ve had with men during my life.
That ambivalence is now gone. I can now accept the things my dad did give me. I can accept he wasn’t perfect. He was angry and he was kind. He was loving and he was hurtful. He was human and he was a man of his times. Even with years of therapy, I couldn’t or wouldn’t shake my fear of men until I embraced my spirituality and myself. This is the story.
I loved my Dad and I was afraid of him. I remember snuggling into my Dad’s lap at 3 while he read the funny papers to me. I also remember gritting my teeth, determined to not cry as he turned me over his lap to spank me or washed my mouth out with soap. While these practices wouldn’t be tolerated today, in the late 1940s and early 1950s they were standard parenting practices, at least in my world.
Because of his ideas about girls, my sister and I no longer got spankings after the age of 6. However, he would come home from work, and after hearing a litany of bad behavior, he would line my two younger brothers up in the hallway, take off his belt and whip them. It didn’t have to happen to me for me to get the message about what he could do if he chose to.
Due to sexual abuse from other men in my life, by the time I was a young adult, I not only had the fear to deal with, although I had buried it and would deny its existence, I had the belief that it was my job to please men and do what they wanted in order to be loved.
As a result, I attracted men who abused me by cheating on me, by calling me down and by hitting me. I finally stopped the worst of that pattern. But the fear and feelings of worthlessness remained.
After my son was born, I spiraled downward. My feelings had been buried so deep that I didn’t know how to recognize them or manage them during those early months of parenting when daily I felt like someone had hit me over the head with a two by four. I had no parental guidance and wouldn’t ask for help. Because of my belief that I had to know all and be able to do all, I created a hot mess.
I’ve never been a fighter. I’ve always either run or frozen. I did both. When my sexual feelings for my son’s dad froze in the wake of baby blues, I beat myself up and thought I wasn’t good enough to be with him. When I couldn’t parent like I believed I should, I ran.
For thirty-five years I ran away from my fear of men by running away from men. I had few men friends. I dated women instead of men (not that I dated much at all!). I ran to the feminist community, thinking women were significantly different from men. I thought men were the problem. It was easier to find refuge in politics and polemics than to face my own fears and insecurities.
Life didn’t allow me to stay there. Because of my work with abused women, I learned about emotions. I went to workshops. I went to therapy. I learned new skills and new ways of communicating. Although this all helped, I wasn’t ready yet to do face my deep fears and anger.
Now I’ve been in a relationship for eleven years with a loving man. Men didn’t change. I did.The quantum change started for me when I went to Oakland Center for Spiritual Living in December of 2008 on the recommendation of a friend. I sat and listened. Tears flowed down my cheeks several times during the service as I was told I was whole, perfect and complete. I wanted more.
of Taking classes, I learned the principles and practices of Science of Mind. I learned about meditation and affirmations and affirmative prayer. Because I understood the benefits of therapy, I went regularly to see a practitioner (a spiritual counselor). She moved away after I’d been seeing her for a year. I remember being astounded when, upon asking, she told me she’d been praying for my for the whole year. Pray for me? I was astounded that someone thought I was worth praying for.
When she left, I decided to see a male practitioner. The first day I walked into his office, everything in me was on high alert. Yet, I knew this was what I needed. Slowly, I opened to his belief in me and to the ideas he presented of Oneness, self-love, forgiveness. Slowly I began to accept my goodness and let the old beliefs about being defective drop away. Slowly I accepted that God, life, the Universe, Spirit, whatever name you use, is Love and is everywhere, including in, around and through me. Slowly, I accepted to trust in the goodness of God.
After I’d done a lot of this work, my younger sister told me that no one in the family had wanted to visit me for the many years I was running because I was so angry and judgmental. I listened and accepted the truth of what she told me, and was grateful she was now able to be open with me.
The reason I write about this so often and in so many different ways is because it hurts me to see my friends hurt. I keep writing in order to find a way to let others know that they, too, are whole perfect and complete. That forgiveness isn’t about letting someone off the hook. That letting go of the anger doesn’t mean you don’t care or that what happened was okay. It does mean you love yourself. It does mean you give the whole gift of yourself to the world. I write to let them know there is a way.
So I’ll keep writing until I find my own answers. Until I find my way of paving the path for others.