There are different ways to come to terms with “daddy issues.” For our columnist, gaining perspective on his father’s own difficult childhood helps.
By Michael Rafferty
West Wing fans will recall a story arc that has President Bartlett meeting with a psychiatrist, supposedly for trouble sleeping. The psychiatrist feels out of his depth as the president rattles off a list of global and national crises that would keep Morpheus awake at night.
Then the president says “My father didn’t love me.” The psychiatrist lets out a sigh of relief and says, “Well, now you’re playing in my ballpark.”
I can relate.
My father passed away more than 20 years ago, and I haven’t thought about him much since then. Until now. If he were alive, my father would be 100 years old. It has come as a surprise to me that I actually care about this milestone.
He and I didn’t really get along, a subject that filled many hours of therapy. It was, after all, the therapist’s ballpark, and those sessions covered the usual ground.
No, I wasn’t beaten. Yes, money was often tight—but we were well within the standards of “middle class.” Yes, my parents argued—a lot, actually, and points were often scored with words that can’t appear here—but there was no cheating and, to that generation of Catholics, divorce was not an option.
To be fair—and to keep my three siblings from raining scorn upon me—I have to say they all have warm and wonderful memories of dear old Dad. But they are all older than I am, and they just got a different guy. It was as if he had already spent all of his warmth and wonder and just had no more to give.
I have a strong memory of watching my brother weeping at my father’s funeral. I recorded that sight with a mixture of curiosity and envy. And a helping of resentment. Why didn’t I feel that sense of loss?
In a word: Baseball.
My brother is 10 years older than I am and he remembers playing catch with the old man. By the time I was ready to play catch, the old man was, well, older. Life had ground him down over that decade. His daily routine had devolved into “go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed. Repeat.” That schedule didn’t leave time for playing catch.
“By the time I was ready to play catch, the old man was, well, older.”
By the time I was nearing adolescence, my siblings had all left the nest and started nests of their own in far-away cities. Up to that point, I had a low profile in the family. The only responsibilities I had were to get good grades and dry the dishes after supper. Other than that, I was on my own.
When it was just the three of us—my mother, my father and me—I couldn’t be oblivious any more. I saw my father’s flaws more clearly. He could be mean, narrow-minded, and persistently concerned about what the neighbors or anyone else thought of him.
Again, to be fair, it was the mid-1960s and rebellion was like a hormone coursing through the bloodstream of an entire generation. I wasn’t a model child. There were times when I was a jerk. So yeah, we didn’t get along.
At this point, you may be thinking “Oh, boo-hoo. Your father didn’t teach you to throw a baseball. Get over it.” And yes, it can be healthy to get beyond blaming things on our parents. But there’s a little more to this 100th birthday business.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how my dad got kicked around some by fate.
He was only 4 years old when his own father died. His mother did her best to keep the family together, but there were occasions when the four brothers were separated and sent to live with other families.
After the stock market crash in 1929, my father dropped out of high school to get a job so that he could help his mother out. She died just two years later. It was a rough couple of decades for him.
If you have daddy issues (or mommy issues) that underlie your struggles with depression or anxiety, you are not alone. Some therapists will tell you to let go of the past. Here’s my advice: Try to learn about the things that shaped your parents, and do your best to understand them. And don’t wait until their 100th birthdays.
Printed as “Making Peace with Daddy Issues”, Summer 2017
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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