At the age of 25, I found myself unemployed having been laid off in the middle of a recession. In my
desperation to find a new job, I reluctantly accepted a temporary job offer from my father and his new wife. They had recently created a new company, and I saw it as a way to generate more of a relationship with my father, in addition to pay bills that my husband and I had. The temporary job became a permanent one, and I thought I was ready to accept such a position working for the two of them. A few years previously, my parents had stumbled through an acrimonious divorce, and my father’s new marriage had created an enormous rift into what wasn’t a very close relationship between the two of us when I was a child.
Working with family turned out to be far more difficult than what I had imagined. As a child, I looked to my father to tell me what I needed to do, wear, and be, in order to be acceptable to him. And he was more than happy to take that power role in my life, and to provide me the information that I so desired to please him. Becoming an adult didn’t stop those messages from him.
My father was a highly educated, brilliant man. Virtually everything he set his mind to accomplish, he achieved. From being an Air Force pilot, and later a math professor, to becoming a top real estate salesman, nothing was out of his reach. As a child, when I would hear messages from others like “it’s too bad you’re a girl since you’re so good at math,” my father would remind me that I could do anything that I wanted, and that it was wonderful that I was good at math. He was a champion of equal rights for women long before that was fashionable or the law. And as with any person, there were wonderful things about my father and not so wonderful things.
After two short years of working with my Dad and his wife, I found myself fired for various reasons. Most especially I was let go for not agreeing to lie in a deposition involving a lawsuit the two of them had brought against another company. This opened up old wounds from my childhood and my parent’s divorce, all of which were compounded by the fact that I had recently found out I was pregnant with my first child.
I was angry that I was asked to lie, and angrier that my father’s lawyers called me repeatedly at my new workplace telling me the consequences of saying anything other than the script my father had provided. He had relegated all communication between us to be through lawyers. The lawsuit involved a lot of money if a contract my father signed was upheld.
I reached out to a mentor of mine and asked her what I should do. I was recently sober and trying to live by the principles I was being taught, where truth and integrity were touchstones of maintaining my sobriety. My mentor told me that I could lie or I could stay sober, what was my choice to be? The words of another friend were also playing in mind, “Tell the truth and the universe will support you; lie and you’re on your own.”
I knew that if I told the truth that it could permanently sever the relationship between my father and me. We were on tenuous ground. I wanted to ask him why he put me in such a difficult position, asking me to lie? I wanted so much to please him, yet I also wanted to keep my sobriety. My memories were filled with him fudging the truth when it came to money, and his divorce from my mother was especially cantankerous around finances and his infidelity.
I lacked the maturity, newly sober, to be able to express my pain to my Dad who appeared to have not only divorced my mother, but also me. He had long enjoyed drinking more than delving deep into emotional issues, and his alcohol consumption had escalated, making any conversation difficult at best. So, we didn’t speak.
I went to the deposition shortly after my daughter was born. I remember walking into that room where there were several lawyers, a court reporter, me and God. I brought God. I envisioned God sitting in the seat next to me. I told the truth as I knew it. Within the week, I received a call from my Dad’s lawyer telling me that the lawsuit was dropped because of what I said, and that my father was going to lose a lot of money.
I had an understanding that what I did was very brave and courageous. I chose me. I chose the truth. Yet, I still wanted for my Dad to approve of me and what I did. I wanted him to tell me something like, “I’m so sorry I asked you to lie. You did the right thing telling the truth.” I never received that call. My Dad and I didn’t see each other for another five years until my son was born, after which he met his grandchildren for the first time. We tried to create some type of relationship during the next 20 years. Nothing was ever brought up about the lawsuit again.
During one visit, I received the first and only amends in my memory when my father apologized for demanding that I break up my high school romance if I wanted him to pay for my college. I appreciated the atonement, but he hadn’t made me break up with that boyfriend. I’d paid for my own college for two years before deciding to break up the relationship, on my own terms. And I was grateful that he agreed to pay for the last two years of my schooling.
In the various conversations that we had through the two decades, only a handful were in person, mainly when my children were very young. He expressed many opinions about my parenting style and what he felt I should be doing. I was becoming enough of my own person that I would provide him more information about caring for a child with a severe medical condition, and that I was going to follow doctor’s orders. Then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks, months or even years.
I felt that if I honored myself, my children, and my husband then I couldn’t have a relationship with my Dad. There wasn’t a way to please him and to be true to myself. The lesson of the lawsuit, where I said, “I choose me” came up over and over again.
I realize now that I created that necessity of having to choose myself by continuing to engage with him. I deceived myself into thinking that I was “sober enough” for the two of us; that I was mature enough to handle his criticisms of me and my actions. I thought I was able to overlook his not-so-subtle messages that he really wasn’t interested in talking with me when he frequently would take another phone call when we spoke; or when he emailed that he wasn’t able to come visit me, yet had included a previous conversation in the email about his plans to visit his stepdaughter who lived near me.
I became chronically sick with gut issues, to the point that I was hardly able to digest food. I had an awareness that this illness had something to do with my Dad, and my inability to digest his expectations of me. I’d had enough of the merry-go-round relationship with him that vacillated between shame and longing, promises and disappointment.
I began a meditation practice, started energy work on my body, and read every book I could find on emotional transformation. My father had consistently told me who he was through his actions. I was starved for his approval and his attention as a child, and I had been willing to go through almost anything as an adult to have him notice me and accept me. My desire to heal physically finally became stronger than my desire for a relationship with my Dad at any cost to myself.
And even while so sick, I was still trying to be acceptable enough for my Dad to love me and accept me, so I continued to call him. Yet as I got healthier in understanding what I was doing, and speaking with other friends about my quandary, I started to have less tolerance for his criticisms. One of the last conversations I had with him, he was criticizing me for not having a more loving relationship with my brother, who had been suffering from mental illness for years. My brother had fabricated a story of working for the FBI and CIA. With my history of addiction, I knew that my brother was using drugs, yet I didn’t share that with my Dad. I realized that no matter what I said in that moment, my father was going to believe what he wanted. When a mass shooting occurred in my city shortly after that conversation, my Dad was somehow convinced that I was involved and injured, and began calling everyone he knew to see if I was okay. At that point, I’d had enough. My Dad’s grip on reality was loosening, and I no longer wanted that drama in my life. I didn’t call him to say, “Don’t call me anymore.” Instead, I just stopped calling him. That’s all it took for the relationship to end. And it was such a relief for me to no longer have that expectation of having to talk with him.
When my brother died of a drug overdose, a year later, my father created a story of his life and death that didn’t include the brother that I knew. I didn’t attend the funeral, which was a very difficult decision. But once again, I chose me. I had my own ritual of closure. And part of that goodbye was an acknowledgement that my family of origin was never going to be the Norman Rockwell painting. I continued to choose me, and continued to work on myself. I saw that in my victim consciousness, I wrongly attributed my illness as all my Dad’s fault. If he had loved me well, I wouldn’t be so physically sick. Come to find out, my Dad was the catalyst for me getting healthy.
I began to have an opening in my understanding that I chose him to be my Dad. He fulfilled the role perfectly. I needed the experience of my childhood to become the person who I am today, and to become the parent that my two children needed. I needed to feel unloved unless I performed perfectly, to feel unheard when my words weren’t listened to, to feel insecure about my place in our family. All of that gave me the ability to be able to choose myself. It’s the lesson of transformation that I signed up for in this life. Instead of hating my Dad and what he did and said to me, I began to feel thankful for my father for playing this role in my life. No one else could have taught me what he taught me. He was perfectly situated for me to learn this lesson once and for all in this lifetime. I choose me! I choose truth and love. I live with an open heart today, because I surround myself with loving people. And I have a relationship with myself today. I know who I am, what I like, and how I feel. What a gift my father gave me.