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by Gysela Gervais

by Gysela Gervais

This weekend is Father’s Day…that is, if you live in the United States…which I do.

For many people, it seems to me, Father’s Day is a great day of celebration. So many people adore their fathers and sing their praises…and it’s clear by the pictures they post on Facebook that their fathers adore them in return. And honestly, as painful as it has been to see this devotion between a father and his child, I really am deeply and genuinely grateful that someone, or many someones, has a dad like that…even if I didn’t and won’t.

Even though I grew up outside the U.S., I was very aware of Father’s Day. For me however, it was the most dreaded day of the year…heaped with guilt and obligation and discomfort and longing. I longed for a real dad…a dad who I actually wanted to spend time with…a dad who saw me and heard me and loved me unconditionally…a dad who knew how to be a dad…a dad who was kind and thoughtful of others and appropriate with his children. Mostly, I longed for a dad I didn’t hate.

Except, I did…hate him, I mean. And I felt guilty about it because he’s my dad…I’m supposed to love him. But I didn’t. Not even a little bit. And I didn’t want to love him. I definitely felt attached to him, which I also hated because that attachment meant that I couldn’t just walk away…I had an obligation to him…to us…we were family…weren’t we? And yet, one day I realized I had to…walk away from him I mean…because if I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t survive. And for once, my survival was more important to me than his.

The next time he popped into my life he’d had a stroke. The news wasn’t really surprising to me, given that my dad is who he is. What was surprising to me was my reaction to its severity. The stroke, his cousin explained over the phone, was so severe that my dad could no longer remember something longer than five minutes, use the right side of his body, or speak. I remember everything slowing down as I struggled to comprehend all that this meant…and when I did, it was a sudden revelation: My dad can no longer hurt meI am safe.

Then a whole shit-load of emotions and thoughts and feelings surfaced, completely overwhelming me. I knew in that moment that what had released was huge…too huge for me to manage on my own, so I found a therapist.

A lot of my therapy time is a blur now…mostly I just remember that I was a walking bag of intense emotions and frayed nerves ready to snap at any given moment. Much of my private time was spent at the beach, yelling at the ocean, grateful for the sobs that were drowned out by the noise of the waves.

One thing I do remember is a question my therapist asked me: Can you release him from the responsibility and obligation of being your father?

It took me a few months to fully understand what that question was asking of me. So much of my anger and hatred was because I had a very clear and defined list of what a father should be…and my father was none of those things to me. In kindness to myself, I recognized that my expectations and needs of my father were not unreasonable as far as society defines them…they were pretty average and normal. But, to be kind to him, he could never be those things. My expectations were as unreasonable for him as his were for me. And now I was being asked to release him and all my expectations, hopes, wishes, longings, and obligations from my life and my future. In essence, my therapist asked me to acknowledge and accept him for who he is and move on.

I felt like a failure for even considering it. I believe so strongly in people and their potentials, holding such hope for them to become their best selves that I forget that it’s none of my business. So I struggled with the feeling that I was giving up on him…because I was. I was giving up on my hopes and dreams that he would become someone other than who he is.

I write this not because I’m heroic in this journey…I’m anything but. I am neither fully healed, nor have I found all the answers. I haven’t seen my biological father in almost 8 years and have no idea if I’ll even be able to go to his funeral when that time comes. While it’s true that I’ve found some really great tools to help me through the difficult times, there are still difficult times as a result of his influence and memory…and I often don’t remember the tools until after I needed them most. And, while it’s also true that within that year the Universe brought me a wonderful father-figure who I gratefully contact on Father’s Day, I certainly didn’t believe in this possibility that moment of my therapist’s question. Neither did I believe that I would ever be able to think of or speak about my biological father without hatred seething throughout my body…and yet, surprisingly, today I can.

I don’t know that I set out to accomplish those things that are now blessings in my life…getting from there to here was too overwhelming to even consider at the time. All I did was to simply let go and accept…repeatedly. I accepted who I was without shame or guilt or apology…my needs…my wants…my desires. I also accepted that who I am, my needs, wants, and desires, and who my biological father is, his needs, wants, and desires, are not compatible with each other.

And that’s OK. 

I can let it be.

I stopped fighting my feelings of anger and frustration and hatred toward him. I stopped excusing them or pretending to feel differently. I stopped trying to change the feelings to anything other than what they were. They just are…and still are. If, in the process of allowing my feelings to be, things have healed and continue to heal in any small amount I can be grateful. But even if they don’t, it is enough. I am enough.

This is why I write…to remind you, should you have a similar situation, that you are enough too.

Being in the journey, wherever you are, is enough.

And so it is.

~Gysela

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