I Am Not A Daddy's Girl: A Story of Healing and Reconciliation

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by Leslie Marant

I spent the weekend of June 3, 2017 celebrating my father’s 80th birthday at the Capital Jazz Festival in Columbia, Maryland. My sisters and I decided that this was the perfect gift for our jazz loving father. As the only one of his children to get bit with the jazz bug, I happily agreed to escort him. I kept my sisters and followers abreast of our Capital Jazz activities via Facebook postings. People enjoyed the postings and looked forward to our trip updates. I saw several comments saying things like, “I love to see great daddy-daughter relationships,” “awwww, you’re a daddy’s girl,” and “best daughter.”

But I am not a daddy’s girl and never have been. What I am is someone who learned to make peace with my father and with our fractured past. What I have become is someone who is purposeful in my intentions to heal, recover, learn, grow and love. As a result reconciliation became possible.

I won't share all of the details of my childhood or dishonor my father by laying out his misdeeds. Suffice it to say that some of his actions were incredibly harmful to my mother, siblings, and me. It was pretty traumatic stuff. After my parents divorced in my early teens I was estranged from my father for many years. I was cool with it, or so I believed. My mother never spoke a word against him. I spoke them for her. Based on my father's troubled relationship with his parents we didn't grow up knowing and visiting my paternal grandparents. He held onto his own hurts and history and stated that it did not matter if we knew them. His inability to cope with the disappointments of his childhood carried over into adulthood. Long story short, shit rolls downhill and he created a family he was emotionally unprepared to love well. But he loved us nevertheless. He worked hard for us. He sacrificed for us. He fought for us. Those things are as important as his errors.

It took me years to be able to view my dad objectively. When someone harms us it's natural to avoid delving into what happened​ to them and examining the reasons for their behavior. All we want to care about is the harm they've done to us. We want them to own it, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and rectify it if they can. That ain't my daddy. He’s not built like that. His hurts ran too deep and he's​ nurtured them for too long. He feeds them and what we feed lives and grows. Consequently the forgiveness that I was taught is necessary for my own deliverance and health was a long time coming. It was a process. It took years. It required therapy.

I was estranged from my father from my mid-teens through my early adulthood. When my ex-husband said he wanted to speak with my father about our engagement I replied, "for what? Nope and dialogue with my father about my mother, my parent's marriage, and women is off the table." I did not trust my father’s distorted version of the truth nor his view of women. I did not want my fiancé poisoned with my father’s bitterness and skepticism.

But when my eldest child was born I knew it was important for my children to know my dad. I had begrudging awareness that he contributed more to my life than harm. My kids deserved the good, albeit crazy, parts of my father. They deserved a grandpop. I'd forgiven​ enough to allow him to have a relationship with his grandchildren. As their mother I decided that I had the ability to simply cut him back out of my life if I did not like the way he interacted with me or my family. You see I was an adult and he was not going to harm me or mine ever again. If he even dreamed about I would invite him to the door.

I believe years of being enstranged from his children did something to my father. I suspect he did some self-examination, but only a little. So when he came around my sisters and I for family functions he was clearly very grateful to be invited. He was happy. He loved up on the babies. My father allowed his grandchildren to get away with stuff that would have put us in fear of our lives. Once he was at my house when my eldest was a toddler and I tapped her hands about something. "Pooh, don't beat the baby." Say what? Who is this person and what have you done with my father?” I couldn't believe it.

Nevertheless he became quite the loving grandpop. Just as he did when he was raising us, if the kids expressed an interest in anything he would mail an article, CD, cassette tape or anything else he could get his hands on about it. He took them on trips to museums, the theater, plays, and musical performances. He was and is a great grandpop.

But I guess that somewhere in the back of my mind I was not fully done with my own troubled past with my dad. I hosted most of the family events. He was always invited and came. But in small ways I made sure that he was not the boss of me. I made sure that I was in control of the relationship, that I would never respond to him like a little girl anymore,and would never be afraid of him again. It wasn't until my ex-husband once said, "y'all don't make your father a plate. Somebody make his plate." Man you make it, daddy should be happy to be here! Perhaps that was when I realized that I was not quite as finished with this forgiveness thing as I thought because I was thinking, "he's here. He's around. This is for the kids. This is good enough and better than I ever thought it would be possible. But Daddy can make his own plate."

The kids grew up, I went through my own divorce, and went to therapy to get through that mess. If we have good therapists we can learn all about ourselves, the reasons we do the things we do, think the way we do, react and respond the way we do. A good therapist will guide us as we revisit some hurts and pains that are the source of the baggage we bring to the relationships we create in adulthood. We can find peace through the process. I have a very good therapist. Ouch!

My therapist and I wrestled with my past for a long time. As a result I began to develop more compassion and empathy for my dad. I don't condone his actions. I simply understand them now. That understanding allowed me to move from "my father is in my life here for relatable ancestry for my children​" to "you're welcome in my life, Daddy."

It has not always been peaches and roses even after reconciliation. My dad is 80. He's stubborn. He's lived alone for more than 40 years and is unaware of how he can sometimes be self-centered. Both of my parents are elderly and need/needed care. Because of our lengthy estrangement my father is not at the top of my mind all of the time. I check on my mom almost daily because she just holds that kind of priority in my life. I have to remind myself to check on my dad. It's not willful or conscious neglect. It's more, "oh shoot, I haven’t talked to Dad, did anybody talk to Dad or check in on him?" There are consequences to the way we build relationships. Having to remind myself to check in on my dad is one of those consequences.

We likely almost lost him last year. He was very sick. It was just natural for me to jump in and take care of his needs. However, after getting him situated back home he made a statement that -and I can't stand this word - "triggered" me and took me right back to a childhood reaction to trauma. Like a legitimate trigger. I was almost done with him. But I've done a lot of work in therapy. I intend to be the best version of me I can be and I intend for my relationships with people to be healthy or I won’t endure them. After I blocked my father’s calls and he sent numerous messages through my sisters I finally agreed to talk to him. My thoughts were "I know I didn't just finish taking days off work to care for him and get his house straight and he said that to me? Naw dude. I'm good on you." But we met and after I “gave him the business” as he claims and established the boundaries regarding what he could never say to me again we were fine.

I did not consider it giving him the business. I simply told him how I felt about all of his transgressions, how they impacted me as a child, and how they impacted me as an adult. It wasn’t emotional or abusive. It wasn’t loud. It was just me telling him things I needed to say. It was letting go. He attempted to intervene and defend. I did not allow that. Thus the “giving him the business.” It is hard to hear someone else's version of the harm we inflicted and the damage it caused. It's hard to hear what someone thinks of our worst selves. It's hard to hear some of what our children think of us. But that's what I told him and I laid down some rules for future engagement. He did not like some of it. He disagreed with some of it. He apologized for none of it. But I was not there for his apologies. I no longer need them. No invisible weight was lifted. There was no relief. I had my say and that was that. My therapist said, "then you're really done with the past. That's good. You weren't​ challenged with the consequences of your decision. You're fine and in a good space with your relationship with your father."

So we went to the Capital Jazz Festival together and had an absolute blast! We tapped fingers and toes. He stayed up later than I did for the late night jam session. I waited in line for 90 blazing minutes to get his platter of food. I employed my powers of persuasiveness to get him a better seat. He blocked my potential dating activity because it’s hard to be single and mingle when your 80 year old father is attached at the hip, lol! But we had fun. We created memories for both of us that will last. Whenever he passes, not too soon please Creator, it will be well with my soul.

I guess I say all of this to remind us that no one is all villain nor hero. We are who we are. We are human. I'm not the best daughter in the world. I'm not the worst. He’s not the best father. He’s not the worst. But I love my Dad as he loves me, flaws and all. Years ago a friend said, "we are the victims of our parent's mistakes and the beneficiaries of their blessings." Indeed. I am grateful to have shared this time and experience with him. I'm grateful to be able to bring him some happiness. I am grateful for the opportunity to reconcile and the willingness on both of our parts to do so. I am grateful.

Photo: CreateHerStock

Leslie Marant is an attorney, certified personal trainer and running coach, and wellness advocate. She is also a health ambassador for Philadelphia's Get Healthy Philly - Philly Powered campaign. She believes wellness is about more than diet and exercise, but also requires the well-being of our minds, bodies, and spirits.

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