To adult daughters—women—of all ages: Do you want to know yourself more deeply? If you’re ready for that, then get to know your father. Truly know him. If he was present in your family life, then he had an enormous influence on whom you’ve become. (Ditto if he was absent.) And here’s a suggestion for getting to truly know your dad. Sit down and do an oral history with him.
Ask your father to tell you his life story. If he does, and he’s honest, you will hear some of the following. It will be as unsettling as it is true:
- He was physically or emotionally abused as a boy by at least one of his parents
- He was beaten up by a group of others boys at least once
- He was sexually abused
- He had his heart broken at a young age by someone he was deeply in love with
- He was humiliated in front of his classmates by one of his teachers, or in front of his team by a coach
- He got ditched and rejected by other boys he thought were his friends
- He found out his lover or his wife was cheating on him
- He got bullied at work by a brute in a position of power
- He got fired from a job and never told you because he was too embarrassed
I can virtually assure you that your father was traumatized by at least one of these. He may not even recognize it as trauma; it was just part of growing up, he may say to himself, if he thinks about these at all. But imagine any of these happening to your own son, or your daughter if you don’t have a son. Now recognize that it happened to your grandmother’s son. Your dad.
Talk with this man, and try to come to know him as a man, with a past, not just the dad who orbited around you at the center of your universe while you were growing up; not just the harsh authority figure who you may have hated and resented at times.
Listen to your father’s life story without judgment or blame. Ask him how his parents treated him; about how he was affected in school, and by war; ask about the fears, failures, and most memorable moments of his lifetime. What didn’t he get from his own upbringing that he longs for? What did he get that he treasures?
You will not regret this. It will almost certainly change your understanding of your father. And therefore your understanding of yourself. You don’t need to be a psychologist. You’ll see the connections.
If you have a father, do this while he’s still alive. This will change your life. I’d love to hear from you in a blog post once you’ve done this, or if you have done something like this already. These stories can be the beginning of understanding, and possible healing.