I'd like to begin this first chapter with June's story. In many ways her story mirrors the cry of countless daughters just like you, who struggle with the effects of a dad who wasn't there for them. Year after year they cry: Daddy, where are you? Who are you?
My son was born five years ago. He's a healthy, energetic child. At least he appeared to be healthy at birth. But a few days later we discovered he had a defect. It wasn't visible. No one could see it. But it was there, and it was serious. He had a hole in his heart. He was born that way. Within a week after we discovered it, the doctors opened his chest and repaired that hole in his little heart. He was able to go on with his life in a normal manner. He's not even aware that he had a hole in his heart.
I wish I could say the same. My son and I are alike. We've both had holes in our heart. He was born that way and it was repaired. I wasn't born with one, but over my childhood years the hole was created and it grew larger as I grew. It hasn't been repaired, even though I've tried. It's a different shape than my son's. The hole in my heart is in the shape of my father. Physical surgery won't repair the hole. It will take something like emotional surgery or healing for it to slowly close. I'm not sure how to go about the process. I'm confused. Is it dependent upon my father reaching into my life and somehow undoing what he did or doing what he failed to do years ago? I just want a whole heart. It's too bad there are no heart transplants for this kind of disorder.
There are many daughters walking around with a hole in their heart in the shape of their father. They are missing something from their father that should have been given. Or he responded to them in ways that were way beyond what any daughter should have to endure. Or he simply vanished one day from their lives and hasn't reappeared. Any of these experiences can create a hole that seemingly cannot be filled by anything else. If you think you are alone, that your pain is unique to you and your family, I hope that this book will show you that this is not true. Listen in as other adult daughters share how their dads influenced them--sometimes positively and sometimes negatively--far beyond their childhood years.
My relationship with my father was incomplete, guarded, confusing, and sad. He was an intelligent, funny, deep, and personally likable man when sober, and an explosive, unpredictable, abusive, angry, pathetic, destructive shell of a man when drinking, which increased as time went on.
My father and I have always had a good relationship. He has always held high standards, but they were never unreasonable. I hold those same standards today--expectations that people should always try their best, be polite, behave themselves, and make something of themselves, but also not to allow ambition to get in the way of happiness. I can talk to my father about anything and feel very comfortable asking his advice on things relating to finances, politics, and life in general. We have grown closer as I have gotten older because we share the same love of history and good conversation about important things, plus we both have grown spiritually over the past five to ten years. I have never felt anything but good about our relationship in general, though of course there were times when we may not have seen eye to eye, as there are in any father/daughter relationship.
My father was not available for me emotionally. I do not recall ever discussing struggles or problems with him or seeking his counsel. I recall asking his advice about a boyfriend once when I was in college. I had consciously decided to offer him the opportunity to give me advice because I had been thinking that maybe he hadn't given any counsel because I had never asked. I remember his responding that he really couldn't answer the question, and that I would need to decide, because it was my life. (It was apparent that he was not comfortable with giving me advice.) He was not available to help with homework or provide advice on anything like choosing classes, extra-curricular activity options, career possibilities, my interests or life goals, moral decisions, college options, car repairs, home purchases. Although I performed well in school (A & B honor rolls) and was/am extremely responsible, I do not recall my dad offering praise or acknowledgment other than on very rare occasions, and only as a result of my mom's prompting. (On a positive note, I know that as an adult, he is proud of me and I do know that he loves me. I observe that he asks questions about things in my life and is trying to get to know me. I am touched by these things.)
My biological father was in my life from birth till I was approximately six and a half years old. I came five years after the loss of a two-year-old daughter. My dad spoiled me, carried me in his arms or on his shoulders. He was kind, loving, indulgent, and oh so strong. At six-and-a-half my dad had a breakdown, and I didn't see him again until I was fourteen. By then I didn't know him and was afraid.
The gap between my father and me is actually growing as we get older. I'm beginning to see how disrespectful and hurtful he can be and has been in the past toward my mom. I'm having a hard time reconciling the daddy I loved as a child and the man that I recognize him to be today. I'm embarrassed by some of the things he does, but I still want to defend him to the grave. It's painful.
My father wasn't there for me. Until I was thirteen, he was gone from early in the morning, after breakfast, till dinner time ... to work mostly. When he was home, he retreated into a book or turned on the radio. We kids were to be seen and not heard. He played music or the news during meals. Then the summer I turned thirteen he left us, at our mom's request. She said later that she couldn't take his criticism and silence. I was relieved. My brother was angry. He said that ended his hope of having a dad like everyone else. I was glad that I didn't have to pretend to sleep in on the weekends to avoid his anger. When I was engaged and brought my intended to meet him, Dad refused to shake hands with him. He stood there with his arms folded over his chest and told my fiancé that some people worked, and those who couldn't work were teachers. My fiancé was a teacher.
Because my father was an alcoholic, it was almost like having two fathers. When he was sober he was loving and fun. When he was drunk I became the adult, since he became the one who needed to be taken care of.
It was a wonderful, close relationship. His love and respect for my mother was the greatest gift a man can give his family. Although I grew up during the Depression, I never doubted that he would take care of me. He was well respected in our community, and I felt it a privilege to be his daughter.
Father--a powerful word. A positive word for some and painful for others. What is a father? Who is he supposed to be, and what is he supposed to do? Sometimes in my counseling practice I have heard women describe what they wish their fathers would be or had been, and my only response has been, "He doesn't exist anywhere." He sounded like Superfather, who could bound from one building to another. Some create fathers in the image of what they want him to be rather than what he could ever be. Often we do this with God, our heavenly Father, too.
As I work with those in grief and trauma, I'm often given a window to look through into a person's theology. What we believe about God really comes to the forefront when we are hurting. And so often what I hear is what people wish God would be rather than who He is according to the Scriptures. But we cannot create God in the image we want Him to be in order to satisfy our needs. He is who He is, whether that meets our approval or not.
In the same way, some women will never have the father they want, not because of a deficiency in their dad but because what they desire is unrealistic and unattainable. For others, what they want is reasonable, and it would be healthier for their dad if he were that way. But some fathers are so emotionally and/or developmentally challenged it would take years of work--maybe even therapy--for his healing to occur. Only then could his daughter hope to see the preferred change in their father-daughter relationship.
The book THE WONDER OF GIRLS--Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters, by Michael Gurian is one of the best books I've seen on this topic. In a very succinct way the author describes the impact of a father upon his daughter. He said,
A father who is honest with his daughter about his own flaws becomes her confidant. A father who remains stoic becomes her enigma to solve. A father who distances himself too greatly from his daughter becomes a burden she carries into life. If a father always finds time to cuddle, listen to, toss in the air, dance with, run alongside, coach, comfort, and protect his daughter, he will give her her the gift of life he is built to give. If a father withholds nothing, teaching his daughter the life skills she needs to know, he shares an active kind of respect for variety in a girl's developing self. If a father competes with his daughter in games, but especially when she is young, lets her win her share of races, he is showing her both his own humility and her potential. And as a father helps a daughter enter the worlds of sexuality, romance and then marriage, a man becomes more than an arm to walk down the aisle with--he becomes-- in his daughter's mind fearless..."
Excerpted from A DAD-SHAPED HOLE IN MY HEART © Copyright 2005 by H. Norman Wright. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved.