Father’s Day for the Fatherless

By Jacqueline White

I recently watched my husband write a thoughtful note to his Dad and carefully mail it in time for the upcoming Father’s Day holiday. He seemed so satisfied by this opportunity to express love and appreciation for his Dad and I realized that for many like him Father’s Day represents a time of fond reflection and a subsequent tribute to the father-figure in their lives. For me however, the day produces confusing and painful emotions. My own father was a mystery to me. The enigma stems from observing so much about him throughout his life but never really knowing him in any meaningful way.

So for any of you who don’t have a dad in your life or have a less than ideal relationship with your dad or step-dad, read on–you’re not alone.

Before his death my Dad successfully left a 54 year wake of destruction and pain that took the form of 3 divorces, abuse, emotional manipulation of his children, a silent feud with his parents and siblings, as well as a laundry list of negative personality traits that included regular yelling tirades directed at anyone who crossed him, coupled with a general disregard for others.

This biased but accurate description begs the questions:  why would anyone put up with such a disagreeable character?  Ironically he could also be one of the most charming, gracious and charismatic men ever. When I was young indulgent trips, magical events and generous gifts were the standard and common fare. He was handsome and very often kind. Inevitably however, no matter how normal or stable he seemed, life would always be abruptly interrupted with unexpected outbursts of anger and the subsequent drama which followed. Unfortunately, there were wild swings of affection and love, starkly contrasted with sterile bouts of absence, distance and abuse.  As a teenager, the consolation for his erratic behavior evolved into new cars, new clothes, money and lavish trips. Yet however seductive the reward, it never compensated for enduring the unpredictable emotional swings required to maintain any kind of relationship with him. Yet like most children, my longing for a relationship with the man who fathered me, along with my desire to gain his acceptance and approval readily and regularly allowed me to forgive his misdeeds and mistakes. Some of you may have experienced a familiar pattern in your own families.

My Dad’s rage-o’holic moods and the self-pity he often reveled in continued to define who he was and how he related to all around him, including his accepting and adoring children. My uncle once told me that my father was simply unable to tame the demons that raged inside him. He was right and it ultimately consumed his life and existence. What made him so angry, volatile and unable of having a healthy relationship with anyone remains a mystery. By the end of his life he had alienated everyone who had ever attempted to be close to him including his family of origin and all of his children. He had no friends to speak of and excluding a small group of immediate family, very few attended his funeral.

Although I can acknowledge his good qualities (and there were many) as well as a hand full of positive characteristics that I learned and inherited from him, I still can’t bring myself to focus on these things in the respectful way that so many of us are trained to do after someone dies. Instead, I choose to focus on the reality of my experience with him. I purposefully keep the complexities that created his chaotic life alive in my mind and memory so they can be instructive to me.

Although it haunts me that I feel so oddly connected to a man who so poorly fathered me I don’t regret the experience and the wisdom that has emerged from life with an unpredictable and undependable father. In fact, the pain produced from my relationship with him has been instructive, as well as instrumental in helping me become who I am and has also given me insight and strength that I am proud of and depend on regularly. It guides my life in many ways as I ponder my father’s many unexplainable choices, the resulting mistakes and the inevitable consequences they reaped.

Our agonizing relationship helped me marry a man who offers the emotional intimacy and consistency that I always longed for throughout my life. I was careful to select a husband that I was not only attracted to and loved deeply but one who would parent our children with a responsible and enduring commitment. The memory of my father’s struggles, failures and poor example renew me daily and encourage me to overcome the predisposition I often feel toward selfish behavior. I regularly indulge in the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from establishing a stable, happy and peaceful home for my 4 children and am truly delighted to be providing to my family something I longed for but rarely experienced as a child. That’s what the gospel does. It transforms pain of the past into instructive wisdom for the future if we let it.

So as Father’s Day approaches I don’t hold a pity-party for how lacking my own father was, instead I remember his life full of mistakes that I’ve learned from and that have hopefully made me a better mother.

I can’t write about a loving father who nurtured and supported me but I can reflect on the lessons, wisdom and insight that his mistakes and decisions taught me. For some this reality will be so unfamiliar it may be hard to read or even believe. So if you have a great father-figure in your life, be grateful and let him know. If you don’t, please know that you are not alone and good can come from even the most painful past.

 

 

Author profile

Boston-based mother of 4 children (ages 16,19, 22, & 25) and Global Executive in the Technology field. When not working, mothering or sleeping I love to hike in the mountains, find live music venues and debate politics around my kitchen table. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has meant everything to me since I joined the LDS church as a 15 year old in Arkansas. I consider myself an unapologetic advocate for girls and women's rights, as well as a devoted Disciple and mainstream Mormon. I belive that at the end of the day our lives will be measured by how fully and completely and non-judgmentally we love and serve one another 🙂

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  • Sage
    June 11, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks for this. My father was smart and generous. But he was not able to connect well with his own kids. His kindness was reserved for others. He was emotionally abusive to my mother and left her in financial difficulty before he died despite having made a good living. He was not humble and my main focus is learning humility so I don’t continue on an incorrect tradition. I appreciate your take on how to deal with a difficult father. Thank you.

    • Jacqueline White
      June 12, 2016 at 4:12 am

      It’s confusing and appalling, isn’t it? That parents can be complicated and imperfect and leave us scarred instead of inspired. Sigh.. I’m sorry that your Dad was emotionally abusive and distant Sage. But WE ARE NOT WHERE WE CAME FROM. That’s what I regularly tell myself. We are who God helps us to become and what He wants us to be–if we let the transformative power of the Holy Ghost and guiding light of the Gospel be our guide. I am sure that you are a wonderful, insightful woman with a profound life ahead. Love to you Sage.

  • Jenny
    June 11, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Jaque I love this! What a beautiful tribute to the atonement and putting it to work in our lives. Your giving nature and amazing self; the way you selflessly live your life and pay it forward are the highest tributes you could pay your father.
    xo

    • Jacqueline White
      June 12, 2016 at 4:07 am

      Oh Jenny, I love your supportive and kind nature. Thank you for being a friend and example–and for your goodness. Love to you.

  • Abigail
    June 12, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Thanks for sharing, mom! These are such wise thoughts. Im so grateful to have such stable, wise, supportive, and loving parents. You two have done an amazing job at raising and loving us. Love you!

    • Jacqueline White
      June 13, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Thanks darling girl! Dad and I got lucky with wonderful children who have been a joy and pleasure to parent. So glad we get to keep doing this together forever! So proud of you and the smart, insightful, determined girl you are.

  • Thomas
    June 12, 2016 at 9:35 am

    I am one of those people who can relate because I too have a less than hoped for relationship with my father. I remember one Father’s Day after another listening to the usual platitudes about how grateful everyone was to have such a nurturing and present father.
    What I like about your essay is that it truly cuts through the dogma that exists sometimes in sacrament meeting insisting that everyone’s family is perfect. What’s more, it expresses the notion that there is such thing as post-traumatic growth. That is you succeeded in cultivating a stable family not only inspite your challenges, but because of them. I believe that the atonement provides for that, and I am so grateful for you sharing your story.

    Love,
    Thomas

    • Jacqueline White
      October 2, 2016 at 7:41 pm

      Oh sweet, smart Thomas. I’m just now seeing these comments. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. We share so many similar experiences and characteristics. So glad we’re about to be family. And you are going to be an excellent Father!

  • Ellery white
    June 12, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Mom this is amazing. You are always able to take something good away from trials and hard experiences. Love you ❤️

    • Jacqueline White
      June 12, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      Love you too little one! Having you as a daughter is one of my greatest joys. (And you’re my best friend. lol–but don’t tell the others.)

  • Susan
    June 12, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    Congratulations to you! You exemplify these powerful words of Stephen Covey:
    “A tendency that has run through your family for generations can stop with you. You’re a transition person – a link between the past and the future. And your change can affect many, many lives downstream. You can write it into your personal mission statement and into your mind and heart. You can visualize yourself living in harmony with that mission statement
    in your Daily Private Victory. You can take steps to love and forgive …. to build positive a relationship by seeking to understand.” (Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

  • Jacqueline White
    June 13, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Thank you Susan. I have always believed in that quote and concept and love it! With God’s help we can become the very best versions of ourselves. Thank you for visiting RubyGirl!

  • Abigail
    June 13, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Thanks for sharing mom! I loved reading this, you and dad have done an amazing job raising us. I’m so grateful for such stable, wise, and loving parents.

    • Jacqueline White
      June 13, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Thanks darling girl! Dad and I got lucky with wonderful children who have been a joy and pleasure to parent. So glad we get to keep doin this together forever! So proud of you and the smart, insightful, determined girl you are.

  • Strona
    July 20, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Thank you for your post:-). Best regards, pozdrowienia!