FAT CHANCE WITH MY DAD
Rivers and roads.
Lines drawn by water, lines drawn by the hand of man.
The stories of our lives unfold along these winding paths.
“Imagine a line of men. The best of the best. Men who stood out amongst men. Men who were sought after and longed for. Imagine them standing in a line that stretched to the horizon.
Imagine a sign that said: “CHOICE A” - Pick a father.
I'd trudge for days until I stood before the one who shone the brightest in that line and without a doubt, that man would be my father. My dad was, is and will always be the best of the best.
He is so much more than my father…”
It was at this point that Ginny’s therapist interrupted her and said: “So Ginny, those are lovely things you are telling me about your father. Things you’ve told me for years. What I’d like to know is exactly how you are feeling, in this moment, right now.”
Ginny took a deep breath, hesitated for approximately ten seconds, went to answer...and started to choke. Everytime she began a sentence her throat closed and no words would fall from her tongue. In frustration, she chose to slump back in her chair and just allow the tears to roll down her cheeks.
She had no words to describe the swirling chaos of emotion rampaging through her body.
Ginny’s feelings were a rocky terrain, landmined with fear and doubt. She knew she was supposed to love her father.
No matter what she told herself she ought to feel about him, reservations and contradictions rose, raggedly undermining any sense of certainty she hesitantly attempted to claim.
She started to explain, “He was a very good man. He did a lot for so many….”
The therapist sat with her notes and pencil, casually glancing back through years of writing. “Tell me some of the things he did for you Ginny?”
“Well, he….” Ginny stopped. Each time she began a sentence it sounded hollow before it even left the tip of her tongue. “He loved me, I know he loved me.”
‘Tell me some of the things he did or said that made you know he loved you.”
“He often told me I had done a good job raising my children.”
“Did he criticize them at all?”
“Well, yes, but he was right. I made many mistakes and I really have no right to criticize his parenting when I didn’t always do such a great job myself.”
Again her therapist interrupted. The interruption surprised Ginny greatly. This woman rarely gave her opinion, instead carefully leading Ginny along a path which allowed her to come to her own conclusions.
The therapist continued, her brief glances at previous notes again were mostly for show. She knew the story well and had listened for years as Ginny ran herself down.
“Did he appreciate your talent?”
“I believe he did. He often got me to do designs for his craft tables.
“Did he acknowledge you as an artist?”
“Well kind of...” Ginny paused, remembering the surprised look on some of his friends' faces when she mentioned her studio. The hole in her stomach ached from the pain of realizing her father took little pride in her work. The fact that he saw little point in telling his friends about her talent, stabbed at her heart.
Her father’s friends had no idea she sculpted and were quite intrigued when they visited her studio.
“What gallery displays your work?”
Ginny had blushed and stammered her litany of excuses. “It really isn’t gallery quality. I mostly do it for my own pleasure and it is something to keep me busy. I give lots away and am just happy that someone might enjoy something I made.”
“But your pieces are wonderful, you need to promote your work.”
Ginny was horrified, “Oh I couldn’t do that! Really, compared to what is on the market, my work is very mediocre. Also, as my dad will tell you, some of the pieces are just too bizarre and would be found deeply offensive by most people. He’s probably right, I should stick to making dishes and other usable items that would sell more readily, but my heart just isn’t into that. What I love most is to sit with my eyes closed and let the clay tell my hands what to do. That is really exciting. But I agree with my dad, not very many people want that kind of thing.”
Ginny turned to her therapist, tears silently rolling down her face.
The therapist gently probed a little deeper.
“Ginny” she began, “For years you’ve told me carefully minimalized stories. I’ve refrained from suggesting that much of what you describe would be considered abusive. Your defenses of your father have been so strong and this is the first time I’ve seen even a glimmer of questioning. So, I am going to put this in front of you….do you believe that you were abused?”
Ginny blanched and began to stutter, “Well I wouldn’t go so far as to call it abusive. Insensitive perhaps, but not…..” She stopped as memory after memory began cascading like candy from a shattered pinata.
Her father’s voice, “Oh Stop exaggerating, I knew you could swim. The water was only a few feet deep!”
Ginny still felt the terror of a three year old being ferried across the creek on her father’s back. She knew she should feel safe and yet, was only a little shocked when halfway across, her father dove out from underneath her, leaving her to swim the rest of the way on her own. As an adult, she agreed, the creek was not very wide and in truth, only a few feet at its deepest.
However, the indelible memory of that very frightened three year old, was that it was a mile across and bottomless and that somehow she must make it on her own.
She knew her father was right. She actually could swim but chose instead to observe.
She loved spending all her time in the shallows of the shoreline where she felt safe. Here she could watch all the little creatures that scurried about the rocks.
Being able to swim and having the confidence to actually believe you could swim, were two vastly different things.
She never forgot the experience. In the deepest recesses of her being, she never quite trusted her father again.
Frame after frame slid across her vision. Her father making it abundantly clear that she never quite measured up.
If she responded sullenly or God forbid, actually dared to confront his barbs, his retaliation took on dangerous undertones.
Year after year of swallowing anger and resentment began to take its toll.
More memories, some in sequence, some scattered across years.
A particularly tender one...
She had decided to visit her dad in Arizona where he wintered.
He picked her up at the airport and on the way back to his trailer explained the ‘favour’ he’d done for her.
“Oh by the way, I told people here that you had a weight problem, I didn’t want them to be shocked when they met you.”
Ginny’s body may have been seated safely in her therapist’s office, her mind however had flown to distant lands.
Her memories, the passport into these dangerous territories, were almost unbearable. More snippets of memories, buried, yet not forgotten.
“You really don’t deserve him…” This, a comment from her father after witnessing an argument with her soon-to-be ex.
Her crime? Refusing some request that drove her spouse into a red faced fury, slamming the wall beside her face before he stormed off.
Sadly, her father’s statement hadn’t been made as a support for Ginny, but rather a criticism of her behaviour.
His most damaging barbs, backed by many in her family, were that she was, “crazy, not normal and badly needed help.”
For years she had bought this story. Oh, she fought and struggled with it. To little avail. In fact, her attempts to disprove the image and step outside the stranglehold of it’s grip, only made the accusations seem more plausible.
It took many years of having this somewhat warped picture thrown in her face over and over again before she realized she’d finally had enough.
Her father’s list of complaints always began with, “You know what your problem is?” He would then descend into a monologue of shortcomings which left Ginny feeling deflated, defeated and unable to muster up any argument.
Over the course of her adult life, she gradually began to believe her father’s interpretation. From a muddle of self-doubt, she accepted that his viewpoint was probably the most accurate.
She fought desperately to seek a more tempered reality. It proved to be a losing battle. She would break surface, gasp for air, only to be slammed by another towering emotional wall, washing her far out of reach from any Isle of Self.
Her last rebellion happened during a visit from her father. He had come to be with her for Christmas and at first the stay was pleasant.
For the most part, Gin accepted her father’s shortcomings, his need to be in control, his dominance in every conversation, turning any subject into an opportunity to tell about HIS experiences and of course in the process, proving how vastly more important he was.
This particular argument began innocently enough.
They were sitting having tea, reminiscing. Somehow the conversation dropped into that place that left her feeling devastated and shell shocked.
It always began the same way. Her father would become annoyed at something she said and he’d begin his attempts to set Ginny on the straight and narrow.
He would lead in with, ”Do you want to know what your problem is?”
This would be followed by a list of all the things that she did wrong and how, in his estimation, could do better. Few of his suggestions brought comfort to Ginny and most left her feeling like a complete failure.
This time she was prepared, when he asked “Do you want to know what your problem is?”
She quickly responded, ‘No.”
It was as though she’d not spoken and he forged on with the usual litany.
She put up her hand and more loudly said, “What part of no do you not understand?”
At first he seemed stunned, not actually believing what he’d heard. He almost continued, but somehow, the look in Ginny’s eyes alerted him to the danger in this course of action. He was silently furious, unsure of how to continue and decided retreat was the best course of action.
The following hours grew more and more tense, erupting into argument after argument. The final straw arrived when her father began a small repair job requiring the use of white glue. In his usual impulsive manner, he began the job with no preparation for the work space. Gin watched in horror as he dribbled glue across her rug. When she attempted to stop him while she laid down a ground sheet, he scoffed and told her she was being too picky and wasting time. She gritted her teeth, grabbing and spreading ground sheets while attempting to clean up the glue.
Her father’s impatience and annoyance clouded her better judgement. Her ability to be diplomatic vanished and she called him a name no daughter should ever call her father. In spite of her guilt and shame for having called him an asshole, she still believed it to be an accurate description of his behaviour.
His outraged response had been to almost push her over as he gathered his belongings, storming out of her apartment.
She immediately felt remorse and began begging for forgiveness. He simply refused to speak to her. She kept hoping he would come to his senses and be mature enough to meet on some middle ground.
This dream was not to happen. Instead, he rented a car, moved his belongings to one of her children’s homes and just ignored all Gin’s attempts to reconcile. The whole thing ended with him boycotting a Christmas dinner with Ginny, her children, grandchildren and a few close friends.
His final act of punishment was to take everyone out for supper the next night, carefully excluding Ginny from the event.
Ginny’s regret and sorrow was deep. No amount of amends seemed to improve the situation. Other family members felt obligated to weigh in on the subject. To a person, they sided with her father. Gin stood alone, attacked from every side. She resigned herself to the pain of waiting for time to pass, knowing from experience this would soothe the ragged edges of battle.
True, she and her father had endured many ups and downs. Yet, in spite of their very different natures, they always managed to work things through.
They may have had to work at it, but their deep love for one another kept them at the task.
Over the years, their relationship had weathered storms that would’ve sunk many others. The reward for their work was an appreciation of what time had rendered.
Ginny had truly loved her father. Between her therapist’s probing and her own hard work, the evidence was clear. Beneath this man’s rough exterior was the brilliance of an unpolished gem. She slowly navigated her way towards forgiveness longing for the burden of resentment to be lifted.
It was a destination that often seemed unreachable. She became exhausted in her efforts to reach it’s shore, constantly doing her best to move on.
After her father died, Ginny began, with the help of her therapist, to soften the many negative memories.
She continued with therapy.
Slowly but surely she was able to put many of her demons to rest.
So it came as a great shock to receive homework from her therapist.
She was to spend the next week making a list of all the ways she’d been treated badly and not allowed herself to acknowledge.
This was very hard work for Ginny and the pain of putting the words on paper left her feeling like a hot rock had been embedded in her chest.
Yet, as she wrote each buried experience and simply was willing to see it as an exercise, she felt oddly lighter and better, the hot rock replaced by a gentle soothing calmness.
The following week found her sitting in the familiar chair, with her therapist smiling as Ginny pulled out several pages of writing, evidence of her diligence in completing her assignment.
She began to read from the lengthy litany of complaints.
With each word uttered, Ginny knew something deep was missing.
She stopped, putting the papers aside.
She took a deep breath and said to her counselor, “Imagine a line of men. The best of the best. Men who stood out amongst men...”
Her therapist, smiling softly, asked, “Would you trade him for a different father?”
With no hesitation whatsoever, Ginny replied…”FAT CHANCE.”
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I loved the way you handed the realization of denial, and bringing it to a sound ending. Great job!