Father-Daughter Relationships: What I learned after the death of my father

It is now two years since my father’s death. He died one week before the Covid-19 pandemic struck our country. I was watching an interview with Will Smith the other day, where he spoke about his alcoholic father and his death. The interviewer said, “You rarely say anything about your father,” and Will responded with, “He was never there, so what can I say.” About his father’s death Will said, “The death of my father started a new phase in my life.” I have to say I agree to some extent with both of these observations as they relate to my own life.

An older friend said to me in the past year or so, that after our parents die we may finally feel more comfortable being honest with ourselves about our relationships with them. That has been my process in the past two years. Yes, I’ve had lots of counseling, in fact the first time I went in was to discuss my problems with my father and how he couldn’t seem to be there for me. Yes, I agree that we would best get past our fixations with our parents’ behavior towards us. But I enjoy understanding my past and how that explains my behavior in the years following my childhood.

Human behavior fascinates me!

Suddenly, in the past week or so, I saw this simple quote and it blew my mind! As strange as it may seem, I was constantly seeking appreciation and approval from most males in my life after my father tended to ignore me most of my childhood. I never felt truly appreciated by him. The exchanges I remember with him were observations like, “You have all A’s on your report card except for this one B+. What happened there?” Yes, I turned to my father for criticism and judgment, and I usually got it. (Interestingly, my brother dropped out of high school and ran away instead of taking this criticism day after day!)

So then men became those whom I would always try harder to please.

WOW, am I slow in figuring these things out! I called my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ I could do nothing right around my “was-band.” And it wasn’t until my divorce in my late 40s that I figured out what I was doing and decided to do things differently. When I first met Mike, who seemed genuinely caring and loving towards me, I was always suspicious, waiting for him to reveal his true feelings and change into my super critic. We even had a joke between us about this, where he would say: “We’re married now ###. Things are going to change around here!”

In retrospect, I would say most of the friends I’ve known weren’t grateful to have me in their life. My first husband, a wealthy man, bargained with me on how much it would take to make me go away. When we arrived at a number, he asked me to sign a contract written on a napkin so that number couldn’t go up. Yep, I could certainly pick ’em! That is why it took me so long to truly trust Mike.

Why does it take us so long to learn these lessons? Because they were our first experiences in the world. My father represented the way men act towards me and I knew I wanted him to love me so I kept trying harder. I mean how many people do you know who have three Masters degrees?

Along the way I learned that those who are heartlessly critical of others are also boundlessly insecure within themselves, not good company for anyone…

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