It's just my luck that Father of the Bride has become one of those movies that is shown over and over on cable, maybe not quite as often as Pretty Woman, but right up there. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie for all its sweetness and emotional cleanliness. Mostly I love the kind of father Steve Martin portrayed. He had all the healthy, appropriate responses when his darling daughter, Annie, found the man of her dreams. He couldn't bear the thought of Annie being with a man, any man, because she was his little girl and he didn't want to lose her. No one could be trusted to love her the way he did, as much as he did.
His lovely narration that tenderly reflected his struggle with this life transition broke my heart. He knew that he had to find a way to give her the love and support she needed from her dad and then send her out into the world to find her own happiness. Diane Keaton, playing the perfect wife and mother, understood her husband's struggle and loved him all the more for it. Seeing that movie was devastating to me. It perfectly illuminated the deep dysfunction in my own family as told in my book, Silver Platter Girl. Despite my best efforts, when I see Father of the Bride on the program guide, I sometimes cannot resist watching it all over again. And it makes me wonder what it would have been like to bring my fella home and have my dad tell him that he better take good care of his little girl or else. And mean it.
I rely on movies and television to show me, and validate for me, the way it is supposed to be. During last year's season of Friday Night Lights, the town's football coach walked in on his 15 year old daughter and his team's quarterback in bed. He blew a gasket and for a moment, I thought he was going to get out the shotgun in a Texas moment. He told his player, "that's my daughter". Enough said. Coach is a man of few words but believe me, QB1 got the picture. Then Coach left it to his wife to have "the talk" with their daughter. How very different from my experience.
Sometimes it isn't what actually happens to you as a child, it is what goes on around you, the things you are routinely subjected to, the atmosphere of your home, the environment of your family. Take Sean O'Hair for instance. He is a professional golfer who stepped into golf's biggest spotlight when he blew a five shot lead on the final day of Arnold Palmer's tournament to none other than Tiger Woods. That gave the announcers time to speak about Sean's background, including his hard driving father who yanked him out of high school and took him on the road using the family fortune, demanding a rigorous training schedule and weekly qualifying tournaments all around the country. Sean's dad didn't believe in college, a waste of time spent studying if all you want to do is play golf, or if all that your father wants you to do is play golf. At some point along the way, Sean rebelled and they became estranged.
Sean married and formed a bond with his father-in-law, who often caddied for him in his early pro years, and now has a family of his own. When asked in an interview during the Arnold Palmer tournament if he had talked to his dad, he said no. That led Johnny Miller, former golf great and now television analyst, to proclaim that poor Sean would never be "whole" until he reconciled with his dad. Because, Johnny said, we need our father's support and praise.
Mr. Miller's comments were troubling to me. Of course we cannot know the exact circumstances of the relationship between young Sean and his father. But for the sake of discussion, let's suppose that it is, as the press has reported, abusive. Let's suppose that Sean is estranged from his father because he somehow found the courage to stand up for himself and no longer chooses to be subject to his control. Does Mr. Miller assume that Sean does not wish to have a father to "support and praise" him? Does Mr. Miller assume that it is Sean's responsibility to remain loyal to his father no matter what the personal and professional consequences? Does Mr. Miller assume that it is no less valuable to find a father figure who respects and appropriately loves him if his own father is not capable, or willing, to be that person in Sean's life?
As a society, we must learn that it is not the responsibility of the child to honor the parent if that parent cannot or will not act in the best interest of the child and refuses to seek help. Healing takes committed work by both the victim and the abuser. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean continuing contact, depending on whether the abuser has made any effort to reform or has truly repented. I do know one thing, an abuser without a victim is powerless. An abuser without power cannot hurt anyone.
We all deserve a chance to be cherished as children and to grow into the potential of ourselves. We don't always have a choice as children when our family situation is inappropriate which is all too frequent. But as adults, we do have a choice and should exercise that choice using our best judgment. And golf announcers should refrain from implying that only our birth father's support and praise can make us whole. If that were true, I would be only a fraction of myself.
When my physical therapist, each and every time I go in for a session on my lower back, respectfully asks me if it is ok to roll my pants down over my hips, I feel a little more healed. That's the way it is supposed to work. And I know that now.