As women, our first love is usually our father. Then, over the course of our growing up, we experience an inevitable disillusionment: we realize that this man, who could do no wrong in our young eyes, is really somewhat less than what we believed him to be. We see his alcoholism or drug use, his failure as a husband or breadwinner, his racism or his temper... whatever his faults may be. He may have deserted the family, betrayed our trust in a million different ways, been too logical when we needed emotion, been too strict when we needed to spread our wings. We may still love him despite it all, or we may find ourselves running in the opposite direction.
I recently found myself repeating the opening words of the prayer "Our Father, who art in Heaven . . ." and wondered if my earthly father, whom I love dearly, had finally ended up enjoying some form of blissful afterlife. (Chances are he spent eons in what we Catholics call Purgatory.) With Father's Day at this time of year, my thoughts turned to the man who had affected my life so deeply in such divergent ways, and for whom I wish only peace.
My father adored me. My mother was cold and cruel, so it was his love that warmed my heart. I looked up to this powerful man, a pillar of our local community, and knew I would become a lawyer because he was one. When I passed the Bar exam, we worked side by side until he neared retirement.
But his love contained dark twisted corners. He molested me from the time I was a toddler until I hit adolescence. I dreaded the sound of his footsteps coming down the hall at night when he was in one of those moods. I was bewildered by the pain his love caused.
We were deeply attached to each other, my father and I, in both positive and negative ways. It wasn't until I was well along the path of becoming a healer that I learned how to eliminate the negativity while retaining all the love and affection.
How do you keep your love for your father when you'd had difficulties with him? Here are three ways to bring your adult relationship with your father into a better place, whether he is still alive or long gone:
1. Examine your belief system regarding your father. Do you really resent him, or is it just the disappointed inner child that is still determining how you feel? Conversely, have you painted a rosy picture of your childhood while burying real trauma you experienced? Therapy is an excellent way to get to the truth.
2. Journal about your father. Write what stands out about your childhood, write about your adult interactions with him, and most of all write about how you feel. Recount your conflicting emotions; it will bring you to a place of inner peace.
3. Forgive him. Forgive yourself. Close your eyes and imagine him standing in front of you. As you breathe in, silently say, "I'm sorry, forgive me," even if you were not at fault. As you breathe out, say, "I love you, thank you." It's a powerful shamanic exercise that dissolves anger, resentment, and guilt.
This Father's Day, connect to the love part of that relationship and release the rest. Be grateful for the gift of life he sparked, and for the wonderful woman you turned out to be.
If you are dealing with a truly frightening or violent relationship, or simply to improve a loving relationship, check out the shamanic techniques I teach in my New York Times best-selling book, Be Your Own Shaman, that break any negative connection between you and your father.