Loving an Imperfect Dad: a Father’s Day Message

Today is Father’s Day; a day to remember our dad’s. Some of us have good memories and some of us don’t. Like many of you, I have both. My dad didn’t appear like Jim Anderson (played by actor Robert Young), the father on the 60’s sitcom Father Knows Best. But now that I can see through the eyes of an adult, rather than as a child, I see the behaviors and events that created so much confusion and pain in a very different light. It’s those differences that I’m writing about today in the hopes that they might enable others to turn childhood anger and pain into compassion, and ultimately, healing.

On the upside, my dad was very charismatic, charming and intelligent. Due to his upbringing at the hands of a well-educated (and very proper) English mother, my father was well-spoken and had impeccably good manners. He was neat, organized and very efficient. Lots of good there.

On the not-so-good side, as a child, I felt I was forever trying to live up to standards that seemed well–up reachable. And my father’s unpredictable and volatile temper left me chronically nervous, living each day as though I had to walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting him. I recall feeling so incredibly relieved when I’d see his bags packed and ready by the door. That meant that dad would be on the road again and I’d be free to breathe for the next few weeks. Interesting word—breathe—I could not breathe, as a child, because I was so nervous. Hmmm …

I recall being terribly confused by the aloofness that followed one of his outburst. This stony silence could last for days. I remember being worried that I somehow caused it. The fear, the worry, the sense of dread that filled my days left me with wounds that I continue to work on to this day. It wasn’t until I learned of the higher perspective, with its soul contracts, roles and promises, that I could even begin to unwind the twisted emotions bound up in the memories of those childhood years.

Changing Perspective

Today I see my father through new eyes. Yes, I still see the good but much of the bad is seen in a different light. First, I see my father’s temper as the result of his lifelong battle with depression and high, high anxiety. The volatility of it was the result of his anxiety being triggered by an event or circumstance he could not control.

Dad’s aloofness was due to the shame he would feel seeing the look of sheer terror in his children’s eyes as he raged out of control. Anger spent and anxiety cleared, he would feel terrible and so would withdraw giving the family time to pull themselves together again. So it wasn’t that he didn’t love me, he did. He was just dealing with a foe that sometimes got the best of him.

As a child, I thought my dad’s behavior was all about me. As an adult I see that it wasn’t. I see how much my dad really loved me because in spite of his crippling anxiety, he managed to put himself through college, build a good career and raise 6 children. In many ways, that makes him a hero, at least in my mind.

As for the higher perspective, my father’s determination to succeed in the face of mental illness was a beautiful role model for those of his children who would be affected in the same way. It was that role model that helped my younger brother succeed as a custom home builder. It was that role model that gave me a track to run on when I felt I no longer wanted to live after my brother’s death. It was that role model that helps my older brother, who recently had a nervous collapse, get back on his feet and finally, after 20 years, decide to reunite with his kids.

In closing, when seen through the eyes of an adult, many of our fathers’ actions looked much different. When viewed from the higher perspective, we understand that our fathers’ behaviors were carefully chosen, sometimes to show us something about ourselves and sometimes to show us how to cope.

On this Father’s Day I am grateful for my dad. I so appreciate what he taught me, and I am grateful for the role model he provided. Yes, my dad was imperfect but he was perfectly so.

Happy Father’s Day to all,

Jelaila Starr