Comments from Daughters on Fathers

 

by Barbara Latham
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Foreword

M

ost of these distilled fragments were heard in therapy. Few are in the person’s exact words. They come from what I made of what was said. Several themes were heard repeatedly. Juxtaposing these pieces seemed to expose something of the potency in that role of father.

•   •   •  

-A-

1
I am his daughter
and still relying on
daddy’s protection.
Put to the test, expectations
must prove wanting – yet
that he is there for me
remains a sustaining myth
I don’t want exposed
as self deception.
2
I knew he was not
up to much. He never took
any stand against
mother’s unfairness.
How could I
expect
anything of him?
It was more or less
over to me.
3
I used to be caught
up with him in the lively
every day. Now
I look at him
coldly
and complain of his
faults, having felt
criticised all my years.
4
I am his daughter
and he has been felled,
his manhood about to crumble.
His devastation
covers everything –
so what can I do
except
be as he requires –
untearful, as though she
has not been killed. If
we now solely depend on him.
5
I remember an ease
of breathing while I believed
he was keeping us
secure. When I saw how much
was up to me and uncertain,
it put in doubt whether
all his promising was a lie.
6
My difficulties turn
on him. He was too
weak. Would I have taken
life in my stride, if
I’d had a better example?
7
I grew into a belief
that he’d catch me if I slipped
and lift me high,
as he did at four.
When I did fall
it was too much for him.
Far from striding up
to make it right,
he paced his room, incessantly,
filling me with guilt.
He failed to be
that shining father of a
child’s mind.
Passed rage –
love came again –
for a fallible man.
8
I am his daughter
yet joined with her
to despise the brute
in all men.
9
I carry the best of him
from moments which buoyed me.
He cut a hedge
and I stood alongside,
wanting it
never to end.
10
I am his daughter,
I suppose, but that
means nothing to me.
He was ironed from my
life three decades ago.
I never think of him,
and am thankful
to have left behind
that time before
there was this choice.
11
He was the one
to whom I rushed,
wide open
with pleasure or woes,
before I could see
any point to restraint.
12
Mother insists I am his
daughter
but he never agreed a child
with a handicap
could be his and
would not claim me.
I can only come
to therapy if you swear
never to look at me.
It’s no longer just
him who feels
disgust –
I’ve grown into
the reject girl he
could not bear to see.
13
I am like him, not her.
I have his temperament
and connect more with him
than anyone. Our bond
is shaped from shared genes
and his care.
I’ll never see myself as
detached. Why would
I want
to do so?
14
I have only just begun
to think about him.
It always seemed to
be my fault if
he was nice to everyone
else and only
erupted at home.
15
He died and left me
the intricacies
of his morning shave and
that smell of his head.
Why should such detail
seem so rich? Yet
I smile,
still,
recalling him in the mornings.
16
I wish I’d been on tape record on waking.
What fluency in my
dawn harangue of him,
which flowed unhindered
by any embarrassment, or
his reddening face.
Yet by breakfast I could not
find a single stone to fling.
My outrage is not fair,
but how can I abide
his being so
afraid of life?
17
I cling, unable
to entertain misgiving.
Holding to an image, leaving no
room for contradiction,
or acknowledgement of hurt.
Once life proved precarious
I clutched
at
a straw man.
18
I can’t forgive him
being ordinary.
If I am to be significant
a giant father is required,
and he had such proportions
while I was his special child.
19
I think of him
only as “daddy” –
though past fifty
I still can’t consider
him as a separate man.
20
Since coming here
I look at old photos.
It’s astonishing how much
more of him I see
and now we talk of his interests.
I’m grateful he lived
long enough to escape
being obscured by
my narrow needs.
21
While I was fully
absorbed in being with him,
he was a wonder.
It’s hard to lose that
with growing up.
 

-B-

1
I don’t want generalities
or Oedipal theories on fathers.
How different he was
with each of us,
and that’s what I need
to comprehend. What was it
in me, his fourth daughter,
he saw to dislike?
2
I am his only daughter.
I stake my claim
to a place inside his
importance.
3
I may be his daughter
but my older brothers
were more important than he was.
We mostly lived
outside the house.
He wanted no trouble and
us subdued and didn’t think
about children. Besides,
his fathering was cut in ten.
4
I live
waiting to be admired,
expecting to be saved,
holding on to my due
from him.
5
Is it possible to forgive
him the loss of interest?
The lovely girl, whose face
lit up to see him did not
stay long; she fell
and was badly scarred.
He wasn’t cruel, just
no longer captivated,
and I didn’t want his pity.
6
Visits grow easier.
I put effort
into making accounts
of my triumphs – enticing him
with buzz,
drawing him in to admire.
But this isn’t solid
and rings hollow
if I can’t be sure
what he really
thinks, when
I’m not at work presenting myself.
7
What does he
think of me? Not as clever,
not as pretty
as he wished?
How can I be “just
myself”, as he advises,
if my eye is fixed
on his judgement
and I am driven
to prove
I’m worthy?
8
His high hopes for
his darling could hardly
be fulfilled. There is,
inevitably,
disappointment.
9
I am his daughter
who learned his lesson
too well – I am the one
who treads carefully,
with a cover of manners,
and never dares show herself –
for that will be judged
and rejected again and again.
“Found faulty”
is the fixed pattern set down
for me by him.
10
I am his daughter
and drop back into
that – for his approval
awaits, like an old coat,
to wear against chill indifference.
Draping him over one
shoulder, I can step out
with an antidote to
unravelling in
self doubt.
Mother’s legacy is
a totally different and
undermining matter.
11
He is there to blame,
the one I accuse
when I have to recognise
that even here in therapy, I
seek good marks, though
I am forty-five.
12
I haven’t come here
to speak of him.
I see no point.
He did not once speak
straight, and after I
realised he was
incapable of it, why
would I want more lies?
13
I am glad you
are not a man.
I’m sure I’d come
each week and protest
that you were useless.
Father was ineffectual
everywhere and a
nasty bully at home.
14
Unfortunately I am his offspring.
There is nothing more to say.
He produced the genes and remains
an object of contempt.
15
I have nothing of him.
It’s obvious I belong with
Mother’s lot; you’re the only
one to suggest there might be
any scrap of that man in me
16
I am his rightful inheritor.
Those that followed
are usurpers.
I am his
genetically, and a new
wife won’t ever share inherited
tastes and history: those
remain with me.
17
I have one photo
where he looks unharassed,
solid, in good shoes and a hat.
And the baby hand, they say is mine,
reaches out,
caught by the camera
touching the knot of his tie.
He holds me wrapped in blanket.
They also say I called out
for him, from my cot, but
for me there is no memory
of the slightest connection.
18
I am his daughter
and he is mine in the
closed circuit of what I say
he means to me. To keep
my picture intact, I restrict
his access, and shed whatever
fails to fit the image of
a special man who provides
that barricade against
my being ordinary.

-C-

1
He was the picture
on our mantelpiece.
With him away I had
an ideal –
until his return – then I hated
and still find adult men
repulsive. The ethereal, young and
pretty male images appeal,
but full blooded flesh, back
after war and intruding into
the set and gentle ways of women,
was massive disruption.
Mother seemed horrified to be
plucked from her fearful
care of girls by a
demanding husband.
She was petite while he seemed
huge, and a beast. Sure he’d
crush her one night, we crept
to look through the key hole at
that bed, which had been ours
throughout his years of absence.
2
He’d returned battered
from the horrors of killing,
though couldn’t
speak of that in decent family
circles. When it erupted, despite
his efforts, we had to see
the animal in grown men.
It left me wary
of sex, till I was nearly forty.
3
He is an unreliable
creep, often violent.
As a child I was Mummy’s girl
determined to hold out against him.
My role as hers was absolute,
though she confused by
calling a truce with
him some days, and
kept producing children.
4
I am his
and he beat me.
Did his power and domination,
my submission
connect with sex for him?
Convention allowed imposing
his will and physical strength
as ‘good for the girl’. Did
he have any idea my notion
of making love would
be stuck on tender
reconciliation after force?
5
He is a bully. And
I, stubbornly,
become a solid resistance:
a wall of flesh blocking his
intrusion.
6
I always took my place
as mother’s chief supporter
and was inseparable from her.
His sexuality, which was there
for his wife, felt a threat. If
she and I were one,
how could it not, also, be for me?
7
I shudder whenever I think of him.
It’s my bare flesh exposed
to his hand or belt
I can’t forgive. She says,
“it’s just the way it was back then,
it wasn’t personal.” Yet
it came so close to the bone –
was hideously intimate.
Worse – it plays on and on – it’s
hard to escape
boringly predictable pornography
in my head during sex.
8
I am locked in the darkest dungeon
with him. It’s too intense – I am desperate
to shut him out.
9
I am his daughter
but does that mean I invite
him to the wedding? I want
it quiet, a registry affair,
but my partner keeps arguing
for celebration and a church.
I’ve never set myself up
to be admired and
can’t do that as a bride.
I believed, aged eleven, it
was my fault –
– that
skipping proudly in new
petticoats invited trouble.
Father’s touching started then.
My family don’t understand
why I can’t face him
at the wedding.
10
Even after he was widowed,
we continued half naked around
the house and sunbathed
without clothes, as if he
was entirely safe and neutered.
Only recently he admitted
that was hard for him.
11
I am his daughter
and he revolts me.
He liked to catch us on camera
in states of undress, made sexual
comments about my unwelcome flesh,
and walked in
if we were bathing.
Even now, when he visits and
attempts a photograph, I can’t bear it.
12
I wanted to be like him,
out there, not messing around and
emotional at home.
I’d never want to give up work.
But I’m shocked to find I’ve
left it too late for a child.
13
I am his daughter
and there is no way out of that,
I guess, though I saw myself
as just hers. I stood with
her against his manhood and fought
off, with disgust, any hint of sex.
As her protector from him,
I stayed on guard,
though at five I was not up to any man.
She regularly slipped behind
enemy lines, out of my bed into his.
14
I still resent his power.
He ruled us as bigger forms
of the toy soldiers
he regulated as a boy.
He liked us to be ordered
and we had rules. Obedience
was basic, with set
formal punishments.
15
He gave love wings –
he went off to work
and I flew out to him.
He couldn’t swallow me,
as she did. It seemed
safe to let rip giving my heart
to him, who was mostly absent,
but it wasn’t.
Now I’m trapped with wanting
only lovers who are not present.
16
I am his daughter
and his eye was
on young girls. That
he didn’t choose me is
assumed to be
grounds for gratitude,
but as he seduced
my friends, I was sure
I wasn’t, yet, good
enough for him.

-D-

1
Living with him was an
emotional minefield, with his
uncontrollable moods.
We could make no sense of what
engulfed us until,
coming here, I filled in his never
mentioned history, as a
child in the Holocaust.
2
He couldn’t be there for me
when darkness swamped him.
I grew furious.
I wanted help to negotiate the hard
things, which flattened him.
We couldn’t all take to our beds
with anti depressants.
3
He is an improvement
on his staggeringly self centred father.
He manages, in fits and starts,
to give others attention.
No sooner am I hooked again,
he has slipped back to where
only he exists, with others just
there to serve him.
4
Our role was to give
him gentleness at home.
After the grim realities
of his working day we had
to put toys, as well as fights, away
for smiles, and brushed hair,
and ease over sherry.
5
He takes too much space.
Like water down a plug hole
he draws all concern to himself.
Provided I can be an adornment
for him, I am much admired.
6
I am as proudly
independent as he
wanted. But my
emotionally exacting sister
has him hurrying to
placate her. He never
makes a fuss over me.
7
He couldn’t bear to see me hurt.
Any wounding and he felt stricken –
as if my misery floods direct
to him.
When I take a leap
he holds his breath.
For himself he accepts the
inevitability of pain and
sorrow, but his urge to
protect me
is as strong
as if I were newborn.
What strain on him
that I should be driven to
take high risks.
8
I wanted to find a wider
space than the confines of being
his child and moved away
to a different life. He did his best
to comprehend, though it
challenged his settled ways.
9
He values
loyalty,
and is quite floored.
Belatedly, I’ve set off on my own,
which goes against the grain.
He seems not to have thought
his children might leave
the unit he forged.
Fiercely stalwart, he rallied us
but I was not a natural for the team.
It took too long for me to see
my path can’t just be reciprocal
loyalty to him.
10
I hate the size
of his anxiety.
I, too, could only become
another object of his worry.
11
We were to achieve
more than he managed.
I used to be grateful he’d
encourage and say I could
succeed at anything.
Now I recognise
weakness in such certainties.
When I try to hold up and
do as much as expected,
my back gives out again.
12
He thought it was
over to him to work out
whatever was good for me.
He failed to grasp how much
was not for him to manage.
He is super efficient and
reduces everyone to whatever
can be sorted. He
got me a bargain car
I don’t much want,
and a complicated
mortgage, but the force of
my desires and
artistic life
eludes him entirely.
He came to my show
and barely looked at the walls.
13
His is the
central scene, all revolves
round him. Mine is a
major role, as the beloved to whom
he gave so much.
He can’t conceive
of giving me
entitlement to
a different
script than his;
one that might feel like
my own.
14
There was no drama
in his daily decency.
People are only interested
in the bleak and dark.
How do you honour

what is given
in unremarkable fatherhood?
15
I am his daughter
and resent the fact.
If he never grew up
and cannot be self-effacing,
how am I supposed
to do it?
16
I am so often terrified.
His earthquakes fill all
the breathing space at home.
I live in expectation of
being overwhelmed.
After each explosive tempest,
the sun comes out for him
and he wants smiles all round.
That I continue to cower,
fills him with disgust.
He never feels shame for
his own eruptions but
gets furious with my reaction.
17
He drew us in, then
spat out whatever proved
more awkward than he wanted.
There was only his way
and if you didn’t join him,
or belong in his game,
there was critical fury
and shut down.
18
I hate him,
for his violence and rage.
I am his daughter
and scared, because
it was often said I
inherited that temper.
19
He is a typical, cut-off,
public school man.
You can’t talk emotion.
To him all is rational.
Effort at presenting
ourselves was what mattered.
20
Some say he is neglectful.
He gets on with what is important
for him and leaves me
to do the same.
He wouldn’t dream
of being intrusive,
or burdening me
with his emotionality.
21
He was closed in
and unresponsive. It left
me forever pulling at him.
Even last week when we went,
together, to get mother’s present,
he expected to wait outside,
leaving me to shop alone.
I’d hoped to engage him and
share the pleasure of choosing.
22
He felt like
a fault line under foot.
I’m in therapy because
I continue to expect
detonation and can’t put
softer ground underneath myself.
Not even protective things,
like saving, or a pension.
I carry on in permanent,
impending doom.
23
To this day I can’t
argue properly with him.
His having been my life support,
and his approval of me basic, I
fear he
might strip all that from
me, if we fought openly.
I slip away
instead of challenging.
24
I prefer to keep silent
about him. My tussles with
Mother are endless but
I barely speak
of the father, who gave much
and asked so little, as if
not to breathe too hard on that
web he wove for us.
25
He was up on our roof,
which wasn’t safe for girls.
He painted protection for us
and our roof was brightest red.
He worked hard but
I failed to see, then, how
he escaped, unavailable to hectic
family life with that brush
in his hand. It took me long years
to find escapes of
my own.
26
He was the child
who wouldn’t grow up.
He was a shaky authority
not up to the job
of keeping bills paid
or our home secure.
Mother took control
and he, like us,
learnt all the tricks
of evasion.
27
I am locked in reaction
to his idea of order.
Family life became another
valued investment
to be run efficiently.
What stupid things
I’ve done with my life
just to thwart his
excess control.
28
He was super efficient,
while she stayed a sulky
child being managed.
He organised everything
for us “his girls” but
could not deal with
Mother’s emotional blackmail.
29
If he is on his knees
over my dead sister,
where does that leave me?
I live shut in belief
that life is more
than I can possibly manage.
How could I
cope, if the adults
were so defeated.
30
He was not at ease
over here. He
was constantly judging,
to keep us
to the old ways.
He couldn’t trust
us to find an honourable way
through being
immigrants. My head is
filled with his
relentless criticism.
31
He left me with a theme
tune to replay –
I gave love and wanted him
but that was never valued.
I dream of him and the Mayans.
He is to be sacrificed – his beating
heart removed. I say in my sleep,
“I’ll need the opera glasses.”
And as I wake I think,
“A heart for a heart seems
fair enough to me.”
 

-E-

1
I am his daughter
so how could I not feel
it was also me he divorced.
I share much of mother’s
temperament and have a look
of her. When he was clearly irritated,
then left, I felt sure he must
find equal fault with me.
2
I can’t accept my dramas
will not alter the fact of his
second family and wife.
If I refuse to look, that new daughter is rendered non-existent.
3
I used to say,
at least he was there
making trouble, the illegitimates
next door had no dad at all.
Mother protected us, more or less, during
his rampages but could not
do the same for her crystal
and fine china. Once we
were down to plastic and Woolworths
plates, she threw him out.
After that I never saw him sober.
4
Though he was an alcoholic,
that he loved me is a treasure.
He became wrecked
by drink, leaving her as cold
organiser, of us, the house and money, providing
a solidity I cannot value.
But he made emotional connection.
I felt seen by him and
keep hold of that much.
5
I have no idea what they saw
in each other. They were at such
variance and broke apart to go
contrasting ways. It’s hard to see
where they ever met but, as a
genetic combination of their unamalgamating,
where does that leave us?
6
He was disinclined
to take on care for anyone
and had other children.
Don’t rely on me was his message.
“Don’t pin me down,” he seemed to say;
“I am one who has moved on
before and am bound to disappoint.”
7
What little there was
of him crumpled,
when she ran off with a neighbour.
It was the end of
anything to rely on.
She left and he could see
only his own need
to stagger on at work.
8
He just left and I
hate to see little girls
with their daddies.
She knew what was
going on but they both agreed
we were best protected.
So the only sense
we made of desertion
was that it must be “our fault” –
we weren’t enough to keep him.
If I had to manage with no
Dad, why can’t those
precious wimps cope alone?
9
It never occurred to me
to wonder how it was for him;
thinking myself in his shoes
was not what I could do.
She had a lover,
and wouldn’t have father
in her bed. I was badly
hurt but he tried for a year,
then could not stay with
such a deep chasm between them.
10
I am his daughter,
but illegitimate, and he slid
out of responsibility.
At sixteen I finally
rang, and he
pretended not to know me.
Insisting I had the
wrong number, he
hung up on me,
though I recognised his voice as
the “uncle” who used to visit.
11
I felt proud of him and
thought that was love.
He provided reflected glory
and I had
a hoard of pride to keep,
when he went abroad
with his new wife.
12
I believed myself safe
enough between those two,
who gave life to me.
After such basic fabric
tore – then split –
why would I trust again?

-F-

1
How has it come to this,
that there are no adults
ahead and we are “it” –
the end of the line.
2
He is not dead to me.
His love is
drawn on, whether or not
he lives. My reaching out for him –
a child who wrapped herself around
his limbs – continues on.
3
He is my father, though he dropped
into an early grave, to shatter
any illusion of his
possible protection.
All we could do was keep a grip
on her. His legacy was fear
as we barely survived
his abrupt departure.
4
My basic plot of dying dramatically
and young, like mother, took
a paradigm shift and I got a pension,
after I saw old age might be
for me, if I followed him.
5
Finally, he cannot come at me.
A battle ends as he lies, formally dressed,
in a cheaper coffin than he’d expect.
With him dead (and I have carefully
checked) there will be no more panic
at his voice on the phone, or
his writing on an envelope.
6
He was the centre of family life.
When he dropped with an aneurysm,
some force sent us spiralling apart,
left to watch her desperate loss,
unable to make it right.
We were to carry on for her,
behaving as if it hadn’t also happened
to us. Father wasn’t there to help.
7
What can be said on the matter,
now he is dead? He was there and
in my genes before I had
any words.
They told me the first
thing I said was “dadda”.
8
He is dead, his grave dug
straight and deep, dug for him
who worked hard on his garden
and that less regular hole, where
he intended to enjoy the frog spawn.
We gathered at his grave,
and then around the pond he warned
“might kill him”.
Marvelling at the energy
“for his age”, afraid of its depletion
from our lives; fearful,
also, of that coffin
left deep
in soil.
9
I don’t have much respect
for men. He was mild and decent
but mother remained the force
to reckon with. Trying to keep her
content was his goal and, finally,
he succeeded by leaving her an unchecked
widow with a tidy version of
all-loving husband.
10
I weep for him,
though he was weak
and his grip on life
gave out too soon.
I cry over his dying,
which crushed that tiny
space he made for me
outside her deadly
control and beliefs.
After his death
there could only be
tight allegiance to her.
11
I am his daughter
and, though past fifty, still
say I won’t survive his dying.
My sense
of myself
is locked into
being
that child he must
come
back to adore and rescue.
12
What he was slips
from me like silken petticoats.
It’s harder to catch than
a vivid dream in the bright light
of morning. I can’t quite believe
it can so readily vanish, and have
no idea what to say at his memorial.
13
With him I was never
flesh to flesh. I only expect
intermittent, brief bursts of connection
to him, dead or alive.
It never occurred to me there
could be more. It’s with mother
I hunger and feel whatever
there is, is insufficient.
14
I readily claim
“he was there for me,”
though suspect that’s shadow play.
It still feels the same, though he’s
dead, as when I’d say
“my dad is there when I need him”.
Not that he’d listen carefully,
or make much of my concerns,
or that I’d have wanted him
looking too closely.
15
While other deaths
recede with time, his remains
one I cannot stomach.
Perhaps too many
expectations were gone with him.
The fact that it was a faulty
heart and we hadn’t known
made it likely
my place
in it was also broken.
There seemed to be just
questions,
where there’d been
an unpuzzling dad.
16
In twenty years since his death
I see something of what he held
for me. After my place as his child
began to unravel
there was a gentle liberation.
His death loosened
threads, invisible till then.
17
I have to watch him dying
too slowly. With his old life
gone, he’s quite undermined,
with no appetite
for making any effort. His
hopelessness at growing old,
as if he didn’t deserve it,
sucks me in and I’m unsure
whether I’ll sink with him.
18
I am his daughter
and have no idea what
that might mean.
He took me on outings and
after he died his friends
said he adored me.
He did not deliberately hang
lead curtains in my head.
I stopped eating and felt bewildered
but could make little
of his early death.
He didn’t expect to be wiped out.
I live ever ready for it.
19
The mysterious shape
of what might be me
was attached to
his endurance. I wonder
if it was weak to have
relied on his rocky surface.
He is dead and I now
flounder in uncertainties.
20
He was the ocean
I swam in.
When he died, I tried
to grasp at him, as if
I might be washed away,
all at sea without some idea
of him to hold.
Then I gradually moved out
of the state I was in
beside him, and find
it hard now to believe those
who have much to say about fathers.
21
He has become
like the local ruin,
with uneven
stone, open to clear sky,
yet sufficient remains
to dignify a past.
Now he is fixed
and can no longer surprise,
his function reduced
to formal grandeur.
22
We were a secret
before that funeral.
I never minded till mother did;
it was as if he came back,
like a travelling salesman,
for celebration on Monday and Tuesday.
I drew pictures,
mother picked flowers
and there was buoyancy.
She had the best – a delighted lover –
his wife had tired, bourgeois
claims. Then it changed –
the buzz of attraction shrank after
my brother’s difficult birth.
Mother grew jealous,
wanting more from him.
By the time his heart
gave out
no one was satisfied.
23
He left a life
to celebrate, after a
treasured goodbye.
He died before indignity
overcame him and
I long to bequeath
the same for my children.
24
He was kept busy
with mother’s every worry.
His task was taking care
of whatever upset her.
His anger was stirred if we
didn’t do as she wanted.
Now he has failed utterly
to spare her and us.
He is the cause of the trouble,
as he slowly dies in hospital,
with Mother crying she will not
be able to bear it.
25
How can I go back
to truly recall
that earlier incomprehension,
which brought me in to therapy.
When I could not suffer
his total defeat,
but held myself
tight with indignation,
that my father should die
like the dog I’d seen
hit by a car.
26
He much preferred
young boy scouts to
any girl or his wife.
He was active outside
our house but
as tense indoors
as I remain.
Though seeking ease,
now he is dead,
I can’t find peace
with myself or him.
27
She kept centre stage
and left him in the wings.
She spoke for him.
Home and children were her show.
He even died right out of sight.
She carries on much as before,
a confident intermediary, speaking
in his name while he remains
a blur to me.
28
He betrayed the
care he promised.
Driven by demons
of his own and the need
for drink, he was inappropriate,
inconsistent and set
on self destruction.
Fully destroyed
he could become fixed as the
one I loved and clung to.
29
It seemed my nest
relied on him for its sturdy tree.
I was terrified he might die
through both my pregnancies.
He did soon after my second child arrived,
and it was surprising to realise
that whatever held up my life
continued to do so.
30
When I dropped into
this cruel, strange
world,
he caught
me up
to hold me
away from the worst,
keeping it from view.
Then he was the one to show
there is no escaping it.
He screamed for his mother
as he died.

•   •   •  

Afterword

The range of things said shows the particularity of tangles these women found themselves in, though we are all subject to a prevailing culture.
In our practice we attend to the specificity of what is said, and how and when it is said. We make sense by taking into account the full context from which the speaker comes, including the family, social and racial context. [D9], [D10] and [D30] are all daughters of immigrant fathers, and many women included here are the first generation in Britain. It also became noticeable how many of the women who were most emphatic, either in their claims and disappointments, or in finding their fathers too much, were the eldest in the family.
Although I have seen in therapy a number of women who were raised as illegitimate and more who were adopted, so far I have not worked with girls raised by same sex couples, or from anonymous sperm donors.
This compilation does not reflect the shift in understanding which happens during the process of meeting regularly over time. Some women arrived with a fixed, closed account [A10] [B15]. Others did not recognise the contradictions in what they were saying. Once their words are being heard and called into question the women who come to therapy begin listening more carefully to themselves. [A18] and [B11] risked saying something aloud, then could give it more consideration.
These vignettes don’t show the atmosphere in the room, or the difficulty of facing what was once expected or wanted, or women find themselves still demanding, as their due from fathers. (If facing things was easy, few would pay to come to a therapist.)
Language gives us many tricks to play to avoid accepting the way things are [E2], especially the difficult things, which include the inevitability of disillusionment [B18] and of being an ordinary mortal who must die [A18]. Most of us keep some childhood expectations of fathers [F11], while also growing into more sophisticated ideas. It is necessarily an emotional matter and there is pain involved in letting go an illusion that once felt necessary.
Even harsh pictures of themselves or their fathers may be an attempt at protection from what is feared, whether panic that life will be too much [D29] or trepidation that any close attention must confirm a conviction of being unlovable [E1].
Many expectations are replayed in the consulting room. [A12] was sure she would be rejected, [A14] often dreamt of my throwing her out because she wasn’t worth any attention, [D30] was certain I must be criticising her no matter what I said, and [F5] was in despair that I would take her over, as there was no hope of space for mutual exchange.
Others idealised the therapist out of longing for a loving understanding they felt to be lacking but believed must be somewhere.
Each one of these women struggled to make more sense of false pictures they came with, as they tried to see themselves more clearly and to accept the pain of what had already been their lot, long before they came to therapy.

•   •   •  

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