Father of Mine
A few weeks before Father’s Day, I found myself driving along a familiar road heading down to Laguna Beach in Southern California. I took the bends and curves as I had many times before—from the day I attained my driver’s license at 16—my car slowly lurching from side to side, the scenery bringing back memories of my dad and me and the days we would spend here together, looking at the little arts and crafts stores, the hole-in-the-wall gem spots, which only the locals knew about—just the two of us—during what was a truly painful and terrifying time in my life. I was in the throes of a debilitating eating disorder.
Each time I sped around another bend, getting closer to my destination, more memories of us walking together along the streets of this quaint and artsy town came flooding in; my thin, frail body, starving for nutrients; my heart yearning for unconditional true love; my mind restless and lost; I was wary, voiceless and plagued by doubts and fears, but my father was strong, silent and simply walked by my side.
My father never pressed me for answers about why I was starving myself or begged me to eat. He never inquired about my daily food intake or forced me to see what I was doing to myself. I never felt judged by him; I always felt him there, by my side, ready to pick me up if I were to fall. I felt great comfort in my dad’s presence. He was my rock. My anchor. He felt like North when my inner compass was adrift. My father never tried to control me, or the situation; he just loved me through it. Although it seems a simple thing to do, obvious, even admirable, it’s in fact not so easy.
It’s an interesting idea actually: Two strong forces – Love and Control, and how they compete with one another at times. We only ever try to control the ones we love, but by controlling them, we are not truly loving them. We stop being true to THEIR journey. Love and control can never exist in the same space. Unconditional love is letting those you love live and walk their own path; it’s letting them hit rock bottom, as hard as it is to witness, and as difficult as it is to do we have to stay true to what their journey is and simply love them through it. When we try to control, we make it about ourselves; about our desired outcome; about our advice or voice not being taken or heard. My father never made my eating disorder about him – he remained true to himself and to me.
Now, years later, I find myself a completely different person. Today I am a passionate advocate and spiritual guide for those who may experience similar eating disorders or any debilitating issues. The very frail young woman I remember on the roads of Laguna is now only a memory. And yet as I traversed the twists and turns on the road that day—a few weeks back—I wept. I wasn’t crying for that very lost and sad young girl or how painful that time was in life. I was crying for my father – the anchor who had always been such a necessary fixture in my life, who now doesn’t resemble that memory, and upon whom I don’t depend for anything. I don’t rely on him the way I used to, at all. Is this how life works… once we have no need for people, is it the obvious choice to render them unimportant and simply discard them?
One reads endless papers and articles, studies and publications about fathers and daughters, daughters and mothers, fathers and sons, and so on… some of which have tremendous merit. More commonly than not we adhere to the idea that mothers should be unconditional and strong role models, and that fathers are supposed to provide for the family, providing reassuring determination that everything will ultimately be okay. And as wives, when we recognize this trait in our spouses we find it highly annoying. All we want from our spouses is to “Just listen, don’t fix It. Don’t solve it, just hear me.”
During my years of anorexia, my mother was like an indomitable force, always checking on me, my weight, what I had eaten. Trying to force me to eat things – fattening foods that quite honestly scared me. The self-contained prison I had created for myself was only made smaller and more confined by my mother’s worry. She is my mom of course she was worried! Today as a mother, I can understand her perspective and the anguish she must have felt in wanting to save her child from danger – especially danger by her own daughter’s hand. But it was my father who provided me the freedom to simply be in it. I am sure he was just as frightened about me, and my future as my mom had been, but he never lectured me, which for a man who could deliver a pretty stern talking to was indeed an amazing restriction on his behalf. He went against his natural instincts and remained a quiet support. He gave me the freedom to figure it out. He was like a warm breeze through an open window of my cell.
My question still remains, what happens when you don’t need people anymore? Like training wheels on a bicycle, or floaties when you’re learning to swim – once you learn how, you simply discard them, it’s the obvious next step! But does the same hold true for people? Do they simply become redundant when we no longer rely on them or have a specific need from them? Or is it our responsibility as moral human beings to always find value, especially in things or people who were once our lifeline?
Kabbalist Rav Berg, who thankfully happens to be my father-in-law, always says, “Once a friend, a friend for life.” Because at one point or another that person was important to you, perhaps even your everything, and although the dynamics of the relationship may have changed, the soul connection remains. That’s a connection that can never be broken.
I was helping my kids with some ideas for Father’s Day, each wanting to do something special for my husband, their dad, and I happened to come across some old pictures of my father and me. I looked through these pictures, a couple in particular, which I will share with you as you continue to read. Each picture marks a significant period in my life, a time where he was part of a deep emotion and impactful experience, and each very special to me now. I look at these pictures and what they represent and I immediately connect to them, not for who he is or was but what we shared together, solely at the time – the strength and support he offered me, and the absolute love I gave him.
When I reflect on why I don’t need my father anymore, two things come to mind. Firstly, I am no longer in that space. I have grown, overcome anorexia, and I found the strength and voice I needed. And secondly, I married a wonderful man. Never for one minute had I ever thought there was any similarity between my father and my husband. In my mind, these two men could not be more different! And yet both of these men, my father, the man of my past and my husband, the man of my present and future have the similarity in that they know how to simply stand by my side. My husband is quite different from my father in many, many ways, although they are both all-heart, and when they love you, they will love you forever.
As a child my perception of him was as this big, strong man who would hold me in his arms when my thoughts felt too heavy to hold or if I just felt too tired to stand on my own two feet. I found great comfort and solace on his very broad shoulders. It wasn’t so much in the things that he said, but in the love he exuded. I felt light in his arms – light and free.
I remember the eve of my Bat Mitzvah, dancing with my father to Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red, although my father changed the lyric from red to white, because I was wearing a white dress. I remember dancing almost cheek-to-cheek just as the song plays out, with my dad as he sang with it “Lady in white, is dancing with me, cheek to cheek, There’s nobody here, it’s just you and me,It’s where I want to be…” He was so proud of me, and I felt equally as proud of him.
As a teenager, during the time of my anorexia – my father (a diabetic, in fact),walked by my side as we hiked the Grand Canyon. I’m pretty sure this would have been against any medical practitioner’s advice – a diabetic and an anorexic! But there we were, at each other’s side. He joined me on my journey of self-discovery all the way down to the Colorado River and back up again, in ONE DAY.
SO many memories, a lifetime of love, and despite how much I have changed and grown, and how he has changed too, the fact that I no longer rely on my father, does not negate how dearly I cherish him, or how much has traversed between US in the grand canyon of life.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
1. Find three pictures of you and your father, from different phases of your life.
2. Write down your memories of each picture.
3. And then write down what it represents to you now.
4. Feel love and appreciation for those who have been dear to you, both in the past and the present.