Daughters and Fathers
Ah, Sunday morning with coffee and the New York Times. I do love the serendipity of flipping through the newspaper and finding something unexpected that I want to read. Long live print.
This past Sunday August 12th, the Modern Love column was written by Lucy Schulte Danziger, editor of Self. She wrote a reflection on the passing of her father.
I know Lucy, though not well, through our shared work history at now defunct Women’s Sports and Fitness magazine. Lucy embodies many traits that I admire and don’t always feel I have. She is confident, extroverted, energetic, and outspoken. She is a writer and editor. She is an athlete and a health & fitness expert. She is at the top of her game. I am developing those traits in myself, but they are new and fragile. I tend to cede control to those who are more dominant and forceful, like Lucy. More to the point, I am reevaluating my relationship with my aging father and am hoping to say what I want to say to him before he dies. So, with that context, I was highly interested in reading what she had to say.
My first reaction was anger and judgment: Easy for her to feel love instead of debilitating grief: clearly she had a wonderfully loving relationship with her father who adored her. Easy for her to feel love instead of debilitating grief: with her comfortable life, filled with a vacation home, affluence, and opportunities. She is out of touch with the rest of us who have complicated relationships with our fathers, less money and opportunities, and are caring for aging parents in various stages of prolonged illness and wondering when it will be over.
Whoa! Wait a minute! Let me reread what she wrote.
Her father was a brilliant and celebrated leader in the book publishing industry. What kind of pressure might that have been on his daughter – herself a high-achiever in the world of athletics and publishing? My radar is up. I can only speculate. A triathlete, eager to compete and win? A successful media executive, eager to compete and win? Well, whatever issues they may have had, it seems they aired them and resolved them instead of letting them simmer unsaid. Kudos to both of them.
What can I learn from her without diminishing my own traits, talents, and successes? How can I be pleased for her without feeling bad about myself?
So, upon rereading and reflection, I have landed on a different interpretation. We are all on our unique path, with different parents and different experiences shaping us. We all struggle. Maybe I am envious of her success and her graceful coping with death. But I am not angry with her and no longer judge her. In fact, I agree with her. Her father is supremely lucky to have died doing something he loved. And Lucy is supremely lucky to feel his love. Instead of being angry, I offer my letter of appreciation:
Thank you for sharing the story of your father’s death.
It takes courage to express a point of view that seems to go against social norms – your experience of his dying seems bathed in love not grief. I imagine, from what you’ve said, that while your father was demanding, he was also demonstratively loving and proud of you. You have a confident, extroverted, energetic, no-nonsense personality. His love and pride in you is apparent. Sigh, I am jealous. I am still sorting through the good and the bad of my father and how the complexity of our relationship has shaped me and my personality. And perhaps that is why many of us experience so many complicated and negative emotions when a parent dies. We feel forlorn – parentless and alone. We feel frustrated at all the unresolved anger. We feel guilty for feeling angry and for feeling relieved that they are dead. We feel sad that they are gone. We truly miss them and the shared personality traits and the shared memories. We are afraid of aging and of dying. I cannot think of a better gift than to parent a child so that they feel profound love when you are gone. May I give my children that gift. (And may we all die quickly and painlessly doing something we love – and not experience the prolonged death that so many people experience in this time.)
Thank you for sharing,
It is tremendously encouraging and life-giving when we can see beyond the bad and tortuousness of our relationships and realize there was/is good, too. My father lies in a body that is failing, and while I’ve risen above the damage he did to me, my mother, brother, and others who were affected by his ways, it is all mixed in there, and for sanity and survival, I am glad I can both stand back in a safe place, AND feel the sadness and loss that is, and will come still. The story is not finished yet, and likely won’t be til my own mortal life is done. Perspective is so important, and is our ally as we wade through the heavy emotion of end of life of the person and relationship.