“we have the power to choose what lessons we learn”

My biological father passed away in February 2017, and his death, like his life was neither edifying or without it’s drama.  I spent five of the seven years before his death purposefully without any contact, after an exhausting decade of trying to put up with a relationship characterised by dysfunction.  I can’t say I loved my Dad.  I definitely didn’t admire him.  He sold my grandmother’s wedding and engagement ring on the day of her funeral. Mostly I learned to feel sorry for him.

My reference to a less than savoury Father figure is perhaps not the best way of starting an inspiring blog on Father Figures.  But although the effect for a long time was negative, it contributed to who I am today, and not in a bad way.

My parents divorced when I was 9 months old, so I never knew my Father as a Dad in the traditional sense. My stepfather is my Dad.  I knew this for certain when at the age of 12, puking up from the anaesthetic, it was my stepdad who was holding my hair out the way and rubbing my back.  My father sent me a get well card two weeks after I got out of hospital.  The experience cemented the respect I have for my Dad who brought up another man’s three kids and loved them as his own. I learnt at 12 that when it came to position there was a distinction between actions and title, a valuable lesson I have taken forward into my work life.

When I married my husband, I asked my stepfather to give me away.  I visited my Father and explained to his face my reasoning.  He did turn up at the wedding, although we weren’t sure if he would even on the day.  I later found out he had been lying to family members spreading untrue stories about how he had lent me extraordinary sums of money that I had never paid back.  I realised that he did this to save face at the wedding.  I learnt then to stand up for myself and also address the accusation head on with my accuser. It made me braver than I thought possible, to refuse to let falsehoods stand and shine a light in dark places. I now possess the courage to address those who are being dishonest or playing loose with the truth.  I demand of myself that I play it straight in all my dealings, even when it is difficult or costly to do so.  My reputation for straight talking and integrity has recently secured me a valuable contract and a Director role.

When I saw my husband holding my daughter as a babe in arms, I had an epiphany that what I didn’t have was a natural father-daughter connection, understanding for the first time the pain I was feeling from the disconnect between my Father and I.  My reality was regularly abusive phone calls and the pain that he didn’t see his granddaughter until she was over a year old. I learnt that I didn’t have to put up with dysfunctional relationship, calling the whole thing to halt and focusing on the relationships that really matter.  I also learnt over the five-year hiatus to forgive my Father for not being the Father Figure I needed him to be.  I experienced the power of forgiveness in granting me freedom.

When I reconnected with my Father two months before my step-mother died, it meant that I could be there for him and care for him as a man who had lost his wife.  I stood next to my brother on the front row and found out at the funeral that my Father had had an affair with my step-mother, whilst my mother was pregnant with me.  I found that I could live the lesson I had learned to let go of any expectations of what the relationship should be, and instead learnt to accept the relationship for what is was.  And that was enough.

When my father had a heart attack, dying suddenly, I learnt in the crazy situation that immediately followed his death to circle the wagons around myself and my brother (we were being threatened by the Hertfordshire Mafia), to be a bitch even when social mores would dictate sympathy (his girlfriend was an alcoholic and I made her go home to her own house), to find humour in very strange circumstances (the crematorium exploded) and to continue to hold onto forgiveness toward my Father even when more of his less savoury antics began to emerge.  I learned how to hold onto peace even in chaos and to be kind to myself when I needed to.

I truly believe that the relationship between a Father and his daughter is supra-naturally important. Many women experience brokenness in that relationship, and the results can be devastating to the individual. Society dismisses this pain as “Daddy” issues, but it is more than that.  Father figures have the power to instil an assurance that we are loved and create a circle of security that helps us know with certainty our place in the world.  But even if we grow up without that, perhaps relying on brothers, uncles, step fathers or men we meet along the way to fill that space, ultimately we have the power to choose what lessons we learn.

If you look back at your life, you will find that your greatest learning experiences, the places you grew the most, were not when everything was wonderful, but in the hard yards.  In the brokenness I learnt a powerful lesson to demand better from people I am in relationship with, and expect better of myself.

By Carrie Foster

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