I decided that I will try out having more contact with my dad and just see how it goes. It’s an experiment. I’m big on experiments these days. It’s a way I convince myself to change my behavior; I tell myself that I will try something new, but I’m not committing to doing it forever.
How did I decide that communicating more with my dad would be one of my experiments?
I brought it up in therapy with E a while ago. I think the idea was brought on by my dad’s illnesses earlier this year and his two heart surgeries. Those surgeries also meant was getting a lot of news from him or about him, so perhaps he started to take up more space in my daily thoughts. At the same time, I’ve mostly been feeling pretty well (stable, not triggered), which means I’m more relaxed and open.
So I told E that I was thinking I might make an effort to be in closer contact, but I didn’t want to ignore or override any parts that would feel upset about that. If I’ve learned anything over the past five years, I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to ignore signals from my various parts (younger selves, inner child(ren), whatever you want to call them). After all, some of them can get quite rambunctious and troublesome when they aren’t happy!
Last week in therapy, E and I discussed this again and decided that I would just ask them, the parts, I mean. I would invite everyone (Doubt, Anxiety, the 14-year-old, Compassion, and plenty of parts that may not even have names) to a meeting in my internal house. Then I’d ask how they’d feel if I started to initiate more contact with my dad.
I thought that the 9-year-old girl part might be afraid. Or that Sexuality might be repulsed. I thought Doubt might take the opportunity to jump up and down again and say, “See, I told you; he’s just a normal guy and you made all that shit up!” I wondered if Self-Righteousness might look down her nose with judgment and disdain. But I wasn’t really sure.
So, I did what I planned, I invited them, in my head. Then I waited a few days, and nothing really happened. That is, I didn’t feel upset, which is what I would have expected to feel if there was some opposition. Just to check, I made it even more explicit, “Hey, dear parts, I’m going to send my dad an email on Tuesday. Please speak up before then if that’s a problem.”
Still, no response. I took that as permission to move forward. So yesterday I wrote my dad an email, nothing too complicated. I simply said that I was thinking of him. I told him what my husband, son and I were up to in these pandemic days, just in generalities, like “my husband’s hours have been cut back by 20 percent but we’re managing,” and “my son wants to go to a restaurant, but he understands why we can’t right now.”
I did not, of course, say, “You’ve been so fucking irresponsible your entire life, and sometimes I’m so mad about that!” I also did not write, “Sometimes I am sure you sexually abused me, but other times I think that can’t possibly be true. Could you please clarify?” I’m not ready to say those things, and to be honest, I seriously doubt I will ever say them. What’s the point? He’s an old man, not that healthy, with a terrible memory. If I complained to him about the time he robbed a bank, he might believe me and start worrying that he was going to be arrested for it. He is suggestible and sometimes confused. His memory and reasoning capacity don’t allow him clear, reliable access to his past nor the capacity to reflect on it.
Plus, as I mentioned in last week’s post, I am not sure that even if he clearly remembered, that he would consider his behavior to have been irresponsible, immoral or in any way harmful. I don’t see any evidence that he’s updated his values for the 21st century.
So what do I hope to get out of this communication anyway, if it will not make amends for past wrongs, and it will not provide any answers to my perennial questions? I had to think about this for a while. I suppose I am trying to find out what type of relationship I can have, not with the perfect father, but with the father that I have, for as long as I still have him.
I’m curious, but not afraid, to see what I might learn from this experiment.