Watching my father eat a meal was an experience unto itself. Each item was perfectly arranged on the tray before he began. Then he placed all lids strategically off to the side. He removed the seal from the yogurt container, pulled it back, licked it clean, folded it in half, and placed it ‘just so’, out of the way. The knife, fort and spoon were in perfect position. Watching him I wondered if he teetered on the edge of OCD.
He had always been a perfectionist in some ways, though definitely not in everything or every way, but some things.
I suppose I’m like him, in that, if I’m going to do something at all, I’ll do it to perfection. If I can’t do it to perfection, I quickly struggle with feeling defeated. It’s a battle I’ve had to fight over the years. Especially in parenting. In fact, for years my children gave me a hard time about taking over when showing them how to do something. That is when I realized it is because I want it done perfectly, and I deliberately retrained myself not to do it. I’ve not completely overcome it, but I’ve come a long way.
We didn’t talk while he prepared his food. All his focus and energy went into that moment of preparation. When he was set to eat, our conversation resumed.
“I see your children, and they seem so healthy. So intelligent. And happy,” he said, thoughtfully. “How did you give them so much, such a good home, when we gave you so little?”
“Dad, I started off, just like you,” I said. “I was angry. The children were in my way. And I lost my temper with them, when things went wrong. When our oldest daughter was about 2 years old, I went to a Bible Study group and told them I need help. I confessed my anger to them and told them I am afraid of what my rage could lead to. I got help. And that is when I forgave you. I wanted to be the best parent I could be for my children. And to do that, I had to stop trying to be better than you, and just give them the best that I could give.”
I shared some of my struggles with Dad, and that it had been a long journey of healing, growing, and learning. A journey of failing, and getting up to try again.
Only weeks earlier I had hit an all time low, when I realized that I had not known how to connect with my children at a heart level past the toddler years. As they developed their early independence, communicated opinions and defied me, I had started to live out of head space, rather than getting inside their hearts and understanding them. That realization had terrified me.
The moment of revelation had caused me to fall to my knees beside my oldest daughter, then seven, in tears, asking her to forgive me. The next day I had called a counsellor and mentor friend of ours, Steve Masterson of Promise Keepers Canada, and asked him for help. I wanted to learn to parent well in each new phase of parenting.
That call, and the ones that followed, had profoundly changed my relationship with my oldest daughter, and I knew it would make all the difference with the rest of our children as well.
Dad listened intently. He expressed regret for what life had been, at knowing things couldn’t be undone. He told me how blessed I was to have Tim. That he believed Tim to be a very good man. I couldn’t agree more! He said he wished for all his children to have good spouses, who would treat them well.
Hearing how proud Dad was of me, as a wife, as a mother, did my heart good. I knew well that I was an imperfect mom. But hearing how highly he thought of me, empowered and encouraged me.
Regardless what life has been, regardless of imperfections and broken memories, every young woman wants to be her Daddy’s little girl. His princess. It begins at birth, and never ends.
Whether sons, or daughters, we all want our fathers to be proud of us, and tell us so. We want to be loved, simply loved without condition, for who we are. And in that moment I felt I had my father’s heart.
It was all I had ever wanted, all those painful years of childhood. And, though it came in the eleventh hour, it wasn’t too late.
My dad was proud of me, of who I had become, and believed in who I was becoming.
Having finished his meal, Dad replaced every lid, to every container, careful to seal each one completely. The tray, now empty of food, looked almost untouched.
Externally, I looked just as I had when I arrived. Nothing had visibly changed. But something radical had transpired in my time with Dad. My relationship with my dad was sealed. My heart was full.
© Trudy Metzger
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