What to do when you have two dads but an insatiable longing for a fantasy father?
This is the painful dilemma I continue to grapple with in therapy with HH.
It’s not only the buried sadness, grief, resentment and longing that hurts but also the attentiveness, stability and care that HH provides that leaves me so heartsore. Yes, you read right. His attention and acceptance highlights what I never really had and reawakens a fantasy that can never be fulfilled. He can never be my dad or take part in my life.
My parents divorced when I was four. My biological dad moved to a different city and remarried, never really making contact except for a few phone calls and presents over the years. I stayed with him once during a school holiday. Essentially, I grew up wondering who he was, why he left and deep down, feeling abandoned. I longed to know him and chose the same career in an effort to be closer to him. Because I kind of look like him and have similar mannerisms, my mom often said I reminded her of him (Not in a good way). She struggled to understand my way of thinking and feeling and called me weird.
She married my step dad, who raised me, and soon my half-sister was born, his youngest of many. He was very strict with me and I feared his anger and corporal punishment. My mom was kind at times and at others, harsh and rejecting with her criticism. I felt like I was walking a tight rope to be good, quiet and avoid doing or being something that would invite punitive action. My step dad and sister were close and affectionate towards each other, something which I think I tried to block out. My mom, step dad and sister felt like a family unit and I felt like an extra. Like I didn’t fit in or belong.
The complication is that I have various parts thinking, feeling and wanting different things. And it’s not always easy to figure out who wants what and why…
ADULT ME acknowledges that the time has come and gone for a loving and present dad. She knows the fantasy father provided hope during childhood for a different and brighter life. Through therapy, she realises that her biological dad had a weak fathering instinct and was an “absent dad”. On the other end, my step dad stepped up to provide financially but was overbearing and unnecessarily punitive and intrusive. They both did what they could, based on the skills and resources they had. The adult part allows me to go to work, be a wife and pitch up at therapy. It wants integration and a variety of coping skills.
LONELY CHILD feels isolated and burdened with despair from not being seen or accepted. She cries a lot because all she wants is to be understood and mirrored. Her need is overwhelming and a result, she is often pushed aside by other parts or hidden for fear that she would be too much and scare people away. All she wants is a dad to protect and love her, showing her that she doesn’t need to hide and can thrive with his support.
THE SILENT ONE doesn’t have words for the grief, sadness and fear inside. Her eyes are wide open for threats but she cannot speak. All she wants to do is close her eyes, cuddle and sleep, feeling the warmth of a safe person.
DEFECTIVE CHILD feels disgusting. She is full of shame and never feels good enough. Badness infiltrates every cell and she wonders why others would dare come close. It’s only a matter of time before they are repelled. She is too pale, too tall, has a big bum, skew teeth, looks like a rejected doll with missing parts because of a car accident. She feels self-centred and uninteresting. Being seen causes anxiety, fear and disgust.
THE GOOD GIRL is a pleasure to be around and always makes sure others are happy and looked after. She enjoys taking care of people. Conflict is very scary and she is a peacemaker. She wants everything to be just right and makes sure she is neat, clean, and presentable and pleasant. When others are calm and happy, so is she.
THE DERIDER feels that the children are stupid and far too dramatic. They do not deserve airtime and should keep quiet, because they have nothing valuable to add. If they get too big for their boots, that’s a problem and they must be cut down to size “because how dare they”. Crying is especially problematic. Children should be seen and not heard.
THE JUDGE puts different parts on trial and is always evaluating whether their actions are acceptable. When parts are in conflict, which is often, the judge comes down hard with an iron fist to restore order and keep them in line, even if it means squishing their needs and desires down.
THE TEEN constantly rolls her eyes at all the feelings and thoughts of different parts and those around her. Everything is just so… complicated and dramatic. She’s sassy and often sarcastic, but it comes from a place of wanting to play and understand the world. She’s making sense of her sexuality and needs parental figures to accept that she is both a girl and a woman.
THE FLIRT enjoys attention and feeling pretty. She is playful and loves connecting with others through touch and play. She loves feeling desired.
I wonder if HH gets tired hearing about my father hunger all the time. I know I certainly do. The other day, he asked me (again) what I hoped for in a dad. It was just too much to repeat it again to him and I shared that I was questioning the value of going over the same painful things numerous times. I know though that it’s part of the work. It just felt like I didn’t have the energy that day to go there.