“Darkness brings home fathers, with their real, unspeakable power.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye.
In his book The Measure of a Man, J.J. Lee refers to the idea that the more we try not to be like our father, the more we are like him.
We learn more every decade about “fathering”, about father-impact….
(We give so much more attention to mothering)….
Thus the theory, for example, that we “marry our fathers”. My own experience supports the idea, but what does that mean? It means we marry someone who acts a lot like our father — or who makes us feel the way our father made us feel.
Sometimes, if we’re “conscious” of such theories, we intentionally marry someone who, on the surface at least, is the opposite to our father…and believe we have cleverly avoided the typical. But perhaps we deceive ourselves…
In the case of my first husband, I was only 20 when we met, and I suspect I was unconsciously attracted to a feeling of being affectionately fathered – something I didn’t experience with my own dad. Peter was 13 years older than me, ex-British army, moustache. You could say a symbol of authority. Or ‘fatherness’?
Years later, after we had divorced and when I had learned a little about relationships and their implications, I decided he was a lot like my father, but on the other hand, he sometimes defended me emotionally from my dad. This was a good thing from my point of view, as I had never learned how to protect myself. I was intimidated by any hint of dominance – unfortunately this applied to my husband too. The only speaking up I did in those days was in my diary. (My father was never physically abusive – just very critical-judgmental.)
I began to gain self-confidence, however, through the experience of being appreciated by, and eventually leaving Peter. I had a crush on someone who could be seen as the opposite to my father – and to Peter, though I didn’t see that at the time. Michel was immature, self-indulgent, a womanizer, and most of us saw him as sexy. In fact, he was a veritable symbol of freedom and sexuality, which I yearned for unconsciously.
That crush didn’t turn into a relationship, but it did lead me out of my marriage. A series of relationships in a similar pattern followed.
When I married my husband of today, I had lived with him for almost two years, and was so sure he wasn’t “my father”. And now, almost forty years later, the reality slowly becomes obvious and I come to recognize my father in him — and in myself. Personal truths dawn so slowly.
During those decades in which I thought my male partners were ‘my father’, I believed that I was only like my mother. Only in the past few years have I come to see some of my father too when I look in the mirror. And feel some of his psyche when I look into my soul…
I believe that we generally have both sides – ‘positive and negative’ – of a characteristic. In my case, for example, I was both intimidated by and afraid of judgment on one hand, but judgmental and critical on the other. And I find that the more I leave behind my critical-judgmental characteristic, the less easily intimidated I am, and the more comfortable and accepting I am – even of aggression: it seems easier to let the growl belong to the growler, and feel peace in the face of it. So just as the characteristics are two-sided, so is the evolutionary process.
In the end, I find myself thinking that nothing in life is so simple that we can just blame issues on a parent. Father soup is also mother soup, and just plain life soup.