My father had a habit of tilting his glass in such a way as to indicate that it needed refilling. He would perform this ritual without saying a word, but the accompanying look would speak volumes: I am the Master here, and you are to do my bidding.
I hated it, and I fought against him, but the reality was that he did hold all the power.
When my husband was laid up, I took on the role of caregiver. One morning, he tipped his coffee cup and gave me a look of appeal. I felt myself cringe. He is just like my father! my mind screamed. I felt the weight of years of oppression and depression hovering over me. Have I married my father? Is there no hope for me? Is my joy always to be squashed?
My therapist recommended Perfect Daughters, by Robert Ackerman. It reveals the struggles, characteristics, and patterns associated with adult daughters of alcoholics. I learned that women of alcoholic fathers will often enter into relationships where they see an opportunity to heal the original father/daughter rift, and that this attempt is seldom successful.
What I have gleaned from experience is that I often tolerate behaviours for a long time, and that instead of seeing fault in the other, I will be quick to blame myself. I know that I do not like confrontation, and that I feel like my complaints are trivial in the light of the bigger picture. I have also learned that I often project unresolved feelings about my father into my current relationships, and I recognized immediately that the gush of emotion over Ric’s innocent gesture was just that.
Many feelings related to childhood have bubbled up as a result of the stress of the past years. I have been feeling the despair of never seeing an end to the hurt. Ric, tired of his predicament became more defiant, pushing his limits, and striving to regain control over his life. My response was accelerated anxiety and as much as I understand that he is an adult and makes his own choices, I find it hard not to react, spiraling into a dysfunctional dance of feeling like a child again, caught in a cycle of chaotic impossibilities, destined to be crushed.
Then I had a dream. I don’t remember what it was, but I awoke with sudden understanding. The panic I had been feeling is a product of my child’s need to finally feel in control. Somehow, she believes that if she could just control my father /Ric’s behavior, then everything will be okay. Her desire to control stems from a need to know that there is consistency in life, and that the process can be trusted. She needs to feel secure and know that she is loved no matter what, not only if she behaves herself, or manages not to upset anyone.
The adult me knows that none of this is possible. People will always behave and make choices outside of our control. It is not a reflection of their love for us, but a product of their own inner workings. Ric’s struggles and his attempts to resolve them are not about me, in reaction to me, or more importantly, because of me. If his actions have consequences that affect me, then it is up to me to look after myself and make sure I have taken appropriate protective measures.
I am reminded of something one of my university profs once said. It went something like this: Where there is power over, love cannot exist. Where there is power for all, love exists. My father behaved as if he was the only one with power in the family. I did not feel loved. My marriage to Ric is a partnership and a sharing of power. I feel his love for me.