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Healing The Approval that Never Came

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Date : October 17, 2016


My father died suddenly of a stroke almost fifty years ago.   I was fifteen and he was fifty-six.  I am now sixty-five years old and his death shattered my teenage life.  I have been trying to understand how his death affected me ever since.   I have written a large body of work about my dad’s life and death.  I am a therapist in private practice and have gone to therapy myself to unravel this mystery.  I have been confused, discovered peace, experienced hidden wounds that rose to the surface, have had gut level cries, have felt lost and alone and have had tears mix with sweat as I run.


My sense of grief is that it is always evolving. It never stops like the ending of a Hollywood film.  I don’t believe in terms like acceptance or closure because those terms imply that you never have unease about your dead loved one again.  This unrealistic expectation impedes the grief process instead of helping.


My relationship with my deceased father has changed as I age. As time goes by, I face that the tragedy of his death tears at the core of my being.   I realize that at the age of fifteen I had no idea what I had lost.  I know now that even though my relationship with my dad was rocky, I lost my anchor and there was nothing to tie my down.  My spirit wandered aimlessly and at times, self-destructively through drugs and other poor choices.  My sense of innocence was forever destroyed and I could never recapture the safety of being connected to my father.


I don’t know how many times I have been struggling with a life lesson and longed for my father’s advice.  The men in my life that I chose to confide in when I was a teenager were mostly unscrupulous and taught me not to trust anyone but myself.  Sometimes not myself either.


My mother was too overwrought with her own mourning process to be emotionally present for my sister or me.  My mother perceived me to be a horrible, aggressive, and angry kid.  I believed that she was right.  I also thought that I was stupid because my fifth grade teacher told me I was the dumbest student she ever had during her teaching reign of fifty years.  My sixth grade report card had all red F’s because the teacher said long after the fact that she couldn’t read my handwriting.  The ninth grade guidance counselor told my parents and me that according to the scat and step tests, I was too dumb to go to college.  She recommended that I take vocational classes instead.  I rebelled against her declaration and took all college prep classes.  I proceeded to fail all those classes because I secretly believed that she was correct in her assessment of my intelligence.


My father died when I was in tenth grade.  My sister had black and white family photos taken in the 1950’s and 60’s.  My father appeared to be affectionate and loving towards us.   One of the most difficult issues for me to deal with is that I can look at the photos but I don’t remember any of the scenes.  I don’t remember him being kind to me at all.  I remember him being impatient and preferring to play chess with the smarter kids in our neighborhood.  He would always let me win when he played chess with me and thought that I was too stupid to know what he was up to.  I never told him.  I never told him lots of stuff because I lacked the life experience to know that it may have been a good idea to confront him about this.  I remember him typing a seventh grade science paper and acting like my input was needed but, he actually wrote the paper without my participation.  I may as well have not been in the same room while he typed it up.


He was almost an Olympic skier, but we never went skiing.  He was an outstanding tennis player, but had no patience in teaching me. His directions to me were curt and didn’t seem to tolerate my difficulty at understanding the proper backhand and forehand grips.


I played little league baseball when I was in elementary school.  My mother gave me Kaopectate before every game because my stomach was so upset.  One game I broke up a no hitter with a single to left field.  I remember walking all over my suburban hometown after the game and being congratulated over and over again; but not from my dad.  He never uttered a sound.  He would attend my high school football games and never say a word.


When I was having trouble in school, he never said anything to me. When I was in junior high, Pop Warner Football was forming in my hometown.  My father went to a community meeting and he spoke.  He asked the coaches if they were going to cut people off the team if they weren’t good enough.  My father said that he wouldn’t allow me to try out because he didn’t want me to be cut off the squad.  I guess he thought he was protecting me.  Instead, he embarrassed me in front of my peers and their parents.  He also delivered the message that I wasn’t athletic to make the team in the first place.


The photos make it clear that he loved me, but I think he felt that I was inferior intellectually and every other way.  Deep down inside I believe he was ashamed of me and what happened latter confirmed that.



He was doing some weird things the last days of his life.  He drove erratically; crossing lanes.  He got fired from his job because he forgot to tell his boss that he was going on vacation.  He painted my black pants with black paint after over-bleaching them.


One day he became furious with me (I don’t remember why).  He charged into my room and reared back his arm to hit me.  But, before he delivered his fist to my face, I punched him in the stomach.  He doubled over with a shocked, pained look in his eyes.  I steeled my body to prepare for his retaliation; an attack that never came. What happened next was worse, much worse.  He turned and walked away.  He never spoke or even looked at me again and then he was dead.


I continue to deal with feelings of guilt and abandonment.  I so much want to undo this showdown, but of course I can’t.  This has caused me to never give up when I have a conflict with others.  I always want to work through any problems with those I have had run ins with.  Sometimes it would be better if I just let them go, but then it feels like my father is slipping away and somehow I can stop that.  I can bring him back and we can have time to work through our differences.  The pain from this repeated experience deeply stabs the heart and crushes all hope.  I feel so lonely even though I have no logical reasons to feel this way.  I have a loving wife and have been married for almost forty-five years.  I have good friends and close family members.  I love and appreciate them so much.  However, I get so triggered when I feel abandoned.  I feel like I have devoted my life in proving that I am worthy of having a relationship.


I often feel that I don’t deserve the love that comes my way.  I can be short and dismissive with others in an unconscious way of pushing their love away from me.  On the other hand, if I feel unappreciated, I have been known to shout out how I have been wronged even though this is a gross exaggeration.  These are all great examples of how not to get your basic needs met.


It is only recently that I have come to believe that my father loved me, but did not respect my intelligence or anything else about me.  What if he could see me now?  He can’t see me now, so why do I even entertain this notion?  It is because I know that having an imaginary conversation with him will bring temporary relief from this ingrained misery I carry daily.


He never approved of me.  I have been seeking his approval and approval of the world’s audience most of my life.  Everyday I wake up and worry that I am going to not measure up and therefore I will be left all alone.  After all that is what essentially happened with my father. It is time to stop searching for the impossible.  I can’t always heal every situation.  I am not a bad person if I fail sometimes. What did Dylan say, “There is no success without failure and failure is no success at all.”  But, failure is part of life and without failure, there is no success.


My father’s weird behavior was undoubtedly caused by changes that were occurring in his brain before he died.  He probably was having TIA’s (small strokes) for a considerable amount of time.  I have come to learn he was experiencing migraine headaches as well.  I will never know how much of his intolerance and impatience with me was due to physical illness or was part of his basic personality.  I cannot solve this puzzle; not fifty years later; not ever.


He can never come back to earth and explain the unexplainable. Others give me compliments often, but I don’t believe that is the major route to my healing.  I need to have a conversation with myself and wrap my loving emotional arms around my soul.  I need a warm hug from myself.  Here is the conversation, here it goes: “You are a good man.  You stand up for those who have suffered injustice.  You authentically praise those who have pushed through adversity, horrible abuse, gross neglect. You marvel at all these folks who have become warriors and despite their struggles, they discover their humanity and compassion for others.  You are a good friend and always there for others.  You are honest to a fault even when your words can be hurtful.  You are a good husband, therapist and writer.  You are always looking to improve the lives of others.  You know that while you are healing others, you are healing yourself if you allow your heart to be open.  You know the power of tears and laughter.  You know how to live in the moment and you know how to feel safe.”

Please share your experiences here   Thanks!!!

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Letting Go of Grief
Move Your Body to Rock and Soul

Letting go of Grief: Move Your Body to Rock and Soul teaches you how to work through your losses. These losses could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or other trauma. Grief is an evolving process and you will learn what the term acceptance means. It means that you will always have the option of honoring your loss, but you don’t have to be continually consumed by it. In this book, you will learn to find a landing place in your heart for grief. You will learn to embrace the pain instead of being afraid of facing it.


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