Dear New Shrink,
This Memorial Day weekend has been overwhelmingly emotional for me. I cannot stop thinking about my father that I never even met. He left to serve his country when my mother was pregnant with me and he died in duty when I was less than a year old. He only saw me, held me once and obviously I don’t really remember him.
But my mother just never really got over it or him. Even though she remarried and had other children, it was clear to me that she never really loved my step-dad; she just couldn’t go it alone. She constantly showed me pictures of my father and talked of him and the love they had and I also felt, uncomfortably so, like her favored child. And while I love my siblings and feel close to them, I have never felt close to my stepfather.
So the problem is that I feel as if I really knew my father and that he is my hero. Now as I grow older I really wish that I could be closer with the father that raised me and I am starting to realize that I have an idealized image of my biological father and that every man I interact with is compared to him. I feel like I am in some sort of relationship with this man I never even met.
Why do I feel this way and what can I do to let go and move on?
Sad & Confused
Dear Sad & Confused,
I realize that I often say this, so forgive my repetition to those of you who read these articles. But again, “we all have a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.”
This story is exactly that, a story. It is made up of real life events, stories we are told and our interpretations of the events in our life. But these stories are not always the exact truth and they can be rewritten.
The first thing to realize is that parents really should not be living vicariously through their children and should be very careful about the stories that they tell them.
It sounds as if your mother was very traumatized, understandably so, but that she used you to keep the love of her life alive. This was completely unfair to you and if she would have gotten help or been more conscious about what she was doing, she would have told you about your wonderful heroic father but left it at that.
You should not be feeling as if you are in some sort of relationship with him and to be comparing other men to him is really not a good thing for you at all.
As you say, you never even knew him. You are living through your mother’s idealized view and memories of him. You can’t be having real memories; there are no memories to have.
This is actually a very sad story for all of you. Your siblings possibly feeling your mother’s favoritism; your stepfather most likely knowing at some level that he was not really loved; your mother’s obvious tragedy and you living with this story that interferes with the reality of your life and your freedom. Yes, freedom to love and be real and true to yourself.
Parents really need to be careful about what they tell their children. It’s great to tell kids about the heroes in their background, but it is not a good idea to tell kids about any bad people or dysfunctional people that may also be part of that history.
Your mother was selfish and what she did was totally unfair to you. Realizing this is the first step in your own personal recovery or healing
Being honest with yourself as you have started to be with this very question, about the fantasy nature of your (non) relationship with your biological father is another very important step.
Be proud to be the daughter of a man that gave his life for our country. Cherish what you know about him, he gave you life as well. But let go of the relationship you never had. It’s time to say goodbye.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and a licensed marriage & family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com and/or send your responses and anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.