Healing The Wounds Our Fathers Left Behind
By Shade Ashani
The last relationship of my twenties ended in fiery multiple car plane train clusterf*ck in front of all our closest friends. I had been flying through a revolving door of dating taking as little as a few days off between boyfriends and then after whatever deranged healing process I decided was over—it was on to the next, honey! I was 22 and fabulous. Oh and deeply broken and scared to be alone.
When I met Mike, I had just graduated from the Ivy League and he was a young, investment banker originally from Spain. He was trilingual, brilliant, beautiful and we both wanted so many of the same things in life. I was smitten. Until he started getting weirdly, intensely possessive. I kept brushing it off as sweet. See, when your father abandons your family and leaves you starved for affection and attention, you can confuse abuse with love.
For the record: “Where are you?” is NOT code for “I love you.” If you find yourself scared of saying/doing the wrong thing or feel like you’re always in trouble with him…run, baby girl, RUN FAST.
Our relationship pressed forward. I ignored red flags like yelling at me for getting toast crumbs on the floor (I was the one who made breakfast by the way) or never asking me how my day at work was. And then my dear friend’s twin brother dropped dead at 22 years old without warning or explanation. He wasn’t feeling well. He laid down for a nap and never woke up. I was devastated. For my friend, for him, for their mother. We met up that night and I told Mike I was getting on a plane the next day, which would cancel our totally benign plans to ride bikes in Central Park that weekend. He flew into a rage. As he was shouting, I must have been so shocked my mouth dropped open. I didn’t even pick up on the fact that he had shifted from shouting to mimicking me by opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish. My brain literally couldn’t compute that kind of cruelty.
I realize now I had triggered his own abandonment complex. He didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to be there for me, to hold me, to say I’m coming with you. He had watched his father commit suicide by jumping out a window when he was five years old. If people stop emotionally developing at the point of trauma without help, I was dating a very, very wounded and angry kindergartner. Mike left me in the street, crying, confused, and scared. Probably just like his dad left him. I stood there stunned staring at a lamppost in the middle of the sidewalk for thirty minutes, willing myself to believe he was calming down and coming back for me. I didn’t want this to be the end.
“When a man shows you who he is believe him the first time.”—Maya Angelou
When I landed in Los Angeles, my phone exploded with his texts and voicemails. He emailed, called my mom’s house and sent flowers. I didn’t even know how he got the address. When a few days went by without my response, his messages turned angry and I started to feel scared. More flowers and cards came and the exhaustion and grief from being at my friend’s house all day (coupled with a decade of unworthiness programming) made me weak. I wanted support, love and a listening ear. As I listened to him blabber on with apologies and how he wanted me back so desperately, I didn’t even notice that he hadn’t ask how I was doing or my friend or her family. He was talking about himself and his feelings. Again.
Pro tip: nobody changes in 48 hours.
When I flew back to New York we had a whirlwind romantic reconciliation for a few fantastic weeks. Until that fated Halloween party. I was having a great time. All of our closest friends were there. We were young and New York City was magical. After a particularly glorious dance off to Beyonce with my girlfriends, I rounded a corner to look for Mike. I was yanked back by a rough grab at my elbow and heard a terrifying whisper in my ear: “If I ever see you pour a drink for another man again, I’ll f*cking kill you.” I had never heard him talk like that before and it really scared me. I didn’t even know what he was talking about at first. Then I remembered about 45 minutes ago while standing in the kitchen I was pouring myself a drink and a guy dressed as a panda bear stuck his solo cup out. The music was so loud we didn’t even talk. That apparently was a most heinous offense? I saw him for the first time. He was a completely unbalanced and dangerous person. How had I fallen in love with someone capable of saying something like that to me? I’m such a good person! How did I get here?!
We sat down so I could I explain “my side” of the cup-pouring/flagrant infidelity incident. As I followed him to the time-out corner of his choosing, I saw our relationship from the outside. This was ridiculous. I was in trouble for doing nothing wrong. Again. I think he saw the “I am SO over you” look on my face and felt the abandonment coming because while I was mid-sentence he shoved me. Hard. It was an incredible amount of strength. I had played basketball and was no foreigner to contact. Being pushed by a man who lifted weights on his lunch break everyday and stood at 6’3” was an absolutely, completely, all-together different experience. I landed, face-first, in gravel rocks and a puddle of shame.
This time I got it.
I got that he needed more help than I could give. Picking deeply broken people to love didn’t make me a hero or a savior. It made me a punching bag. And his decision to put his hands on me had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him and where he was in his own journey.
“Nothing others do is because of you.”—The Four Agreements
Thank you, my soul practically hollered from within. I got the lesson; I don’t need to save men. I don’t need to do anything to be worthy of love. I AM WORTHY RIGHT NOW.
Since I don’t need to live in that story anymore, I don’t need to repeat it. That doesn’t mean I don’t meet people who need help or haven’t ever again attracted a broken person. It means I can see them now. I can SEE them now. Every person we meet is either a repetition of a previous cycle or a guide towards more love so I know when someone is looking a little too familiar. I started writing In Search of My Father after Mike and I broke up. I wanted to compile everything I had learned from all the time I spent chasing after men to heal my father wounds. I had to unhinge my identity from my trauma, heal my core belief system to include self-love, self-care, and worthiness, and ask a friend to hold me accountable in dating so I could stop repeating unconscious cycles based in unworthiness. I would spend five more years writing, healing myself, researching, completing my Master’s in Public Health investigating the impact of fatherlessness and health. My book is a reflection of my journey to self-love. I wrote it in hopes that women who have also been wounded by their fathers can spend far less time searching and hurting than I did.
Because all the time we spend searching, we are manifesting relationships into our lives from a place of inferiority. Everything shifts when we value ourselves enough to establish and hold boundaries. “I will not work at jobs I hate. I will not accept lying and cheating from partners.”
The universe shifts when we refuse to participate in our old patterns and cycles anymore. If every choice we make reveals the standard we accept in our lives, I hope my book inspires readers to release the old belief systems they’ve been operating within so they can understand how and why they keep selecting partners who remind them of the pain their fathers caused them. You’ll know you’ve started healing when you are consistently choosing joy and rejecting misery. Choosing excitement and rejecting boredom. Choosing peace and rejecting chaos. Choosing self respect and rejecting diminishment. Daily. When you are choosing to take excellent care of your heart, body and soul and refusing to participate in hurting yourself, you’ll have found a new life. After you get so hooked on living your joy and loving yourself, you can be free to choose a consistent, reliable, kind, gentle, funny, sweet, brilliant, generous, talented, amazing partner.