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In her critically acclaimed, groundbreaking bestseller Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl? author Jonetta Rose Barras broke the code of silence surrounding the devastating impact that father absence has on girls and women. Using her own story, and that of other women from across the country, Barras identified the "fatherless woman syndrome," along with its ramifications, and offered remedies for healing. In this new self-help book, Bridges: Reuniting Daughters & Daddies, Barras takes the next step, ...
In her critically acclaimed, groundbreaking bestseller Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl? author Jonetta Rose Barras broke the code of silence surrounding the devastating impact that father absence has on girls and women. Using her own story, and that of other women from across the country, Barras identified the "fatherless woman syndrome," along with its ramifications, and offered remedies for healing. In this new self-help book, Bridges: Reuniting Daughters & Daddies, Barras takes the next step, guiding daughter-and-father duos toward much needed reconciliation, bonding, and healing. With illustrations pulled from the lives of real women and their fathers, plus affirmations and practical exercises designed by the author in association with experts, Bridges will be a must-read and invaluable tool for girls and women who want to mend the rend in their lives, for men who want to enjoy the special and sacred relationship between fathers and daughters, and for everyone interested in the love that binds us all.
Tiffany and her father, Lawrence, sit at opposite ends of the sofa in her hotel suite. She has come to Durham, North Carolina ostensibly to confront her history, to lay to rest the fatherless ghosts that haunt her. Although she and Lawrence lived together for a short time, Tiffany was reared by her paternal grandparents, who are now dead. Despite the angst she felt for years—and, truth be told, still feels—when she is asked if she wants to work things out with her father, she says, "That's something I have to think about."
Lawrence, an executive in the hospitality industry, is visibly hurt, even stunned by his daughter's response. Tiffany's rage and pain are palpable. They have been simmering just beneath the surface, nearly exploding into a barrage of accusatory language or a fountain of tears. Although affected by her half-rejection of him, Lawrence says he wants them to be together as a father and daughter should be.
"It's always about what you want," Tiffany snaps. "At this stage in my life, I'm truly trying to figure out what it is I want. I don't know what I want."
Neither does Lawrence, but he does know he wants to be forgiven by his daughter. He wants there to be some closeness between them, like the lunch they shared—just the two of them—at the Piccadilly Restaurant. It was just father and daughter alone, searching for a place where they could enjoy the comfort of loving each other. He knows that his parents, who remained married to each other until their deaths, taught him the meaning of family. He knows that in the beginning, he had intended to marry and live happily-ever-after, with one wife and one marriage. But two divorces later, he considers himself a failure. "It's a scar— it's a psychological scar," he confesses.
Still, he can't articulate what he wants from reconciling with Tiffany. He doesn't know what's possible. He doesn't know what he should expect, or how his life will be altered by the reunion and subsequent bonding. And, he doesn't know if he's prepared to embrace these inevitable changes.
Tiffany and Lawrence have stumbled into this reconciliation without understanding their true desires, their points of origin, or their intended destinations. They have come to this hotel in Durham more out of obligation—he's my father; she's my daughter—than a genuine understanding of what they can achieve. In other words, their meeting is premature.
If they are going to lay a sturdy foundation for their reconciliation, which will lead to successful bonding, each will have to do the following:
DETERMINE THE MEANING OR DEFINITION OF RECONCILIATION;
CONDUCT AN INTERNAL SURVEY OF HIS OR HER EMOTIONAL AND HISTORICAL LANDSCAPE; AND
DEVELOP A WELL THOUGHT-OUT RECONCILIATION PLAN.
What Does It Mean?
We all travel with a personal pocket dictionary whose definitions have been crafted from our experiences and perspectives—however blemished or pure. We may consider ourselves objective creatures, gauging someone's worth or the circumstances around us through a clear, untainted prism. But the truth is this: Subjectivity holds even the best of us captive. We filter our analyses of people and situations through the sieve of our past experiences and emotions.
It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, that reconciliation carries numerous meanings. Some people see it as simply the coming together of two people. Others see it as accepting a situation, without becoming agitated, angry, or disappointed. Catholic theologians argue it is an act of penance.
For me, reconciliation is a proactive procedure of reconnecting, first with ourselves and, then, with another to create an internal emotional and spiritual environment where love, forgiveness, and healing will occur and where the soul is empowered to reach its highest potential.
Daughters and daddies hoping to reunite must first develop their own separate definitions. Tiffany and Lawrence met each other in total confusion because neither had fully explored the meaning of reconciliation. Even more important, they had not examined how reconciliation might be expressed as a couple—what it meant to them as daughter and daddy, a familial unit. Definitions help provide the proper framing of a person or an experience. They also offer glimpses into expectations.
For Tiffany and her dad, a definition would have done a couple of things: It would have helped describe and set the boundaries of the terrain in which they saw themselves traveling, and, it would have helped provide a preview of the activities and results each believed would occur during their journey.
In my own definition, I speak of an internal and external landscape. I also talk of the spiritual rewards of reconciliation. Thus, I don't expect a reuniting to yield primarily material results. But I'm using my own personal dictionary. Drawing on their own experiences and emotions, daughter and daddy must determine a definition that suits them. It should, however, embrace the concept of evolution—not stagnation. It should also be more than one-sided. Reconciliation is as much about daughter as it is about daddy. According to Joe Kelly, executive director of Dads and Daughters: "It is about taking an assessment: What have I done, what am I doing, what will I continue to do to keep my side of the street clean?"
The Internal Survey
It's clear from their situation that Lawrence and Tiffany hadn't prepared any personal inventory. Although they could recite a litany of past grievances, they hadn't fully explored the role each played in their own anguish. Nor had they considered how they could aggressively and effectively alter their individual lives without the other's involvement. They hadn't attempted an internal unification, which meant that, even with the best intentions, it was nearly impossible for them to successfully reconnect. Until there is a personal reunion, we can't connect, intimately, with someone else, especially a person with whom there may be a history of pain, disappointment, and mistrust.
For those who find themselves in the position of being unable to reconcile with an absent daughter or daddy, the process remains the same: a reuniting of self, and a dedication to favorably altering one's life. Soothing another's pain can't be the central focus of the reconciliation process. The goal must be self-healing and self-acceptance first, and familial reunification later.
Consequently, daughter and daddy must consider two aspects of reconciliation as a prelude to conducting their personal assessment. First, what is meant by self-reconciliation for the individual daughter or daddy? And, second, what is meant by reconciliation between daughter and daddy?
That first question will help you turn the lens where it belongs— on yourself, not your counterpart. It will help you scope your internal landscape for aspirations—realized and unrealized—and experiences—exposed or repressed—that serve as clues and guideposts to understanding the effects the absence of a father or daughter has had. Moreover, it should aid daddy and daughter in developing a statement about their self-value (we'll talk more about this later).
The second question directs daughter and daddy to look at each other. It causes them to examine the results they are seeking in the effort to bridge the divide of years spent apart from each other.
This is tedious work. Imagine yourself as a gardener. Before you can actually begin to plant new seeds, to envision an array of colorful flowers, the ground has to be made ready. Weeds have to be pulled; the soil has to be treated. There also has to be some consideration of what has grown on the plot of land previously. The past offers some hint of what might be successful in the present, given the environmental conditions. If, in the end, all the steps are taken properly, one can reasonably expect a lovely garden where there had been none or where a dying one had once existed.
When daughter and daddy conduct an internal survey built on honest, deep reflection of the past and how it has affected the present, they are making the ground ready for building a strong bridge to each other. The key and operative words here are "honest" and "deep."
The internal survey becomes important for determining what each—father and daughter—hopes to resolve during the reconciliation process with each other, and how each hopes to change his or her own life. This is no easy feat simply because so many daughters and daddies who have been absent from each other's lives have spent years in denial.
How many times have you heard some daughter—maybe even yourself— say, "I did fine without him. Didn't need him then, don't need him now." Or some father saying, "I tried; it's too late now. I have to put it all in the past. I've got a new life. I'm not affected by what happened then."
These comments are often the signs of effective self-deception. Some fathers and daughters are genuinely unaware of how the loss affected their lives—positively or negatively. But others have masked their fears, anger, longing, and sense of unworthiness and unloveability for so long that self-deception becomes second nature to them. The lie becomes the truth. Worse, they persuade others to participate in their charade.
When my book, Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl: The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women, was first published, most of the people in Washington, D.C., where I had lived and worked for nearly twenty years, were incredulous. No one believed the depth of the chaos and sorrow about which I had written. How could I, a successful, award-winning journalist, have felt so inadequate, or been so troubled?
So adept was I at masquerading, that it was hard for some to fathom the duality of my life—smiling by day, as I pounded dishonest politicians and other miscreants, crying my eyes out at night. Far worse—though none expressed it this way—is that they were made conspirators in my deceit. They had embraced the image I imposed on them of a strong, powerful journalist. That mythology was burdensome to me. For years, it kept me trapped, unable to understand or expose my wound and, therefore, unable to heal.
There was a time when Tiffany's father, Lawrence, didn't understand this. He filled his days with talk, work, and other things. But, his career "sucked," and he was in a very "unhappy marriage." Who knew? He presented himself to his family and the world as fully in control and quite content. He refused to admit to anyone the decay that was his life. He used bluster and invectives to camouflage his pain. All the while, he admits, "I was losing my mind."
Fortunately, the universe doesn't respond well to crippling mythologies. Instead, it insists on debunking these tall tales. It sets off a series of events that demand a laser-like focus on our internal landscape. Our sanity is not imperiled, but we are no longer granted the unhealthy luxury of obfuscation. Truth knocks at our door, insistently, until we are compelled to answer.
In Robert Fisher's The Knight in Rusty Armor, a young gallant man thinks of "himself as good, kind, and loving." He has fought many foes, including dragons. He has become famous, not simply for his battles, but also for his armor. He has become so attached to this armor that he wears it at home, in bed, at the dinner table. In fact, his wife has to mash his food and push it through the opening of his face mask in order to feed him. Obviously, things have gotten out of hand, and the knight's wife can't take it any longer. She picks up their son and leaves her husband, arguing that he must choose between his armor and his family. When the knight leaves, looking for someone to remove the armor from his body, he's faced with the reality that no one can do it—except himself.
The process is the same for the fatherless daughter and the daughterless father: the mask, the armor, can only be removed by the wearer, and the process takes determination and perseverance. But where to begin?
As the knight struggled to release himself from his self-imposed imprisonment within the armor, he had to reflect on how he had come to begin his masquerade: Was his armor worn as an offensive or defensive mechanism? What had he missed during the years he wore it? What was to become of him when he finally relieved himself of his burden? Could he return to a normal life with his wife and child? Essentially, he had to endure a series of challenges, posed internally and externally, before he could answer these questions or achieve his ultimate goal.
Although Tiffany and her father, Lawrence, sitting in that hotel room in North Carolina, didn't ask these specific questions, they were subconsciously beginning to perform an internal probe. Tiffany's statement about trying to figure out what it is she wants serves as testimony to the launch of her assessment.
Questions are good things.
Anyone embarking on a journey always poses questions. Why do I want to go to this city or country instead of some other? What do I want to achieve by taking this trip? What do I hope to find when I arrive? How am I going to take care of myself while I'm there? Where will I sleep? Where will I eat? What sights do I want to see? How do I wish to be affected—that is, what is it I hope will change in my life?
The fatherless daughter and daughterless father should be willing to pose similar inquiries:
HOW WAS I AFFECTED BY THE ABSENCE OF MY FATHER? MY DAUGHTER?
WHAT DO I BELIEVE I MISSED?
WHAT WAS MY EMOTIONAL RESPONSE TO THE ABSENCE?
Was I angry? Sad? Despondent? Did I come to see myself as unworthy of love? Was I riddled with guilt? What did I do to compensate for the absence of my father/daughter?
These questions are at the core of the internal survey, which is designed to lead to self-reunification and father-daughter reconciliation. As it did for the knight, completing this examination aids in removing the mask, and opens the door for a more intimate internal dialogue.
ONE METHOD FOR LAUNCHING THIS INNER conversation is storytelling. Each fatherless daughter or daughterless father has a personal narrative of pain, whether told, written, or hidden. Every slight—real or imagined—every privation, every lonely day— Christmas without enough toys, Father's Day without a card, birthday without a visit—are tightly woven together. Unfortunately, in the development of the fatherless daughter or the daughterless father, these incidents have been linked without regard for their significance or value. But it is important to remember that not every story has an unhappy plot. Therefore, all stories of absence, as remembered by daughter and daddy, should be explored.
As a young child, HANNAH remembers "worshiping" her father, Thomas.
"He rocked. He was everything," says Hannah, an aspiring actress. "Both my parents were magical when I was little. I thought my dad could do anything. I really thought highly of him— even after my parents separated—until I was eight or nine years old, when I realized Daddy was far from perfect.
"He would promise me things, like bringing me down to Disneyworld [in Florida]. He'd always say he was coming [to see me], but he wouldn't come. It was really traumatizing," she continues.
As the older of her mother's two children, Hannah says she felt compelled to keep the proverbial "stiff upper lip," even as her childhood was robbed of her.
"I paid for college myself. I've been buying my own clothes since I was 13 years old. I helped my mom put my sister through college. Basically, I had to be him."
Thomas, Hannah's father, has his own narrative of anguish. After his divorce, he purchased a tractor trailer and began making runs through Wilmington, Delaware, where his children and his ex-wife lived. One Sunday morning, he decided to stop to see them.
"My ex-wife told me, 'You're not welcome here.' The pain got deeper. But I didn't want to cause any trouble. So I forgot about them. I didn't really forget about them. But I had to try not to let it affect me. I didn't really start to get over things until I was in prison."
Excerpted from Bridges by Jonetta Rose Barras Copyright © 2005 by Jonetta Rose Barras. Excerpted by permission of Bancroft Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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