IT WAS THE DAY BEFORE my father’s last Father’s Day. As was our custom, we were hanging out at Barnes and Noble, and my father told me to go pick out a book. Which I did. Then he inscribed it:
If tomorrow were Pal’s Day, instead of another tired Father’s Day, you’d get the flower for being the BEST PAL of ALL, signed, Daddy.
This sentiment may or may not have been accurate. But, at any rate, it was certainly only part of the story.
Another part of the story is this: My relationship with my father was like dancing with a lion in a cage. In this dance, a father-daughter two-step, I struggled to assert my own strength, while he unfailingly maintained the whip hand. Not, by the way, that this seemed much different to me than his other relationships—with his wives (all four of them), his other kids, his stepkids, his siblings, his colleagues.
A professor of philosophy, my father had little of the equilibrium, the perspective, the tolerance of his fellow human being you might expect of a person who has spent a lifetime studying higher thought.
Instead, he was often slashingly critical. Even vicious. Sometimes, even violent. And he was not to be questioned. For instance, once, when I asked if he had ever hit my then-adolescent stepbrother, my father rose up roaring and ordered me out of his house.
And he never really mellowed.
For my part, over the years, I alternately challenged my father and tried to appease the beast that lived inside him. For his part, he backed, against all comers, that beast—a beast that, to the end, was never done roaring.
Of course, this, too, is only part of the story.
Set aside thirty minutes of journaling time. Allow your writing to reflect on a less-than-perfect relationship—perhaps with your own father or a father figure. What power struggles occur within the relationship? What role do you play in that dynamic? Can you give concrete examples to illustrate the struggle?
Next, consider what might happen if you were to challenge the power dynamic, even gently—by asking a question, for instance, or changing your own behavior in some small way. Play out that potential shift by writing a scene about it.
If this personal approach cuts too close to the bone, write about a fictional character, instead, and spend some pages examining their relationship with their father.
This post was inspired by the Strength card of the tarot deck, which can refer both to our use of our personal power and to the taming of various instinctual aspects of our personality. Strength is a neutral attribute: Awareness, intention, and mastery of self all help us to use our strength wisely.
In this version of Strength, from LeGrande Circus & Sideshow Tarot, the lion tamer seems to have met her match. It’s up to the viewer to imagine how this dance will end. (Image used by kind permission of U.S. Games Systems.)