When I work with clients, especially females who are having
difficulty with their husbands or boyfriends, or lack thereof, I
almost always tell them they need to work through their “father
issues.” I not only know this because I’ve been in practice for over
30 years and have seen the pattern with my clients, but I also know
this from personal experience.
As I grew up, I fought with my father constantly. I thought he was
unfair in his punishments with me and I didn’t like the way he
treated my mother. I developed certain ideas back then about what
men are like and why they are so impossible to deal with. Then I
married a man just like him and proved all my theories to be true.
They weren’t valid of course, but for years I thought they were.
As I developed my program for my book,
Loving Him Without Losing You (how to be emotionally
intimate with a man without losing your identity), I knew I was
really writing it for myself.
When we don’t have an emotionally intimate relationship with our
fathers, we are unable to have an emotionally intimate relationship
with the men in our lives. We just assume “they don’t get it and
never will.” We think, “All men are controlling.” We believe that
men are really incapable of having/showing emotions, so we don’t
even try to make that happen. We end up accepting the “little” that
we get from them, and live lonely, unconnected lives while quietly
hating them. But if we deal with our father issues, we are able to
change the way we relate to men. No the men we’re dating don’t
automatically change. But by expecting more from them, and not
letting them off the hook, and being determined to make them feel
emotions with us, the relationship magically changes (or sometimes
ends of course).
I was in my late 30’s when I was figuring this out for my first
book. I read the Cinderella Complex and knew that it
was true that we women were all still waiting for our Prince to come
and make our lives happy, but we weren’t doing anything to change
our lives. Oh, of course, we were now supporting ourselves
financially, which is good, but emotionally we were still the
“little girls” who couldn’t get dad’s love and approval. And that’s
how we behaved with every man we went out with. Me included.
When I finally confronted my father about our relationship and his
bad behaviors with mom, my life changed. I told him that he was
controlling, self-righteous, not loving, and on and on and on. I
said that he set me up not to trust men and to fail in relationship
after relationship. He said that was “stupid,” and why couldn’t I
just move on, and what was my problem. At least that’s what happened
the first time I confronted my father. I think I confronted him
about 4 more times, and he finally got it and was sorry. And no, it
wasn’t that simple. I often had to remind him of our talks and of
how I wanted him to treat me.
During that time, I met Alan. Because I no longer had low
expectations of men, I started off immediately setting boundaries
with him: wouldn’t go out with him until he was divorced and moved
out, wouldn’t make dinners for him - only with him, wouldn’t sit at
home on a Friday night waiting for him while he drank with his
buddies and came over afterwards for a booty call, etc. My ideas
about how to relate to men had changed. Also, I now felt loved by my
father so my self-esteem had improved. I started to believe I
deserved the best and went after it. No, not chasing Alan, but
making sure he respected me and knew what I wanted from him.
My father got dementia 6 years ago. One of our most touching times
in the nursing home was when he looked at me sadly and said, “I feel
like there’s something I need to say to you, but I can’t think of
it.” “I think I know what it is dad,” I replied. I reminded him that
we used to fight a lot, but that we had worked out our issues and
that I know he loves me and he knows that I love him. He smiled and
said. “I’m so glad.”
My sister and I have lived with the sadness of his disease for these
last 6 years. And yes, luckily he has known who we are most of the
time. We know it’s time for him to go, but there is something about
the finality of death that is very difficult.
Ode to My Father
have so many emotions related to you. I remember as a child feeling
like “daddy’s little girl.” Then when I became a teenager,
everything changed. It was about rules and being grounded, and who I
could and couldn’t date. I loved you, and sometimes hated you. When
I crashed the car I feared you. When I twirled my baton, I wanted
Mom let us get away with things, and you were the disciplinarian.
Even when I moved to Aspen and asked you for money, you said, “You
made your bed, now lie in it.” I was so angry at you at the time,
but you were right. And now I tell my clients to discipline the same
way. You taught me to be responsible for my actions, even if you
didn’t always take responsibility for yours.
Though you did criticize us, like saying we were lazy because we
always tried to get out of doing the dishes and cleaning our rooms,
you told me things that helped me be the strong person I am today.
You told me again and again that I was smart, and made me believe
that I could do anything. Of course, then you tried to get me to be
a model or a secretary. I told you that I had to do more in life.
You taught me how to run a business as I helped you with yours,
sending out bills and doing the bookkeeping. When I gained a few
pounds, you said I looked “healthy,” not fat. I argued with you at
the time, but it felt good that you didn’t see me as fat.
You had a little Archie Bunker in you, however. We often argued over
social situations and beliefs and politics. For awhile I became as
self-righteous as you – a trait I had to work hard at to get rid of.
Mom always said I was like you – which often wasn’t meant as a
compliment. But our arguing sharpened my skills as a speaker, writer
and therapist. It didn’t feel good at the time, but paid off in the
We were the “night” people in the house. Everyone would go to bed
and we’d stay up and watch the “late movie” and then the “late late
movie.” They say you’re still a “night person” at the nursing home,
wandering around late at night and even crawling in bed with women
in the middle of the night. That’s another trait of yours, always
believing that women want you -- even thinking that the nurses are
your girlfriends. Those nurses loved it that you were such a
jokester. It was often a surprise when you would show that fun silly
I remember your love for music. Although you never sang or played an
instrument that I remember, you had your favorite popular singers,
Gene Autry and others, and listened to them all the time. Though I
didn’t share your love of country music, I love to stay up on the
popular songs and sing them. When I tell you that on the phone, you
say you’re glad I’m having fun.
You taught me to garden and grow tomatoes, and our favorite flowers
were peonies and lilacs.
We also both love cats, and took in strays as a kid, and I still do
– I have 6 cats right now. Though you were a gambler, much to the
chagrin of everyone, I’ve gambled more with life and my career than
money – sometimes taking risks that were questionable.
Yes, I am my father’s daughter. Mom was right, I am more like you.
We both have good and bad in us, like everyone does, and we’ve often
been misunderstood. Though I didn’t always like everything you did,
I did learn to stand tough and “be my own person” from you.
I’m sorry to see you go. I wish I could make it all better, but I
can’t. I love you dad!
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Carolyn Bushong, L.P.C, is an expert on
relationships and a licensed therapist. She is known for being one
of the top relationship therapists in the country and the author of
3 relationship books. She has appeared on Oprah, the View, and many
other TV shows, and she has been giving relationship advice on
Denver radio for more than15 years. She has been helping people like
you improve your life and relationships for more than 30 years.
Cosmo, US Weekly and other magazines quote her expert relationship
advice, and McCall’s named her one of the “Top 6 Passion Doctors” in
the country. Carolyn Bushong always has fresh, up-to-date, hot
information on topics that will inspire you and change your life and
improve your relationships. She has clients all over the country,
some who come into her office and others who receive Carolyn's
expert advice through phone counseling. Carolyn Bushong is an
excellent psychotherapist, but she also lives what she teaches, as
she is in a happy, healthy relationship with Alan, her mate of 23
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