BY TERESA THOME
“After all these years, I have decided I no longer need a Dad. I need a friend.”
I wrote that, years ago, in a letter to my father. I was in my late twenties. I had spent much of my life fighting with my Dad. Too much.
While I knew I couldn’t repair the past, I could work to change the future. I made a decision to write down everything I wanted to say to him, to be honest and clear, to put it on the table once and for all.
I did it for me. What he did with the information would be his choice.
I gathered all of my courage, asked him if he had some time to connect and I read him the letter.
Some of my best childhood memories involved my Dad, but so did some of my worst. It’s hard to articulate these difficult times without sounding trite.
My father teased me.
He didn’t beat or abandon me.
He teased me. Incessantly. He would tease me about boys and my looks and whatever else was in the moment. I would cry and beg him to leave me alone. He wouldn’t stop. I’d close my bedroom door and hide, and when I emerged, he’d start in all over again. It was exhausting and painful.
My father was also an “over-eater”, topping out at nearly 350 lbs. Most of my tween years were spent hiding food from him and imploring, “If you loved me, you’d stop eating. If you loved me, you’d stop trying to kill yourself.” The more I shouted (and believe me, I was a skilled shouter) the less he heard and the less loved I felt.
My father worked two jobs, restaurant and factory, for most of my formative years. It’s hard to imagine that we even had time to fight.
He did spend time with me and my siblings. He would take us to the zoo, museum or lake. Together we would watch Lion’s football and listen to Tiger’s baseball. He taught us to play poker. (I was rather proud, at age nine, to know the difference between a straight and a flush.) He bought us books. Lots of books.
By the time I reached my late twenties, I had done my therapy and started to grow spiritually. I was ready to get to know this man. The man I had come to believe loved me all these years, just never knew how to express that love. For my part, pleading for him to love me, usually came out as “I hate you” and “leave me alone”.
As I read him the letter, he sat in his chocolate brown Lazy-boy wearing his standard uniform – a stained white T-shirt and worn out blue Dockers. (This memory is forever etched in my mind.) While I read, he cried.
I was grateful for his tears. I knew he was hearing me.
He waited until I finished before he spoke. He said softly, “I had no idea.” I believed him.
“I’m sorry,” he added. I believed that, too.
We talked and talked and when the time was right, he challenged me. “There were times I tried to reach out to you. You shut me down.” He was right.
I said, “I’m sorry.” He believed me.
That day marked the beginning of a new relationship with my father. We were both adults now. We both had made mistakes and we were both willing to forgive those mistakes.
For several years following that incredible day, he would occasionally ask me, “How are you doing? Are you sitting on anything? Anything you want to say to me?” It was mostly, “Nope. All good!”
On one or two occasions, I did say, “Yes. Let’s talk some more.” Each time, I was met with an absolute willingness to connect and a safe environment in which to share my thoughts.
It was remarkable that I happened to get the Dad that wanted to be a better person; that wanted to be a better father. And asking him to change required that I be willing to change.
I believe that we are not alone – that there are many fathers and daughters who want a better relationship, but don’t know where to begin. I say, just begin somewhere. I am forever grateful that I had the courage to ask for change. I am even more grateful that I had a father who agreed that this was a relationship worth fighting for.
In my twenties, I asked my Dad to be a friend. As it turns out, by asking for a friend, I got the Dad I always wanted.
When he passed in June of 2012, I felt a profound love that I still hold in my heart today. I look forward to sharing more about my pops in the upcoming blogs. I know there is great wisdom, joy and more than a few laughs to come from looking at the life of this simple, beautiful, devout, dutiful, wounded, funny, tubby, loving man.
Teresa L. Thome is co-founder and Managing Partner of Fubble Entertainment. She co-writes and co-produces the Emmy® award winning web series www.backstagedrama.com.
She and her partner are Executive Producers for LaughFest’s signature event having creatively produced shows with Betty White, Alan Zweibel, Martin Short, Kevin Nealon and Wayne Brady. Teresa also served as Executive Director for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum for more than ten years. She has directed more than 20 theatrical productions in and around West Michigan.
She resides in Grand Rapids, MI with her husband, Fred Stella and two cats, Pickles and Simha. You can read more about Teresa here.
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